Back when I was studying at “the Most Stoned Campus on Earth” (according to Rolling Stone), I would sometimes have to buy my books at a local bookstore instead of the one on campus. One day I happened to notice Atlas Shrugged in the bargain bin of the local bookstore and couldn’t resist the urge to buy it. I had heard so many people argue about it, I just couldn’t help myself. I really wanted to see what all the fuss was about and $5 seemed an acceptable price to pay for that discovery. (I have to point out that my reading this book was in no way connected to the Tea Party movement or the “Going Galt” movement here in the United States.)
Flash forward to post-graduation from said college and current life in the big City. And lots of commute time. I figured that there wasn’t a better time for me get through the monster that is Atlas Shrugged.
While I understand that this book was Ayn Rand’s magnum opus and the “blossoming” of her philosophy, Objectivism, it still reads as a novel. Yes, it is clear that the author strongly believes in capitalism in a very pure form (and one that exists in a vacuum), there is something else, something more real that I found while reading the book.
Atlas Shrugged takes place in the United States during a time when the government becomes more and more corrupt, when people become mindless, lazy automatons that are reliant on a few highly effective, hard working, and innovative people as they are simultaneously being condemned by the majority relies upon them for basic necessities – Rand’s idea of the apocalypse. Dagny Taggart is the transcontinental railroad mogul (read: VP of Operations) working with her incompetent brother, who not only represents the majority of the world at that time, but also runs the company. Her friend from childhood and long time lover, Francisco d’Anconia, is the owner and operator of the world’s largest copper mine and fortune. She meets Henry Reardan, a self-made man/pulled-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps gentleman via his successful steel company in the country. Reardan is trapped in a loveless, lifeless marriage. Dagny and Reardan begin an affair during their work together on the John Galt Line – the railroad line Dagny creates by using Rearden Metal (one that Hank created that is stronger and cheaper than steel).
During this time, the brightest, most successful people in America are disappearing. Dagny begins looking for these great men and trying to find the answer to oft-repeated question, “Who is John Galt?”
What I enjoyed about this novel was the spirit I saw at the center of it: the beauty of hard work, ingenuity, creativity, and the connection of a person to his or her life’s work. The physical creation of something great, something meaningful, something revolutionary, something tangible. I think that our world has fundamentally changed with the Digital Revolution. It has definitely changed for the better, but the type of work we do is different – I sit at a computer updating reports while my father creates and welds pieces for commercial use. I definitely feel like something, or somethings, are becoming lost art forms as we continue to move into the future and toward a more digitized world.
Atlas Shrugged is now one of my favorite books. Not for the politics, not for the philosophy, but for the fact that I found it to be a good, engrossing novel. And more importantly, an inspiring one.
Read it: if you are interested in the 20’s – 40’s in America, railroads, long novels, philosophy, politics, Capitalism.
Leave it: if you dislike long novels, characters who pontificate about their philosophies and politics, complicated plot lines.