Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest 2012
I’m proud to say that I participated in the Ayn Rand Institute‘s Atlas Shruggedessay contest 2012, and placed second. The essay I entered is below:
Topic: Choose the scene in Atlas Shrugged that is most meaningful to you. Analyze that scene in terms of the wider themes in the book.
When we were in school, my friends fantasized that Albus Dumbledore would owl them their invitation to Hogwarts. I fantasized that John Galt would ask me to abandon this world to its own contradictions and invite me to Galt’s Gulch, alongside the greatest minds of our time.
That said, it’s still hard to pinpoint which scene in Atlas Shrugged is my favorite. The description of life in Galt’s Gulch? The way that Dagny will do anything to build her Line and save Colorado? Francisco d’Anconia’s youth with Dagny Taggart? These are all magnificent, and I feel nothing but pride for the woman who created these characters with such absolute disdain for the morality of apology and sacrifice, and of course for the characters themselves.
However, the question is not which scene is my favorite. The question is which one is most meaningful to me. Which I understand, intellectually and intuitively. Which I live.
And the answer to that is just depressing.
When I started writing this essay, I fully intended to write of the sparkling highs in Atlas Shrugged, the moments that have given my life direction and shown me how the world should be. When I first read this book, I fell in love. I fell in love with John Galt, Francisco d’Anconia, Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart, with Ellis Wyatt and Owen Kellogg. With Richard Halley’s Concerto of Deliverance. With the way children are raised in Galt’s Gulch (719). I was uplifted, inspired to rise above the slime to live my own life. Atlas Shrugged has given me plenty of these moments, and, a few years ago, those are exactly what I would have written about.
Since then, however, I have had to grow up. I do not accept malevolence “in bruised resignation as the law of existence” (720), yet I have seen the way that it is impossibleto completely ignore and avoid the moochers. It is impossible to live in this world and not be filled with helpless rage by the willful brainlessness of so very many people. It is impossible for me to hold ideals of the kind that Atlas Shrugged shows us, while living as a full part of the world. The promise of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead is not fulfilled by the life I live.
I would love to write about the absolute pride I feel when Hank Rearden says: “The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!” (445) I want to write about the absolute ecstasy I share with Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden as they careen through the American countryside on a train built of their dreams and minds (224-232), or the joy I take in Francisco d’Anconia’s impassioned defense of money and the philosophy of Capitalism (380-385).
These are the best parts of Atlas Shrugged. These moments of sheer, rapturous joy, which “is how men expect to feel about their life once or twice, as an exception… [but John Galt chooses] as the constant and normal” (1001), these are the soul of Atlas Shrugged. The “shiftless, the purposeless, the irresponsible, the irrational” (683) that comprise the rest of the world, are insignificant, beneath notice. They are there; to deny their existence would be to deny reality. But it is laughable to adapt one’s life to suit them.
Yet they form the part of Atlas Shrugged that is easiest to relate to. It is painfully easy to recognize a Wesley Mouch or a Mr. Thompson among present-day politicians. Among the prominent faces in my own country, and people I have met, I have recognized at various times an Ivy Starnes, a Bertram Scudder, a Balph Eubank, a Paul Larkin and a Mrs. Rearden.
That being the case, it may be understandable that the scene most meaningful to me is Cherryl Taggart’s suicide.
Cherryl Taggart is a woman of great potential. She has no specific skill. She is neither a miner nor an industrialist, neither a scientist nor an artist. She is employed in a small shop; she appears to be nothing special. Yet her attitude is inspiring. She is a hero-worshipper – unlike Dagny, who is a hero herself – but does not settle for being a fan-girl. She wants to become one of the heroes herself. She is eager, young, and completely in love with life. Cherryl Taggart is an optimist, an idealist. She wishes to live in a world in which she can live. She has escaped from her small-town roots and is finding her true beginnings in the big city.
She would give her life for one of the heroes, the producers, and when James Taggart enters her shop and eventually asks her to marry him, she imagines that her dreams have come true. Even though it slowly becomes clear that he does not adhere to the principles she does, Cherryl marries Taggart and lives with him for quite a while. The fact that Cherryl unconsciously chooses to wed and live with evil is the reason that she eventually has to make the conscious choice to commit suicide.
Cherryl’s suicide is personally significant to me because I associate most strongly with Eddie Willers and Cherryl Taggart (Brooks), and perhaps Hank Rearden in the early parts of the novel. I am not a producer on the scale of John Galt or Hank Rearden. The world would not tremble if I left it. I am only a quiet, contented liver of my own life within my own modest means, produced by my own effort for my own sake – much like Cherryl Taggart should have been.
Cherryl’s is a cautionary tale. The warning is never to let your faith in the world depend completely on any one person other than yourself. While it is true that we mortals need the heroes, in order to live a good life, this is quite different from committing all our faith in mankind and our reasons for living to the safekeeping of any person other than ourselves.
I find that it impossible to live a moral life as Ayn Rand describes it, when your highest ideal is anyone other than yourself. The love between Galt and Dagny, for instance, is at its core a recognition of identical ideals and values in each other. To treat anyone else as the epitome of your values and your ideal of self, is to be self-effacing and ultimately, therefore, selfless.
In spite of this bad judgment, Cherryl Taggart’s potential would have been rewarded, in a sane world, by her long, happy and productive life. But the world is not sane. “Not your kind of world!” she cries as she runs into the river “with full consciousness of acting in self-preservation” (831). And self-preservation it was. As Wikipedia puts it, “Upon realizing the nature of the moral code surrounding her, the apparent lack of escape for herself and the heroes she worships, and her unnamed desire to remove support from the machinations she abhors, Cherryl throws herself from a bridge to her death.”
If she had chosen to live on in that world, in any way, she would have begun to lose herself. A choice to live with James Taggart would have validated his life-choices, as it would have been an underscoring and acceptance of her previous decision to trust in him completely. To throw herself on Dagny’s charity would have been debilitating to her own free spirit. To return to the dime store with the knowledge of her failed marriage and the reasons for it, even assuming she could under the new Directives, would again be a failure to live on her own terms. While Cherryl’s choice to die is not made in complete consciousness, she recognizes that this is not her kind of world. She knows intuitively that she has no more moral ways to live in the world – and acts on that knowledge.
Though I do feel pity for a life cut short, I am proud of Cherryl Taggart, and would be honored to know her or even be her. She is not someone to hero-worship, but she is independent, honest, brave and innocently eager to face the world and win. She lives on her own terms, and she ultimately chooses to die on her own terms as well, in a kind of atonement for her previous bad judgment.
However, there’s an even stronger reason that I find Cherryl Taggart’s suicide so personally significant. Simply put, it’s this: there, but for the grace of Ayn Rand,go I.
Word Count: 1413
“List of Atlas Shrugged Characters.” Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged – 50th Anniversary Edition. New York, USA: Signet, 1996.
This article is about the novel. For the film adaptations, see Atlas Shrugged (film series).
Atlas Shrugged is a 1957 novel by Ayn Rand. Rand's fourth and final 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 dystopianUnited States in which private businesses suffer under increasingly burdensome laws and regulations. Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and her lover, steel magnate Hank Rearden, struggle against looters who want to exploit their productivity, including Dagny's brother and Hank's wife. As Dagny and Hank fight the looters' efforts to control their business operations and confiscate their production, they realize a mysterious figure called John Galt is convincing other business leaders to abandon their companies and disappear. While investigating a strange electric motor found in a ruined factory, Dagny finds a sheltered valley where Galt and the missing businessmen have been hiding. Galt is leading a "strike" of productive individuals against the looters. The strike escalates when Galt announces his views in a radio address, leading to a collapse of the government. The novel ends with the strikers planning to build a new capitalist society based on Galt's philosophy of reason and individualism.
The theme of Atlas Shrugged, as Rand described it, is "the role of man's mind in existence". The book explores a number of philosophical themes from which Rand would subsequently develop Objectivism. In doing so, it expresses the advocacy of reason, individualism, and capitalism, and depicts what Rand saw to be the failures of governmental coercion.
Atlas Shrugged received largely negative reviews after its 1957 publication, but achieved enduring popularity and consistent sales in the following decades.
Context and writing
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 the 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.
To produce Atlas Shrugged, Rand conducted research on the American railroad industry. Her previous work on a proposed (but never realized) screenplay based on the development of the atomic bomb, including her interviews of J. Robert Oppenheimer, was used in the portrait of the character Robert Stadler and the novel's depiction of the development of "Project X". To do further background research, Rand toured and inspected a number of industrial facilities, such as the Kaiser Steel plant, rode the locomotives of the New York Central Railroad, and even learned to operate the locomotive of the Twentieth Century Limited (and proudly reported that when operating it, "nobody touched a lever except me").
Rand's self-identified literary influences include Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Edmond Rostand, and O. Henry. In addition, Justin Raimondo has observed similarities between Atlas Shrugged and the 1922 novel The Driver, written by Garet Garrett, which concerns an idealized industrialist named Henry Galt, who is a transcontinental railway owner trying to improve the world and fighting against government and socialism. In contrast, Chris Matthew Sciabarra found Raimondo's "claims that Rand plagiarized ... The Driver" to be "unsupported", and Stephan Kinsella doubts that Rand was in any way influenced by Garrett. Writer Bruce Ramsey said both novels "have to do with running railroads during an economic depression, and both suggest pro-capitalist ways in which the country might get out of the depression. But in plot, character, tone, and theme they are very different."
Atlas Shrugged was Rand's last completed work of fiction. It marked a turning point in her life—the end of her career as a novelist and the beginning of her role as a popular philosopher.
Due to the success of Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead, she had no trouble attracting a publisher for Atlas Shrugged. This was a contrast to her previous novels, which she had struggled to place. Even before she began writing it, she had been approached by publishers interested in her next novel. However, her contract for The Fountainhead gave the first option to its publisher, Bobbs-Merrill Company. After reviewing a partial manuscript, they asked her to discuss a number of cuts and other changes. She refused, and Bobbs-Merrill rejected the book.
Hiram Hayden, an editor she liked who had left Bobbs-Merrill, asked her to consider his new employer, Random House. In an early discussion about the difficulties of publishing a controversial novel, Random House president Bennett Cerf proposed that Rand should submit the manuscript to multiple publishers simultaneously and ask how they would respond to its ideas, so she could evaluate who might best promote her work. Rand was impressed by the bold suggestion and by her overall conversations with them. After speaking with a few other publishers, of about a dozen who were interested, Rand decided multiple submissions were not needed; she offered the manuscript to Random House. Upon reading the portion Rand submitted, Cerf declared it a "great book" and offered Rand a contract. It was the first time Rand had worked with a publisher whose executives seemed truly enthusiastic about one of her books.
Random House published the novel on October 10, 1957. The initial print run was 100,000 copies. The first paperback edition was published by New American Library in July 1959, with an initial run of 150,000. A 35th-anniversary edition was published by E. P. Dutton in 1992, with an introduction by Rand's legal heir, Leonard Peikoff. The novel has been translated into more than 25 languages.[note 1]
Title and chapters
The working title throughout its writing was The Strike, but thinking this title would have revealed the mystery element of the novel prematurely, Rand was pleased when her husband suggested Atlas Shrugged, previously the title of a single chapter, for the book. The title is a reference to Atlas, a Titan of Greek mythology, described in the novel as "the giant who holds the world on his shoulders". The significance of this reference appears in a conversation between the characters Francisco d'Anconia and Hank Rearden, in which d'Anconia asks Rearden what advice he would give Atlas upon seeing that "the greater [the titan's] effort, the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders". With Rearden unable to answer, d'Anconia gives his own response: "To shrug".
The novel is divided into three parts consisting of ten chapters each. Robert James Bidinotto said, "the titles of the parts and chapters suggest multiple layers of meaning. The three parts, for example, are named in honor of Aristotle's laws of logic ... Part One is titled 'Non-Contradiction' ... Part Two, titled 'Either-Or' ... [and] Part Three is titled 'A Is A', a reference to 'the Law of Identity'."
Atlas Shrugged is set in a dystopian United States at an unspecified time, in which the country has a "National Legislature" instead of Congress and a "Head of State" instead of a President. The government has increasingly extended its control over businesses with increasingly stringent regulations. The United States also appears to be approaching an economic collapse, with widespread shortages, constant business failures, and severely decreased productivity. Writer Edward Younkins said, "The story may be simultaneously described as anachronistic and timeless. The pattern of industrial organization appears to be that of the late 1800s—the mood seems to be close to that of the depression-era 1930s. Both the social customs and the level of technology remind one of the 1950s". Many early 20th-century technologies are available, and the steel and railroad industries are especially significant; jet planes are described as a relatively new technology, and television is significantly less influential than radio. Although other countries are mentioned in passing, the Soviet Union, World War II, or the Cold War are not. The countries of the world are implied to be organized along vaguely Marxist lines, with references to "People's States" in Europe and South America. Characters also refer to nationalization of businesses in these "People's States", as well as in America. The economy of the book's present is contrasted with the capitalism of 19th century America, recalled as a lost Golden Age.
See also: List of Atlas Shrugged characters
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 amid a sustained economic depression. While economic conditions worsen and government agencies enforce their control on successful businesses, the citizens are often heard repeating the cryptic phrase "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?". 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 while the latter delivers on schedule. In this as in other decisions, Dagny simply continues her own policy amid others. She is nevertheless disappointed to discover that the Argentine billionaire Francisco d'Anconia, her childhood friend and first love, appears to be destroying his family's international copper company without cause by constructing the San Sebastián copper mines, despite the fact that Mexico is under a Communist government that is planning to nationalize the mines. She soon realizes that d'Anconia is actually taking advantage of the investors by building worthless mines. Despite the risk, Jim and his allies at Associated Steel invest a large amount of capital into building a railway in the region while ignoring the more crucial Rio Norte Line in Colorado, which has been threatened by the rival Phoenix-Durango Railroad after the former began transporting supplies for Ellis Wyatt, who has revitalized the region after discovering large oil reserves. Dagny minimizes losses on the San Sebastian Line by pulling obsolete trains on the line, which Jim is forced to take credit for after the line is nationalized as Dagny predicted. Meanwhile, in response to the success of Phoenix-Durango, the National Alliance of Railroads, a group containing the railroad companies of the United States, passes the "anti-dog-eat-dog" rule prohibiting competition in economically-prosperous areas while forcing other railroads to extend rail service to "blighted" areas of the country, with seniority going to more established railroads. The ruling effectively ruins Phoenix-Durango, upsetting Dagny. Wyatt subsequently arrives in Dagny's office and presents her with a 9-month ultimatum: if she does not supply adequate rail service to his wells by the time the ruling takes place and rail service would be temporarily suspended, he will not use her service, effectively ensuring financial failure for Taggart Transcontinental.
In Philadelphia, Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate, has developed an alloy called Rearden Metal, which is simultaneously lighter and stronger than conventional steel. Rearden keeps its composition secret, sparking jealousy among competitors. Dagny opts to use Rearden Metal in the Rio Norte Line, becoming the first major customer to purchase the product. As a result, pressure is put on Dagny to use conventional steel, but she refuses. Hank's career is hindered by his feelings of obligation to his wife, mother, and younger brother. After Hank refuses to sell the metal to the State Science Institute, a government research foundation run by Dr. Robert Stadler, the Institute publishes a report condemning the metal without actually identifying problems with it. As a result, many significant organizations boycott the line. Although Stadler agrees with Dagny's complaints over the unscientific tone of the report, he refuses to override it. Dagny also becomes acquainted with Wesley Mouch, a Washingtonlobbyist initially working for Rearden, whom he betrays, and later notices the nation's most capable business leaders abruptly disappearing, leaving their industries to failure. The most recent of these is Ellis Wyatt, the sole founder and supervisor of Wyatt Oil, who leaves his most successful oil well spewing petroleum and fire into the air (later named "Wyatt's Torch"). Each of these men remains absent despite a thorough search by politicians.
Having demonstrated the reliability of Rearden Metal in a railroad line named after John Galt, Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart become paramours, and later discover, amongst the ruins of an abandoned factory, an incomplete motor that transforms atmospheric static electricity into kinetic energy, of which they seek the inventor. Eventually, this search reveals the reason of business-leaders' disappearances, when Dagny pursues a scientist to "Galt's Gulch", where the character John Galt is leading an organized "strike" of business leaders against the government.
Reluctant to forsake her railroad, Dagny leaves Galt's Gulch, but Galt follows Dagny to New York City, where he hacks into a national radio broadcast to deliver a long speech (70 pages in the first edition), to explain the novel's theme and Rand's Objectivism. As the government collapses, the authorities capture Galt, but he is rescued by his partisans, while New York City loses its electricity. The novel closes as Galt announces that they will later reorganize the world.
Main article: Objectivism (Ayn Rand)
The story of Atlas Shrugged dramatically expresses Rand's ethical egoism, her advocacy of "rational selfishness", whereby all of the principal virtues and vices are applications of the role of reason as man's basic tool of survival (or a failure to apply it): rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride. Rand's characters often personify her view of the archetypes of various schools of philosophy for living and working in the world. Robert James Bidinotto wrote, "Rand rejected the literary convention that depth and plausibility demand characters who are naturalistic replicas of the kinds of people we meet in everyday life, uttering everyday dialogue and pursuing everyday values. But she also rejected the notion that characters should be symbolic rather than realistic." and Rand herself stated, "My characters are never symbols, they are merely men in sharper focus than the audience can see with unaided sight. ... My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings".
In addition to the plot's more obvious statements about the significance of industrialists to society, and the sharp contrast to Marxism and the labor theory of value, this explicit conflict is used by Rand to draw wider philosophical conclusions, both implicit in the plot and via the characters' own statements. Atlas Shrugged caricatures fascism, socialism, communism, and any state intervention in society, as allowing unproductive people to "leech" the hard-earned wealth of the productive, and Rand contends that the outcome of any individual's life is purely a function of its ability, and that any individual could overcome adverse circumstances, given ability and intelligence.
Sanction of the victim
The concept "sanction of the victim" is defined by Leonard Peikoff as "the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the 'sin' of creating values". Accordingly, throughout Atlas Shrugged, numerous characters are frustrated by this sanction, as when Hank Rearden appears duty-bound to support his family, despite their hostility toward him; later, the principle is stated by Dan Conway: "I suppose somebody's got to be sacrificed. If it turned out to be me, I have no right to complain". John Galt further explains the principle: "Evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us", and, "I saw that evil was impotent ... and the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it".
Government and business
Rand's view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt: "The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force", whereas "no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality—to think, to work and to keep the results—which means: the right of property". Galt himself lives a life of laissez-faire capitalism.
At the end of the book, when the protagonists get ready to return and claim the ravaged world, Judge Narragansett drafts a new Amendment to the United States Constitution: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade". He is also "marking and crossing out the contradictions" in the Constitution's existing text.
In the world of Atlas Shrugged, society stagnates when independent productive agencies are socially demonized for their accomplishments. This is in agreement with an excerpt from a 1964 interview with Playboy magazine, in which Rand states: "What we have today is not a capitalist society, but a mixed economy — that is, a mixture of freedom and controls, which, by the presently dominant trend, is moving toward dictatorship. The action in Atlas Shrugged takes place at a time when society has reached the stage of dictatorship. When and if this happens, that will be the time to go on strike, but not until then".
Rand also depicts public choice theory, such that the language of altruism is used to pass legislation nominally in the public interest (e.g., the "Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule", and "The Equalization of Opportunity Bill"), but more to the short-term benefit of special interests and government agencies.
Property rights and individualism
Rand's heroes continually oppose "parasites", "looters", and "moochers" who demand the benefits of the heroes' labor. Edward Younkins describes Atlas Shrugged as "an apocalyptic vision of the last stages of conflict between two classes of humanity—the looters and the non-looters. The looters are proponents of high taxation, big labor, government ownership, government spending, government planning, regulation, and redistribution".
"Looters" are Rand's depiction of bureaucrats and government officials, who confiscate others' earnings by the implicit threat of force ("at the point of a gun"). Some officials execute government policy, such as those who confiscate one state's seed grain to feed the starving citizens of another; others exploit those policies, such as the railroad regulator who illegally sells the railroad's supplies for his own profit. Both use force to take property from the people who produced or earned it.
"Moochers" are Rand's depiction of those unable to produce value themselves, who demand others' earnings on behalf of the needy, but resent the talented upon whom they depend, and appeal to "moral right" while enabling the "lawful" seizure by governments.
The character Francisco d'Anconia indicates the role of "looters" and "moochers" in relation to money: "So you think that money is the root of all evil? ... Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. ... Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or the looters who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce."
The novel includes elements of mystery, romance, and science fiction. Rand referred to Atlas Shrugged as a mystery novel, "not about the murder of man's body, but about the murder—and rebirth—of man's spirit". Nonetheless, when asked by film producer Albert S. Ruddy if a screenplay could focus on the love story, Rand agreed and reportedly said, "That's all it ever was".
Technological progress and intellectual breakthroughs in scientific theory appear in Atlas Shrugged, leading some observers to classify it in the genre of science fiction. Writer Jeff Riggenbach notes: "Galt's motor is one of the three inventions that propel the action of Atlas Shrugged", the other two being Rearden Metal and the government's sonic weapon, Project X. Other fictional technologies are "refractor rays" (to disguise Galt's Gulch), a sophisticated electrical torture device (the Ferris Persuader), voice-activated door locks (at the Gulch's power station), palm-activated door locks (in Galt's New York laboratory), Galt's means of quietly turning the entire contents of his laboratory into a fine powder when a lock is breached, and a means of taking over all radio stations worldwide. Riggenbach adds, "Rand's overall message with regard to science seems clear: the role of science in human life and human society is to provide the knowledge on the basis of which technological advancement and the related improvements in the quality of human life can be realized. But science can fulfill this role only in a society in which human beings are left free to conduct their business as they see fit." Science fiction historian John J. Pierce describes it as a "romantic suspense novel" that is "at least a borderline case" of science fiction.
Atlas Shrugged debuted on The New York Times Bestseller List at #13 three days after its publication. It peaked at #3 on December 8, 1957, and was on the list for 22 consecutive weeks. By 1984, its sales had exceeded five million copies.
Sales of Atlas Shrugged increased following the 2007 financial crisis. The Economist reported that the 52-year-old novel ranked #33 among Amazon.com's top-selling books on January 13, 2009, and that its 30-day sales average showed the novel selling three times faster than during the same period of the previous year. With an attached sales chart, The Economist reported that sales "spikes" of the book seemed to coincide with the release of economic data. Subsequently, on April 2, 2009, Atlas Shrugged ranked #1 in the "Fiction and Literature" category at Amazon and #15 in overall sales. Total sales of the novel in 2009 exceeded 500,000 copies. The book sold 445,000 copies in 2011, the second-strongest sales year in the novel's history.
Atlas Shrugged was generally disliked by critics. Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later wrote that "reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs"; one called it "execrable claptrap", while another said it showed "remorseless hectoring and prolixity". In the Saturday Review, Helen Beal Woodward said that the novel was written with "dazzling virtuosity" but was "shot through with hatred". This was echoed by Granville Hicks in The New York Times Book Review, who said the book was "written out of hate". The reviewer for Time magazine asked: "Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare? Is it Superman – in the comic strip or the Nietzschean version?" In the National Review, Whittaker Chambers called Atlas Shrugged "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly", and said it "can be called a novel only by devaluing the term". Chambers argued against the novel's implicit endorsement of atheism and said the implicit message of the novel is akin to "Hitler's National Socialism and Stalin's brand of Communism": "To a gas chamber—go!".
The negative reviews produced responses from some of Rand's admirers. Alan Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times Book Review, in which he responded to Hicks' claim that "the book was written out of hate" by calling it "a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should." In a letter to the National Review (which they did not publish), Leonard Peikoff wrote, "... Mr. Chambers is an ex-Communist. He has attacked Atlas Shrugged in the best tradition of the Communists—by lies, smears, and cowardly misrepresentations."
There were some positive reviews. Richard McLaughlin, reviewing the novel for The American Mercury, described it as a "long overdue" polemic against the welfare state with an "exciting, suspenseful plot", although unnecessarily long. He drew a comparison with the antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, saying that a "skillful polemicist" did not need a refined literary style to have a political impact. Journalist and book reviewer John Chamberlain, writing in the New York Herald Tribune, found Atlas Shrugged satisfying on many levels: as science fiction, as a "philosophical detective story", and as a "profound political parable". In a tribute written on the 20th anniversary of the novel's publication, John Hospers, a leading philosopher of aesthetics, praised it as "a supreme achievement, guaranteed of immortality".
Influence and legacy
Atlas Shrugged has attracted an energetic and committed fan base. Each year, the Ayn Rand Institute donates 400,000 copies of works by Rand, including Atlas Shrugged, to high school students. According to a 1991 survey done for the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged was mentioned among the books that made the most difference in the lives of 17 out of 5,000 Book-of-the-Month club members surveyed, which placed the novel between the Bible and M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled.Modern Library's 1998 nonscientific online poll of the 100 best novels of the 20th century found Atlas rated #1, although it was not included on the list chosen by the Modern Library board of authors and scholars.
Rand's impact on contemporary libertarian thought has been considerable. The title of one libertarian magazine, Reason: Free Minds, Free Markets, is taken directly from John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, who argues that "a free mind and a free market are corollaries". In 1983, the Libertarian Futurist Society gave the novel one of its first "Hall of Fame" awards. In 1997, the libertarian Cato Institute held a joint conference with The Atlas Society, an Objectivist organization, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged. At this event, Howard Dickman of Reader's Digest stated that the novel had "turned millions of readers on to the ideas of liberty" and said that the book had the important message of the readers' "profound right to be happy".
Former Rand business partner and lover Nathaniel Branden has expressed differing views of Atlas Shrugged. He was initially quite favorable to it, and even after he and Rand ended their relationship, he still referred to it in an interview as "the greatest novel that has ever been written", although he found "a few things one can quarrel with in the book". However, in 1984 he argued that Atlas Shrugged "encourages emotional repression and self-disowning" and that Rand's works contained contradictory messages. He criticized the potential psychological impact of the novel, stating that John Galt's recommendation to respond to wrongdoing with "contempt and moral condemnation" clashes with the view of psychologists who say this only causes the wrongdoing to repeat itself.
The Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises admired the unapologetic elitism he saw in Rand's work. In a letter to Rand written a few months after the novel's publication, he said it offered "a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society, a substantiated rejection of the ideology of our self-styled 'intellectuals' and a pitiless unmasking of the insincerity of the policies adopted by governments and political parties ... You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you."
In the years immediately following the novel's publication, many American conservatives, such as William F. Buckley, Jr., strongly disapproved of Rand and her Objectivist message. In addition to the strongly critical review by Whittaker Chambers, Buckley solicited a number of critical pieces: Russell Kirk called Objectivism an "inverted religion",Frank Meyer accused Rand of "calculated cruelties" and her message, an "arid subhuman image of man", and Garry Wills regarded Rand a "fanatic". In the late 2000s, however, conservative commentators suggested the book as a warning against a socialistic reaction to the finance crisis. Conservative commentators Neal Boortz,Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh offered praise of the book on their respective radio and television programs. In 2006, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United StatesClarence Thomas cited Atlas Shrugged as among his favorite novels.RepublicanCongressman John Campbell said, for example, "People are starting to feel like we're living through the scenario that happened in [the novel] ... We're living in Atlas Shrugged", echoing Stephen Moore in an article published in The Wall Street Journal on January 9, 2009, titled "Atlas Shrugged From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years".
In 2005, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan said that Rand was "the reason I got into public service", and he later required his staff members to read Atlas Shrugged. In April 2012, he disavowed such beliefs however, calling them "an urban legend", and rejected Rand's philosophy. Ryan was subsequently mocked by Nobel Prize-winning economist and commentator Paul Krugman for reportedly getting ideas about monetary policy from the novel. In another commentary, Krugman quoted a quip by writer John Rogers: "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."
References to Atlas Shrugged have appeared in a variety of other popular entertainments. In the first season of the drama series Mad Men, Bert Cooper urges Don Draper to read the book, and Don's sales pitch tactic to a client indicates he has been influenced by the strike plot: "If you don't appreciate my hard work, then I will take it away and we'll see how you do." Less positive mentions of the novel occur in the animated comedy Futurama, where it appears among the library of books flushed down to the sewers to be read only by grotesque mutants, and in South Park, where a newly literate character gives up on reading after experiencing Atlas Shrugged.BioShock, a critically acclaimed 2007 video game, is widely considered to be a response to Atlas Shrugged. The story depicts a collapsed Objectivist society, and significant characters in the game owe their naming to Rand's work, which game creator Ken Levine said he found "really fascinating".
In 2013, it was announced that Galt's Gulch, Chile, a settlement for libertarian devotees named for John Galt's safe haven, would be established near Santiago, Chile, but the project collapsed amid accusations of fraud and lawsuits filed by investors.
Film and television adaptations
Main articles: Atlas Shrugged: Part I, Atlas Shrugged: Part II, and Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt?
A film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged was in "development hell" for nearly 40 years. In 1972, Albert S. Ruddy approached Rand to produce a cinematic adaptation. Rand insisted on having final script approval, which Ruddy refused to give her, thus preventing a deal. In 1978, Henry and Michael Jaffe negotiated a deal for an eight-hour Atlas Shruggedtelevisionminiseries on NBC. Michael Jaffe hired screenwriter Stirling Silliphant to adapt the novel and he obtained approval from Rand on the final script. However, when Fred Silverman became president of NBC in 1979, the project was scrapped.
Rand, a former Hollywood screenwriter herself, began writing her own screenplay, but died in 1982 with only one-third of it finished. She left her estate, including the film rights to Atlas, to her student Leonard Peikoff, who sold an option to Michael Jaffe and Ed Snider. Peikoff would not approve the script they wrote, and the deal fell through. In 1992, investor John Aglialoro bought an option to produce the film, paying Peikoff over $1 million for full creative control.
In 1999, under Aglialoro's sponsorship, Ruddy negotiated a deal with Turner Network Television (TNT) for a four-hour miniseries, but the project was killed after the AOL Time Warner merger. After the TNT deal fell through, Howard and Karen Baldwin obtained the rights while running Philip Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment. The Baldwins left Crusader and formed Baldwin Entertainment Group in 2004, taking the rights to Atlas Shrugged with them. Michael Burns of Lions Gate Entertainment approached the Baldwins to fund and distribute Atlas Shrugged. A draft screenplay was written by James V. Hart and rewritten by Randall Wallace, but was never produced.
In May 2010, Brian Patrick O'Toole and Aglialoro wrote a screenplay, intent on filming in June 2010. Stephen Polk was set to direct. However, Polk was fired and principal photography began on June 13, 2010, under the direction of Paul Johansson and produced by Harmon Kaslow and Aglialoro. This resulted in Aglialoro's retention of his rights to the property, which were set to expire on June 15, 2010. Filming was completed on July 20, 2010, and the movie was released on April 15, 2011. Dagny Taggart was played by Taylor Schilling and Hank Rearden by Grant Bowler.
The film was met with a generally negative reception from professional critics, getting an 11% (rotten) rating on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and had less than $5 million in total box office receipts. The film earned an additional $5M in DVD and Blu-ray sales, for a total of about half of its $20M budget. The producer and screenwriter John Aglialoro blamed critics for the film's paltry box office take and said he might go on strike, but ultimately went on to make the next two installments.
On February 2, 2012, Kaslow and Aglialoro announced Atlas Shrugged: Part II was fully funded and that principal photography was tentatively scheduled to commence in early April 2012. The film was released on October 12, 2012, without a special screening for critics. It suffered one of the worst openings ever among films in wide release: it was 98th worst according to Box Office Mojo. Final box office take was $3.3 million, well under that of Part I despite the doubling of the budget to $20 million according to The Daily Caller. Those figures should be treated as tentative as the Internet Movie Database estimates Part 1 budget at $20 million and the Part II budget at $10 million, while Box Office Mojo says Part 1 cost $20 million and Part 2 data are "NA". Critics gave the film a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.
The third part in the series, Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt?, was released on September 12, 2014. The movie opened on 242 screens and grossed $461,197 its opening weekend. It was panned by critics, holding a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on ten reviews.
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- ^Younkins, Edward W. "Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand's Philosophical and Literary Masterpiece". In Younkins 2007, pp. 9–10
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- ^Peikoff, Leonard. "Introduction to the 35th Anniversary Edition". In Rand, Ayn (1996) . Atlas Shrugged (35th anniversary ed.). New York: Signet. pp. 6–8. ISBN 0-451-19114-5.
- ^Leonard Peikoff, "The Philosophy of Objectivism" lecture series (1976), Lecture 8. 
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- ^According to the Ayn Rand Institute, Atlas Shrugged has been translated into Albanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Marathi, Mongolian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Ukrainian.