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Atlas Shrugged

I've loved this book for over a decade. I've read it at least a dozen times, and it's finally time to write a book report.

Once upon a time, my husband took a philosophy class in college. They read a lot of good stuff, including Sophie's Dream, etc After reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, he suggested I might like it, too. I took one look at the tiny font size, massive amount of pages, and even went so far as to read the first page of the book, then shrugged and said something like, "yeah right."

Fast forward about ten years and my then-stagnant brain needed something to chew on. I'd taken a speed reading course at UNLV once upon a time, and it came in handy, because Holy Cow, there's a lot there. But after falling in love with the leading lady, I was captivated. 

Why I Like Dagny Taggart:

  • I'm not sure what I have in common with her. She runs a railroad, is tall and thin and angular and sleek; she wears grey business suits and works incessantly. I do none of those things. But maybe I like her ability to see things clearly, to cut through the crap, and to get things done against impossible odds. I like her grit and determination.
  • She has no children and she isn't married. So how can her story possibly be relevant to mine? She loves deeply. Over the course of the novel, she's attracted to three different men. She gives of her heart completely, to the best man she's ever found. She is attracted to hard work, to character, and to the drive or capability that she sees within.
  • She lives in a time when the government is falling apart. There are shortages in grapefruit, for example, because the supply chain is disintegrating. There are government regulations that cripple the economy; laws that are incredibly stupid; corrupt politicians; shortages of good men. It's nearly impossible to hire decent help. Where have they all gone? Every time she finds people with brains, they seem to vanish into thin air.
  • She has a vision of what the world might look like. She keeps ignoring and supporting the "looters" or freeloaders as long as possible, even while living in a miserable economy, running her railroad even when it's nearly impossible. She is determined to keep trains running until the bitter end. That's why I like Dagny, because she won't give up.

Who is John Galt?

  • In the earlier chapters of the novel, it's a recurring slogan or expression that means, "I give up," or "I can't explain it," or "Who even cares anymore?" It's a cry of despair or hopelessness.
  • He's a person with a brilliant mind and golden blonde hair, who works to build a motor that makes the world better. But he sees the writing on the wall and chooses to build a place off the grid, a place where he can live by his ideals and not be dragged down by the looters.
  • He typifies Atlas, the Greek god who carries the world on his shoulders. What happens when he decides it's not his burden to carry all that weight? He shrugs, meaning, he lets the weight of all the crap of the looters, just fall to the earth.

Who is Ayn Rand? 

  • She grew up in socialist Russia. She sees the downfall of a nation where everybody gets a handout.
  • Her written English is better than mine. 
  • This website here shares some of Ayn Rand's ideas, specifically objectivism. Her ideas challenge a lot of our commonly held ideals. For example: Life requires production. Today's standard of living, with our computers, cellphones and life saving machines, far outstrips the wildest dreams of the past. All this wealth had to be created by individuals -  and money is what enables production. "Money is your means of survival," a character in Atlas Shrugged warns. "The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. Francisco taught this to Hank Rearden in the early chapters, explaining that money, in an of itself, is not a bad thing. (We've been taught that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil in the New Testament.) But money itself is not bad. Having enough money to meet needs is a beautiful thing.

Are there ideas in Atlas Shrugged that I don't endorse? Sure. Are there ideas of Ayn Rand's philosophy that I don't endorse? Sure. But was it enlightening for me to read her work again and again? Absolutely yes. Is this essay polished and perfect? No. But hopefully you get the idea. Hopefully I've shared just enough to make you want to read it.


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