I had heard about Atlas Shrugged for years but I had never read the book. In fact, I did not even know the story. However, lately I kept hearing more and more about he book so I decided to read it for myself.
While the book was published in 1957, I often felt as if I were reading today’s news. The subject of government interference in business and the idea of two percent of the population doing all the work so that the other 98 percent can live must be timeless.
There were parts that were uncanny coincidences however as one day I read about a flood on the Missouri River in the book when there was actually a flood on the Missouri river in the news. Other aspects of too much government oversight of business seemed to be taken from the evening news as well.
While the book is probably designed to promote and explain her philosophy of Objectivism, I really enjoyed the story. The heroes of the story are business men and women with a passion for what they do. They battle the evil of moochers and looters and government regulations that try to sabotage their efforts.
My favorite character in the book is Hank Reardon who develops his own type of metal that is stronger and lighter than steel. In the story he overcomes huge obstacles to get his metal produced and accepted. I could feel his pride as he rides on the first train to run on rails made of his metal and crosses a bridge he designed.
I also loved the character of Dagny Taggert. She runs a railroad that is owned by her brother. She is an amazingly passionate woman. My favorite part of the story is when she offers to trade her diamond necklace for the bracelet that Hank Reardon made for his wife from the first batch of Reardon Metal. Dagny understands the significance of the bracelet that is lost on Hank’s gold digging wife.
Dangy’s character is also interesting because even though she is a powerful business woman, she understands what it is like to be a woman and Ayn Rand very clearly spells out Dagny’s feelings of be submissive to a powerful man. Those parts of the book could never have been written by a man. And, I am not surprised that Ayn was criticized for those writing in her time.
I really enjoyed the story of Dagny’s childhood showing that she had always had a vision of running a railroad. Her vision of the rails running off to a single point is repeated in the novel to help connect the reader to her vision. Her relations with her childhood friends continue to the very end of the 1000 page novel. I liked how the other women in the story don’t think of her as a threat because she is not the classical idea of beauty. However the men in her life love respect and desire her for her passion.
Ayn Rand’s insight into Dagny’s thoughts as she relates to her first lover offers a rare glimpse into the mind of a passionate woman. Men who desire to pursue a powerful woman could learn a lot from the pages. Ayn reveals what most women refuse to even believe about themselves, much less share with the men in their lives.
As the story develops, men, and a few women, of action and ability begin to systematically disappear form business and life. Having been frustrated with the task of trying to keep a factory running despite its management, I can clearly relate to the frustration expressed by those who choose to disappear in the story.
The character that helped me understand business leaders who fail to lead was Dagny’s brother Jim Taggert. In the story, Jim is the one who inherits the rail road from their father. However it is Dagny that actually keep s it running. Jim is too busy playing politics and working the social angle to know what it takes to kept he trains running. For the first time, I have been able to begin to understand the managers who ran the last corporation I worked for into the ground. I had assumed that because they were powerful business men, that they would share a passion for running the business. But, no, like Jim Taggert in the story, they were more concerned with stock deals and political maneuvering than they were with actually making the product that had made the corporation what is was when they took over.
I am very glad that Ayn Rand put so much detain into what could have been a minor character, because it has helped me understand the mind set of this type of business leader. I realize that I will probably be no more successful; that Dagny was in negotiating with her brother when I try to go against one of them but knowing how they think will clearly help me in securing my position.
While difficult to read at times, I found Atlas Shrugged impossible to put down. There were times when she lapsed into more of a philosophical rant than told the story, but I enjoyed it all none the less. The famous speak by John Galt near the end I elected to listen to on You Tube rather than read. The speech is three hours long but has some really interesting points. However it has nothing to do with her story except that he said it and he was able to take over the air waves to make the broadcast.
The ending of the story was a bit anti climactic after all the build up. However after over 1000 pages, I was ready for the story to end.
The copy of the book I have has some appendices describing Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. I was surprised at one part of her philosophy. I have been a student of metaphysics for a while now and in her story she seemed to value the ability of her heroes to create using only the power of their minds. However in her statement of philosophy, she says that it is not possible to alter reality through the power of the mind.
In her story, Dagny Taggert creates a rail road where none existed before. Hank Reardon creates a metal that had not existed before. John Galt creates an entire utopian city. Each of her heroes uses the power of their minds to create something that had not existed before. However in her philosophy statement she clearly details that she does not believe it is possible to change reality by thinking it to be otherwise.
I think that she is referring to the same metaphysical teachers that I get annoyed with who seem to teach that all you have to do is sit on the couch and visualize and riches will come to you. I agree with her on part of her philosophy. I actually suspect we believe same things just expressed in different terms. Maybe that is why she chose to write a story to illustrate her philosophy.