Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.


Atlas Shrugged

Author: Rand, Ayn

Link to Amazon
Publisher: Random House
Publish date: 10/10/1957
Language: English
Pages: 1 168
ISBN-10:

Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction

“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” -Ayn Rand

From the Back Cover

Atlas Shrugged is set in a time when large companies were forming in the United States and trains were a crucial mode of transportation for the growing industry.  However, it presents a dystopian vision where more and more people are turning to nihilism and communism, abandoning the spirit of innovation and hard work that once “made America great”. In the novel, Americans are losing their soul, and the growing state transforms everything into a bureaucratic nightmare. As society falls apart, people lose hope and stop caring about beauty and quality.

The central theme of Atlas Shrugged serves as a warning against the rise of socialism and the impact of collectivist ideologies on individual freedom and entrepreneurial spirit. It portrays the struggles of free spirits and entrepreneurs against the encroaching power of the state, offering hope to those who strive to improve themselves despite societal pressures.


My Review

The Author

Before reading “Atlas Shrugged, I had some familiarity with Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. I had read her novella Anthem, which shares similar themes but is set in a world that has further descended into darkness, reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. While Atlas Shrugged didn’t significantly alter my understanding of Objectivism, it did clarify the importance Rand placed on respecting ownership, hard work, and morality.

The Role of the Mind as a Moral Force

Atlas Shrugged emphasizes taking pride in one’s work, whether you are an assistant railway operator, a pirate, or the head of a multimillion-dollar empire. The novel highlights the importance of truthfulness, craftsmanship, and recognizing beauty. It suggests that appreciating things for what they are is a superpower today. The portrayal of rationality and irrationality in the novel is extreme, but it underscores the importance of rational thought as a moral imperative. One memorable instance is Ragnar Danneskjöld’s piracy, which he sees as reclaiming what has been stolen by the state, embodying a morally driven rebellion.

Characters

Atlas Shrugged offers a great variety of characters with very different personalities and characteristics. From the morally driven pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld to the loyal employee Eddie Willers and the business tycoons Hank and Dagny, and self-made med like Wyatt, it’s easy to recognize bits and pieces of yourself in them (yes, even the antagonists).

The most memorable character from the book for most is probably John Galt, the secretive man who waits until the latter parts of the book to make an entry. And what an entry it is! A speech directed at the destroyers, knowingly and unknowingly, of the collapsing society. The undeserving and needy and the collectivist money-grabbing regulators alike, portraid by characters like Dagny’s brother James and Wesley Mouch.

For me, though, the characters that inspired and gained my support most was Ragnar Danneskjöld, the notorious pirate, a Robin Hood of the sea, on a mission to take back what is owed to the people creating wealth, and Eddie Willers, the unfaltering loyal assistant to Dagny who struggles to maintain his integrity in a collapsing society. Particularly Eddie stood out to me as someone to look up to. No particular skill, no inventor, no business wizard, and no great leader. Just loyalty and a personal dedication to making things better and not default into degeneracy, despite a crumbling world and every incentive to stop trying.

The Ellis Torch

One of my favorite scenes from the book (aside from Danneskjöld) is the torching of the Wyatt Oil Fields. Ellis, the owner of the oil fields is fed up and in an act of pure anger and rebelliousness he kills his darling industry by fire and leaves after putting out an ultimatum to the world:

“You can listen to an ultimatum….So here is my ultimatum: it is now in your power to destroy me. I may have to go; but if I go, I’ll make sure that I take all the rest of you along with me.”

-Ellis Wyatt

Ellis single-handedly built the oil empire in Colorado, transforming the untapped oil fields into a highly productive and profitable enterprise that acted as a motor for the rest of the industries in the area. After facing increasing regulations and interference from the government he sees no way out and sets fire to his own oil fields, creating what becomes know as the “Wyatt’s Torch” throughout the rest of the book.

Listening to the Book

I should admit I didn’t read the book, but rather listened to the 62 hrs and 56 min long audiobook, narrated by Scott Brick. Twice. I really did enjoy the performance and audio quality of the narrator and production, he managed to really capture the degenerate whining characters while at the same time show the inspiring and energetic sides of the protagonists.

Overall, listening to the audiobook was an great experience, and even the lengthy speeches (John Galt went on for hours) were engaging. However, there were parts where the novel felt drawn out, causing my interest to wane occasionally.

Personal Reflection and Modern Relevance

While I don’t fully subscribe to Objectivism, the novel reinforced my belief in the potential of the individual to choose their own path and improve the world. It emphasized the importance of hard work and the moral imperative of leaving the world better than we found it. However, I still recognize some belief in the necessity of cooperation and collectivism for achieving great things.

Relevance to Modern Western Society

Sweden, e.g., is a highly collectivist society, yet it also has elements of the entrepreneurial spirit depicted in the novel. The increasing government regulations and taxes can stifle creativity and hard work, similar to the novel’s portrayal of state overreach. Despite this, there is a strong undercurrent of innovation and inventiveness in the Swedish people. The Swedes generally have great work ethics and we can find similarities to people like Eddie Willers in a lot of places. Ragnar Danneskjöld is another character who really comes to mind when thinking of the modern Western society, even if the spirit sometimes is misdirected to causes that hurt instead of help the society moving forward.

Conclusion

Atlas Shrugged highlights the eternal struggle between comfort and progress, emphasizing the importance of hard work, quality, and beauty. It is a powerful critique of collectivism and a celebration of individual achievement and rational thought.

Recommendation

I would recommend Atlas Shrugged to anyone interested in understanding the minds behind progress and innovation. Regardless of political viewpoints, the novel offers valuable insights into the importance of individualism, morality, and the role of the mind in human society.

4/5 thumbs up!