The way I first discovered this novella is quite interesting. My boyfriend had brought over a documentary about Rush and their album 2112. The first half of the album was inspired by the novella Anthem. As Rush told the premise of the novella I knew I had to read it!
Anthem is about a man who lives in a futuristic society where everyone is a collective "We." No one has any concept of being an individual. History is hidden from the masses and the people only exist to serve their brothers. The rigid government enforces this. If anyone breaks any laws they are punished severely but only one rule is punishable by death if broken. That is uttering the Unspeakable Word.
The protagonist has no name, but a labeled Equality 7-2521. As he searches for the Unspeakable Word, he accidentally discovers a relic from the Unmentionable Times and rediscovers the most important invention in history. At the same time he starts having these strange feelings for a beautiful woman. All of which is forbidden.
After discovering this invention our protagonist has a bit of brain fart (for lack of a better term) and thinks it's a good idea to present it to the Counsel of Scholars. Of course this does not go well. But it is the fact that they reject his idea that finally sends him on the adventure where he learns the Unspeakable Word and about something that no one has known for decades...freedom. If I tell you anymore I will truly spoil the story. However, I will say that the way the novella ends is somewhat unnerving at first until you really think about it.
What is so utterly fascinating about this book is that it was written in the summer of 1937 and wasn't published until 1946. I can't even imagine how Rand was even able to conceive of the idea of a society where there is no individual. Not only are the themes of collectivism and individuality explored but the feeling of being in love for the first time and not understanding why you feel the way that you do.
What I loved about the Centennial Edition of the book is that a version that was published in England prior is included. Ayn Rand edited Anthem for the American version because she felt she had gained more skill in communicating what she wanted. She learned how to "omit needless words." The copy here is where Rand herself used a pen to cross out and edit passages throughout the entire book. As I writer, it is fascinating to see how she edited the text to make it more concise.
On a random side note the entire novel remind me of the song Little Boxes so wonderfully done as the intro of of Weeds. I wanted to include a video of it here but I couldn't find one that had embedding disabled. So visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8StRAJCork to see it.