In 1991, the Library of Congress conducted a survey on reading habits and respondents chose the Bible as the book that made the most difference in their lives.
The second most influential book? Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, and is almost as long as the Bible sitting at a whopping 1088 pages. It is an investment of time, but in my opinion, totally worth it.
This is my second time reading Atlas Shrugged. The first was the physical copy of the book about 8 years ago. This second time was an audiobook.
As I write this, I’m trying to reflect on what I took from it that was meaningful and not some regurgitated conversation I’ve had on it in the past. Here’s a quick background and general synopsis (with little-to-no spoilers), after which I’ll move into some takeaways.
Ayn Rand was born in Russia in 1905 and lived through the Russian Revolution that brought Lenin and Communism to power. She lived through the early implementation of Communism and moved to the United States when she was 21.
This may help explain why her novels are blatantly anti-communism/anti-socialism and pro-capitalism. She published the first of her more popular novels, The Fountainhead, in 1943. This is also a life-changing read and I may do a similar review on that later.
Karl Marx had a Communist Manifesto, well, Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s version of a Capitalist Manifesto, albeit in novel form.
Producers vs Looters
There are two main character types in Atlas Shrugged:
Producers and Looters.
Producers are those who live by the principle of “you reap what you sow.” They find joy, fulfillment, and purpose in the work, in the production, in the labor, and in the products of that labor. They are men and women of mental strength who know their purpose and accomplish that purpose without excuse or distraction.
These characters in the book are always sure of themselves and pretty much never waiver from their course of action. It leaves you feeling a bit insecure and wishing that you could have the cool, calm, and collected thought process that these characters possess. The producers always say the right thing in the right moment. They always make the correct, calculated action and remain 5 steps ahead of those who would oppose them.
The producers are the people who bring innovation and keep the world moving forward. They contribute their genius and products in exchange for money, which is the only honest form of currency.
Producers expect profits, wealth, capital, and growth because what they produce is genuinely better and will bring more benefit to the world in terms of better products, better living conditions, more jobs, and more wealth downstream.
Some of the main Producer characters: Dagny Taggart (railroads), Hank Rearden (metal), Francisco d’Anconia (copper and ore), and John Galt (energy). Yes, if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “who is John Galt” well, it comes from Atlas Shrugged and you’ll hear it a lot.
Looters are those whose form of currency is influence and governmental policy. They earn more power and money by forcing producers to sell at losses, make sacrifices for the common good, and use talents and products to benefit other looters (usually close friends of the looters).
They expect producers to comply with public policy and laws that make it illegal for producers to profit too much (or at all). They force producers to create for those within the political elite, who are friends with the right people, rather than for those who could use the products to create bigger and better things.
Looters use taxes, policies, production limits, exclusivity contracts, and the media to control production across all industries. They prop up their friends’ businesses by increasing the barrier to entry for those entering markets with superior products and services as well as allocating government money to fund their cronies and businesses that are substandard.
Looters don’t know what they want to produce in life, in fact, they don’t actually produce anything. Their real goal is to stop and/or destroy producers by exerting political and social power. Looters want to destroy, simply because they can, knowing that it will harm society as a whole while disguising their policies around the betterment of society and social justice.
Some of the main Looter characters: James Taggart (railroads), Dr. Floyd Ferris (state science), Wesley Mouch (lobbyist).
The 3 major speeches
You get three main speeches by three separate protagonists in Atlas Shrugged that, when strung together, seem to serve as a well thought out counter to anyone who is peddling communist or socialist policies. I’ll point out who gives the speech, where to find it in the book, and links to the speeches elsewhere on the internet.
Context is big here so be sure to read the whole book to understand why these are so meaningful.
- Francisco’s speech on Money
Part II: Chapter 2
- Hank Rearden’s courtroom speech
Part II: Chapter 4
- John Galt’s radio broadcast
Part III: Chapter 7
Predicting the future
Atlas Shrugged describes a few things that remind me of our existing climate.
• Government-imposed mandatory curfews.
• Government economic policies that create massive layoffs.
• Government officials hiring protesters to incite violent riots to push a political agenda and encourage government seizure of certain means of production.
Just something to think about.
Ayn Rand’s romantic philosophy is… different than mine. Fidelity isn’t a value that characters care much about in both Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead. In fact (spoiler alert), if a character is married, they will sleep with someone else. Marriage isn’t the most encouraged societal ideal to Ayn Rand.
The female leads move from one protagonist to the other, and the male characters seem genuinely okay with it. Sex is almost transactional, but not in the exchange of money/prostitution sense.
For the protagonists, it is more of a “we think the same, accomplish incredible things, and have a mutual respect for each other so…” followed by clothes coming off and both reaching the climax of passion at the exact same time, every time.
For the antagonists, it’s a “let’s do this just to spite someone or because we can’t control ourselves.” No one leaves feeling very good about themselves and they are never “in-sync” if you know what I mean (or is it N’Sync?).
I mostly try to skim past the romantic scenes as they are just not my cup of tea.
As I read/listen to Atlas Shrugged, I find myself strongly agreeing with most and strongly disagreeing with some.
There are idealistic behaviors represented, with characters making what I consider to be unrealistic decisions. I get it, it’s a fiction novel, but still, everyone has a weakness, right? Well, not Ayn Rand’s heroes. Having said that, the resolve and 100% commitment to purpose that her protagonists posses inspire me to be more firm in my convictions.
There are many occasions where I find myself writing down sentences, paragraphs, and entire pages because characters express exactly how I feel about rewarding producers, the evil of looters, and the dangers of government officials overstepping their bounds, justifying overreach with lies in the media. I agree with the idea that human thought, hard work, and determination separate poor from average and average from great accomplishments.
The idea that lazy, corrupt, incompetent people will try to make things “fair” by robbing from the deservedly rich is something I see (and admittedly benefit from at times) all around me. “I want it, but can’t earn it, so because they have it and I want it, I deserve it and should be able to take it” basically sums it up.
I really enjoy reading this book, otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it (twice). I highly recommend it to people who are interested in economic systems, political policy, the viewpoint of someone who lived through and abhors communism while loving capitalism, and super-strange love interests.
This wraps up an over-simplified review of a massive, deep, impactful book. Atlas Shrugged is one of the most influential books I’ve ever read so, good job 1991 survey. The article about the survey is here.
You can purchase Atlas Shrugged here for super cheap and I earn like $0.02 if you do (yay!): Amazon.com