I selected Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as my April book review. The story set during the American industrial age draws direct parallels to current events. Rand came into the world on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia, as Alissa Zinovievina Rosenbaum. She wrote Atlas Shrugged in 1957, and Ayn Rand became her pen name. Her family stayed in America after visiting relatives in New York City. She traveled to Hollywood and became an extra in a Cecil B DeMille film. For a time, she dappled in screenwriting.
During her lifetime, she wrote several novels and developed a philosophy called Objectivism. She believed in individualism and a Lizzie-fair economy. Objectivism can best be described as nothing exists except the observable world. This theory excludes religious faith. I have always loved Russian writers. They tend to be philosophical and, at times, long-winded. I found Atlas Shrugged an interesting read for 2022, especially in today’s heated political climate.
Quick summary of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
The book was written in three parts. I plan to summarize them section by section. The primary theme in Atlas Shrugged revolves around what happens to the world when its movers, creators, and producers go on strike.
Four children become playmates. Jim and Dagny Taggart come from the family of a railroad tycoon. Eddie Willers’s father works for Taggart Transcontinental. Francisco d’ Anconia is a rich copper mining family heir, and he spends his summer with the Taggart children. One will become a looter. One will become a railroad executive. Another will take on the appearance of a rich playboy, and one will run the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, but in name only.
Dagny Taggart knows she will one day run the railroad from an early age. Her brother Jim becomes the company figurehead while she comes up with all the best ideas and solves the most pressing problems. In the end, the railroad’s survival is up to her. Dagny’s first lover is Francisco d’ Anconia. He disappears and comes back as a playboy uninterest in Dagny.
Jim doesn’t mind taking all the credit. He’s all into the anti-dog-eat-dog legislation that levels the playing field for everyone. Nobody has to work hard or compete to come out on top. The important thing is to look good for the press and have a reputable public opinion. This philosophy puts Jim in direct conflict with Dagny and Hank Rearden, who developed a new kind of steel.
A crisis ensues, and Dagny lays track and builds a bridge using Rearden steel. This move is controversial because it is unpopular. Scientists claim the steel is flawed. The business world wants nothing to do with it, and they move to legislate against the metal being used in construction. The newspapers make exaggerated claims about the metal’s flaws. Soon after the victory of crossing the bridge with a locomotive traveling 100 miles an hour, Rearden and Dagny become lovers.
Who is John Galt
The first sentence of the book opens with this question. It became a standard catchphrase for every problem people didn’t have a way to explain. It became a popular slogan similar to “Let’s go, Brandon” in our day and age. Many mysteries existed in the world Danny Taggart inhabits. Machines are wearing out, and the factories that produce them are closing. Increasing government regulations and junk science make manufacturing impossible. Materials are scarce, such as coal and copper. Industrialists, business owners, and inventors are missing.
In defiance, Dagny names her new railroad line after John Galt. She believes the question or the man is responsible for the vanishings. The book’s first part ends with Ellis Wyatt’s oil wells burning. He promptly vanishes into the night.
The mysterious vanishings continue, and the situation worsens. Dagny believes that a destroyer is whisking away the only individuals who can bring sanity to the disorder. Her brother Jim goes slumming. He marries a dime-store shop girl. Rearden’s wife persuades him to attend the wedding. (Did I forget to mention that he was married before starting an affair with Dagny?) An intense conversation takes place between Rearden and Francisco d’ Anconia. You start to suspect Francisco isn’t the playboy he pretends to be. He might even be the elusive John Galt.
Dagny is starting to learn the meaning of being competent in a world filled with incompetency. She quits the railroad and takes shelter in a hunting cabin. Francisco visits her there and confesses his love for her. He also tries to persuade her to leave the world. A railroad disaster decides for Dagny. She will go back to work for Taggart Transcontinental.
A group of men from the ruling class meets and decide to implement directives 10-289. They know it is unlawful and controversial, but they pass it for the public good. They know it won’t solve the problem, but it will help achieve the status quo. The directive makes all workers slaves and steals all patents and copywrites. The holder of said patents and copyrights had to sign a gift certificate, handing them over to the government. Anyone who doesn’t agree with this new order is considered unpatriotic. The world takes a nosedive after the directive becomes law. At first, the strategy is to shame people into compliance. If guilt didn’t work, then they could be killed.
Thus Dagny finds herself trying to run a railroad in an environment that makes succeeding impossible. She has men falling to her feet, hopelessly in love with her. Dagny is still trying to solve the mystery of the motor she and Rearden found that ran on atmospheric energy. The mission to encourage the man she hired to study the motor she found and urge him to continue working on the project resulted in an airplane accident. As Dagny is tumbling to what she believes is her death, she utters the sentence she hates. “Who is John Galt?” She asks.
A is A
Dagny wakes up from the crash in an unexpected world, looking into the face of John Galt. She discovers a secret world in this Colorado valley inhabited by the people who left the world she knows. They have officially gone on strike. They want her to join them, but she is still not convinced their strike is the best answer. She falls in love with the Destroyer, a man she vowed to shoot if they ever came face to face. Dagny decides she can’t remain in the “Atlantis” if a slight degree of hope exists for the world and her railroad.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the completion of project X makes the news. This invention is a weapon using sound waves that obliterate random objects. Project X will come in handy during civil unrest and malcontents, and the hungry masses shouldn’t question the advancement of science in this new world. Science has made great progress in the month Dagny has been gone. The elite are invited to a demonstration where an abandoned farmhouse and goats are destroyed using sound waves.
Dagny is forced to give a radio interview after her return. She spills the beans about her affair with Hank Rearden to avoid being blackmailed. She clings to her stubborn determination to save her railroad. John Galt highjacks the radio and television airwaves the night Mr. Thompson is scheduled to give a speech to solve the world’s problems. Galt gives a rambling declaration of the strike the thinking men of the world are conducting. The elite make plans to use Dagny to capture Galt. She leads them to him, and they take him prisoner. Will he survive? Will the motor of the world grind to a halt? How will this story end?
Worldbuilding and characters found in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
I found the world where the characters in this story live very realistic for when Rand wrote the book. American life consisted of industrialized factories and rail transportation of goods and people. The type of men and women Rand wrote about would be hard to find today. Our world has moved into a more technological landscape. I found the world she created very realistic because a fragment exists in my memory. The smoke of the steel mill and factories still existed in my childhood.
The characters were also realistic, although I did find a few things about them hard to believe. I found Dagny a little too idealistic about the world she hung onto so tight. Galt claimed he only lived for himself, but he seemed to have a desire to be self-sacrificing. I thought Rand almost created a savior-type character out of him. The characters around them fit the giver and taker models very well. I liked Hank Reardon. I almost wished he’d got the girl in the end.
Overview of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
I enjoyed reading this book, even though I sometimes found it preachy. I could do without some of the long run on passages that explained in great detail philosophical ideas already made clear in other portions of the book. Still, it was shocking to see many of the events in the story similar to the headlines and stories in the news today. I found this novel long but fascinating, and I am glad I took the time to read this work that almost seemed prophetic considering all our supply chain problems and virtue signaling taking place today.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures, click here.
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