Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand


Why Atlas Shrugged and Mt. Toubkal

I’m so excited about this book club selection. Atlas Shrugged has been one of my all-time favorite books since my mid-twenties. It was a life-changing book for me when I read it. It is the best book I own in my first edition collection. First the heroine Dagney Taggart is one of the best, take-no-prisoners, inspirational female protagonists in all literature.  Hank Rearden, another character, is who I want to be like when I grow up. The book is a fictional representation of the theory of Objectivism which was created by Ayn Rand. This theory and Rand’s novels, including this one and The Fountainhead, get simplified into a battle cry for the conservative Republicans and the justification of unbridled greed. In my opinion I think its grossly misunderstood and has been usurped by people who don’t get the full meaning. The novel’s title is a reference to the myth of Atlas who holds up the entire world on his shoulders.  Rand asks the question in this novel “What would happen to society if the people who got things done got tired of holding up everyone else on their shoulders and shrugged?” For me, reading this book crystalized a core belief that I had already begun to believe. What the world needs more of is personal responsibility. There is certainly a place for charity, but before we give to others, our core responsibility is to take care of ourselves.  Think what the world might be if everyone took it upon themselves to strive for their personal best and to be solely reliant on their own strength. This is the only place in 52 Peaks where a mountain choice was driven by a book choice. I had an interest in going to Morocco, but when I realized that the highest peak was in the Atlas Mountains, there was no way I wasn’t headed to those mountains to hike.

More About Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s fourth and last novel, it was also her longest, and the one she considered to be her magnum opus in the realm of fiction writing. Atlas Shrugged includes elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance, and it contains Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction. The book depicts a dystopian United States, wherein many of society’s most prominent and successful industrialists abandon their fortunes and the nation itself, in response to aggressive new regulations, whereupon most vital industries collapse.

Rand’s stated goal for writing the novel was “to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them”. The core idea for the book came to her after a 1943 telephone conversation with a friend, who asserted that Rand owed it to her readers to write fiction about her philosophy. Rand replied, “What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?” Rand then began Atlas Shrugged to depict the morality of rational self-interest, by exploring the consequences of a strike by intellectuals refusing to supply their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas to the rest of the world.

Random House published the novel on October 10, 1957. The initial print run was 100,000 copies.

As the novel opens, protagonist Dagny Taggart, the Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company established by her grandfather, attempts to keep the company alive against collectivism and statism. Her brother, James Taggart, the railroad’s president, is peripherally aware of the company’s troubles, but seems to make irrational decisions, such as preferring to buy steel from Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel, rather than Hank Rearden’s Rearden Steel, despite the former continually delaying delivery of vital rail. In this as in other decisions, Dagny simply continues her own policy, but is herself disappointed to discover that Francisco d’Anconia, her childhood friend and first love, appears to be destroying his family’s international copper company without cause.

Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate, has developed an alloy called Rearden Metal, now the most reliable metal in the world, but keeps its composition secret, sparking jealousy among competitors. As a result, pressure is put on Dagny to use conventional steel, but she refuses. While economic conditions worsen and government agencies enforce their control on successful businesses, the citizens are often heard repeating “Who is John Galt?”, in response to questions to which the individual has no answer. It sarcastically means: “Don’t ask important questions, because we don’t have answers”; or more broadly, “What’s the point?” or “Why bother?”.

As titans of industries each disappear one by one and businesses collapse, Dagny and Hank struggle to try and hold up their respective industries while facing sabotage from lesser co-workers and rivals. They find a very different answer when they meet the real John Galt.