Atlas Shrugged Books
: Ayn Rand : October 10, 1957
Atlas Shrugged was rated as the second most important book for American readers by one major study, behind only the Bible. The author, Ayn Rand, is one of the most original and insightful philosophers of modern times, and the only one who glorifies work, achievement, individualism, and free markets.
Atlas is about a society where things start falling apart when those who create value are sacrificed for the sake of those who only consume. If you want to see this scenario in action, just look at the current state of Venezuela.
As good a summary as any can be found in the book written by Atlas fan and Lululemon founder Chip Wilson:
Atlas Shrugged is about a lot of things, but to put it most simply, it tells the story of a few visionary innovators on a quest to be great people and to produce a great product. There’s Dagny Taggart, the professional woman in her early thirties who keeps her family’s railroad empire running (despite her brother’s incompetence). There’s Dagny’s love interest, industrialist Hank Rearden, who invents a new metal alloy stronger than steel, and who must overcome the schemes of politicians and relatives who, unable to create greatness of their own, suck the life out of Hank. Then there’s John Galt, the mysterious engineer, and philosopher who remains mostly unidentified through much of the story. The question, “Who is John Galt?” is a major recurring theme in Atlas Shrugged and is a phrase that has since become a cultural touchstone of its own. Atlas Shrugged was my first major introduction to the idea of elevating the world from mediocrity to greatness through individual creativity, dedication, and vision.
As a person, Ayn Rand was just as interesting as her work. Born in Russia, she escaped a life of dreary socialism and ended up in Los Angeles, where she had a chance meeting with a famous director, which led to her writing Hollywood screenplays before being able to devote full time to her books. It was also in Hollywood that she met a good-looking young actor who became her husband.
No one can convey her thoughts more clearly than Rand, although all her writing was in English, a second language for her. She came to the US with nothing, and through sheer force of will became one of the great philosophers and novelists of our time. She did this despite the fact that her philosophy is completely at odds with the reigning intellectual ideas of her – and our – time. We glorify selflessness, and she wrote a nonfiction book called The Virtue of Selfishness.
She was a Russian woman with no money or American contacts writing in a second language stories that featured heroes completely at odds with the mainstream. Not only did her books get published – not easily – but they were major commercial successes and have never gone out of print. The Fountainhead was made into a major motion picture starring Gary Cooper. Her writing has influenced many, many people, and usually the sort of people who are most naturally inclined to high achievement.
Her fiction worked because she was a great storyteller, but she also conveyed her ideas in non-fiction books. Very, very few philosophers have been successful both with fiction and non-fiction.
Perhaps the quote that best sums up her work is this one:
“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”