Atlas Shrugged : Story, Positives and Negatives

What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike? Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is a story of America in the grip of an economic crisis and plagued by oil shortages and rampant unemployment. Atlas Shrugged shows how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them and to portray what happens to the world without them.

What is Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is a 1957 novel by Ayn Rand. Rand’s fourth and final novel with 1168 pages with 561,996 words. It was also her longest, and the one she considered to be her magnum opus in the realm of fiction writing. 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.

Leo Tolstoy book War and Peace has 587,287 words

The longest novel is The Blah Story by Nigel Tomm with 3,277,227 words in 7312 pages

Her other books are The Fountainhead, Anthem, We the Living The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism

Why is the name of the book Atlas Shrugged?

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 “the greater the titan’s effort, the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders”.

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”
“To shrug.”

The Story of Atlas Shrugged

The book follows the protagonist Dagny Taggart, the operating vice-president of a railroad company called Taggart Transcontinental. She attempts to keep the company of her grandfather alive against statism and collectivism in a time of sustained economic depression. The plot dives into worsen economic conditions and governments agencies attempts to control the businesses.

Her brother, James Taggart, is aware that the company is facing difficult times but makes wrong choices and irrational decisions that result in inflicting more damage to the company.

James makes a decision of buying steel from Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel instead of Hank Rearden’s Rearden Steel, despite knowing that the former is habitual of delaying delivery at important times. Hank Rearden is a self-made steel magnate who creates a new metal that is lighter and stronger than steel. However, Hank is not only badgered but also considered greedy after successfully creating a new metal. Dagny shows faith in Hank in spite of the pressure put on her by government agencies to use conventional steel.

As Dagny and Hank began to fall in love with each other, their purpose and determination become stronger. Although Hank is already married, he goes on a vacation across the United States with Dagny. They find an abandoned factory and discover an incomplete motor of vast potential; the motor transforms atmospheric static electricity into kinetic electricity. Dagny decides to find the inventor of the motor along with the answers behind the disappearance of people.

She flies to Utah to meet a scientist only to discover that he has already set off on a plane with an unknown person. She follows the plane to where it disappears under unknown circumstances and finds hidden Atlantis where John Galt has been bringing all the disappeared people in an effort to recruit them. John Galt explains the purpose of an “organized” strike and standing up against the government.

Dagny decides not to give her railroad to destruction and leaves the valley. Galt follows Dagny back to the New York City. Dagny finds out that Galt has been working right under her nose as a lowly labourer and is responsible for hacking the national radio broadcast to deliver a long speech. The speech made by Halt explains Rand’s philosophy of objectivism and also the theme of the novel.

The leaders realize that they can only restore order if they force Halt to save them. They follow Dagny and capture Halt but are not successful in forcing him to change his mind. Galt’s friends conduct a successful rescue mission and Galt is freed. At the end of the novel, they see New York City’s lights go out, indicating the success of their mission.

Among the citizens, there is a common yet sarcastic phrase, “Who is John Halt?” The sarcastic phrase means that “there is no point in asking important questions because we don’t know their answers.” Regardless of the attempts made by the government, odd things keep on happening such as leaders disappearing or quitting without giving any warning or notification. The leaders of businesses and entertainment are effectively leaving and going on strike against the strict regulations and increased taxes from the government. Even Dagny’s friend and supporter Ellis Wyatt disappears into thin air. This connection becomes more severe as the disappearances of leaders start to increase with more involvement from the government.

Some important Characters in Atlas Shrugged

Francisco d’Anconia

“An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.”   Ayn Rand

Francisco d’Anconia is one of the central characters in Atlas Shrugged, an owner by inheritance of the world’s largest copper mining operation. He is a childhood friend, and the first love, of Dagny Taggart. Francisco cultivates a public image as a spoiled playboy who completely mismanages his business. Aside from philandering and wasting money, his favourite pastimes seem to be mocking and manipulating people

If John Galt is the shadowy, mysterious figure in the book, Francisco is the mystery man hiding in plain sight. He’s witty, he’s charming, and he’s described as ridiculously good-looking. We see a lot of Francisco in the first two volumes of the book, and each time he pops us he just seems to confuse us (and the other characters) more.

He was a classmate of John Galt and Ragnar Danneskjöld and student of both Hugh Akston and Robert Stadler. He began working while still in school, proving that he could have made a fortune without the aid of his family’s wealth and power. Later, Francisco bankrupts the d’Anconia business to put it out of others’ reach.

Francisco and Dagny mirror one another in some very interesting ways. Both grew up together and shared the same values. Both have ancestors who inspire them. (Francisco’s ancestor Sebastián d’Anconia provides an important counterpoint to Dagny’s Nat Taggart.) And both come from wealth, which contrasts to characters like Hank and John, who started out poor. Francisco and Dagny are heirs who will inherit family businesses rather than build their own from scratch.  He is the part of her past. Their love affair has a disastrous end. That’s ironic because Francisco does the entire strike thing for the sake of his true love, Dagny. Through Francisco and Dagny we learn that while the past is an influential and a driving force in people’s lives, it can’t ever be repeated or recaptured. As he says

“I am thinking of the fifteen years that Sebastián d’Anconia had to wait for the woman he loved: He did not know whether he would ever find her again, whether she would survive…whether she would wait for him. But he knew that she could not live through his battle and that he could not call her to him until it was won….But when he carried her across the threshold of his house, as the first Señora d’Anconia of a new world, he knew that the battle was won.” (2.5.1.240)

Ragnar Danneskjöld

Kept in the background for much of the book. We hear of Ragnar mainly through gossip and the fearful discussions of people commenting on his pirate raids. Ragnar is pirate,a sort of a mythic figure who inspires dread and confusion.

One of Galt’s first followers, and world-famous as a pirate, who seizes relief ships sent from the United States to the People’s States of Europe. He works to ensure that they have enough capital to rebuild the world.

Danneskjöld is married to the actress Kay Ludlow; their relationship is kept hidden from the outside world, which only knows of Ludlow as a retired film star. Considered a misfit by Galt’s other adherents, he views his actions as a means to speed the world along in understanding Galt’s perspective.

Danneskjöld makes a personal appearance to encourage Rearden to persevere in his increasingly difficult situation, and gives him a bar of gold as compensation for the income taxes he has paid over the last several years.

“I’m after a man whom I want to destroy. ”
“What man?”
“Robin Hood. …He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I’m the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich – or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.”
 (2.7.2.93-97)

What I actually am, Mr. Rearden, is a policeman. It is a policeman’s duty to protect men from criminals – criminals being those who seize wealth by force. … But when robbery becomes the purpose of the law…then it is an outlaw who has to become a policeman. (2.7.2.101)

In the novel, Dagny becomes acquainted with several characters such as Wesley Mouch, a Washington lobbyist who intentionally destroys opportunities of a common man to build a largely free market business and works with the government in an effort to control all commerce and enterprise.

On the other hand, she meets Ellis Wyatt, a hard-working man and founder of successful enterprise Wyatt Oil. Ellis is one of the few people who support Dagny and Hank in their efforts to creating a system in which there are fewer interferences and control of the government.

Is Money Root of All Evil

Page 387 is a scene of a party where many rich people have gathered including Francisco d’Anconia. Francisco d’Anconia is one of the central characters in Atlas Shrugged, and owner by inheritance of the world’s largest copper mining empire. He is a childhood friend, and the first love of Dagny Taggart, the protagonist of the novel. Quotes from his speech are given below. The entire speech you, can read here. More at Is Money Good or Evil? Are Rich People Bad,Atlas Shrugged

Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort.

Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best your money can find

When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others

Atlas Shrugged and Aristotle

The novel is divided into three parts consisting of ten chapters each. The three section titles of Atlas Shrugged are references to the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE). Each title refers to an Aristotelian law of thought. Aristotle’s laws of logic.

  • Part One is titled ‘Non-Contradiction’
  • Part Two, titled ‘Either-Or’
  • Part Three is titled ‘A Is A’, a reference to ‘the Law of Identity’.”

Ayn Rand uses these laws as the foundation for her own philosophy of Objectivism. With Atlas Shrugged, Rand wanted to portray the morality of rational self-interest. And for that, she went on to depict what happens when intellectuals go on a strike and refuse to offer their services to the world.

Video: Ayn Rand Analyzed in One Minute: From Biography to Philosophy

People say a lot of things about Ayn Rand (some good, some… not so much) but nobody can deny that through her work (especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), has made a lot of people think. This video summarises her philosophy

Video: Atlas Shrugged Trailer- Part 1

Video: Atlas Shrugged Trailer- Part 2

Video: Atlas Shrugged Trailer- Part 3

The Positives of Atlas Shrugged

The book reflects how a person has to handle the pressure after entering into the business world. It not only explains why you need to go into business, but it also captures the spirit of the ability to create something that can be valuable for you and others. It gives some other lessons as well. For instance, people can or will not oppose you on what you do, but this doesn’t mean that you can expect from people to approve or stand up for you. In other words, you have to rely on yourself and not others to lead you. There is no need of personal feeling or need in the business world and no matter you hate it or like it, you have to do everything yourself.

The book gives a message of selecting the approach of simplicity while pursuing one’s dream. It also conveys a message that you need to surround yourself with more productive people so that you can achieve more in your business and life. In the book, Rand gives an image of a productive individual. According to her, a productive individual must have character traits, values, and beliefs such as not imposing your standards upon others and having a purpose in life. That explains why her main character exhibits some behaviours e.g. staying motivated through curiosity and action, handling people and pressure, making decisions and sticking to them (something that Dagny’s brother lacked), moving towards her goal and leaving anything that wasn’t helping her and also recognizing her true potential.

Atlas Shrugged confronts its reader with a difficult and uncomfortable set of moral questions. The mind responds to the problems presented by the physical and material environment, but without the application of intelligence, no production is possible.

An interesting moral question as I read it concerned the unintended consequences of supposedly good intentionsAtlas traces the unseen, unintended consequences of so-called “good intentions.” Henry Rearden, for example, points out that he cannot use his suppliers’ good intentions to fuel his blast furnaces. When I board an aeroplane or get behind the wheel of a car, I like to think that the governing principles are not charity and sincerity but excellence and fidelity. If I have to have my brakes fixed, I care only about whether the person doing the work is honest and competent; I don’t care a wit for whether he means well. His intelligence and his fidelity, not his intentions and his sincerity, are what will slow my car when I am hurtling down the freeway at sixty or seventy miles per hour. Well-meaning incompetence poses a danger to me and to those around me.

Rand suggests that our values reflect how we consider what is right and what is wrong and also how we act in our lives. She suggests that a person must rely on the truth, stay happy, and remain productive (a person must have a purpose). Overall, the book was fairly successful in expressing the advocacy of reason, capitalism, and individualism.

The Negatives of Atlas Shrugged

The book is too long and Rand should’ve hired a good editor to cut some over-explanatory sections in the book. For instance, the rant from John Galt is over 40 pages long and it could be summarized to 10-15 pages.

The plot of the book is somewhat predictable. Some readers might not predict the whole story it but most of the plot can be anticipated.

There are some subplots that could be removed. It is because they did not have so much impact on the main story. Hence, the book could be shortened. The story is somewhat flawed but not so much that you cannot fall in love with it.

The book can be a bit difficult to read. One of the main reasons behind it is that some themes are repeated from time to time but not through the same characters, so a reader might not find it irritating.

Top 5 Abandoned Books

They may be some of the most famous books in history, but “Catch-22,” “Atlas Shrugged,” and “The Lord of the Rings” are among 10 of the most “abandoned” books, according to reader-driven book recommendation website Goodreads in 2013. Interested in why people set aside their books, Goodreads analyzed which books were most frequently shelved by its users.

Classic Books people could not complete
Classic Books people could not complete

Related Articles:

Is Money Good or Evil? Are Rich People Bad,Atlas Shrugged

In Summary

All in all, the plot of this book is predictable but there are some decent turns and twists (just like railway tracks) that can keep you hooked to this book. It is best if the book is read for its philosophical view. It is a long book so a reader needs to be mentally prepared before reading it A reader can only like it if he/she wants to spend a good time without the worry of finishing the book in a hurry.

Regardless of all the criticism it received after its publication, it achieved overwhelming and enduring popularity in the following years. Hence, this explains that if this book is read for its philosophical view then it has most of the traits of a good, intriguing book.

2 Comments

  1. One of my all time favourites

    1. So is mine. It changed my perspective on how we look at businessman

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