This article is about the novel. For the film adaptations, see Atlas Shrugged: Part I or Atlas Shrugged: Part II.
Atlas Shrugged is a novel by Ayn Rand, first published in 1957 in the United States. Rand’s fourth and last 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 romance, mystery, and science fiction, and it contains Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction.
The book explores a dystopian United States where many of society’s most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations and go on strike. The refusal evokes the imagery of what would happen if the mythological Atlas refused to continue to hold up the world. They are led by John Galt. Galt describes the strike as “stopping the motor of the world” by withdrawing the minds that drive society’s growth and productivity. In their efforts, these people “of the mind” hope to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is doomed, that civilization cannot exist where every person is a slave to society and government, and that the destruction of the profit motive leads to the collapse of society. The protagonist, Dagny Taggart, sees society collapse around her as the government increasingly asserts control over all industry.
The novel’s title is a reference to Atlas, a Titan of Greek mythology, who in the novel is described as “the giant who holds the world on his shoulders”. The significance of this reference is seen in a conversation between the characters Francisco d’Anconia and Hank Rearden, in which d’Anconia asks Rearden what sort of advice he would give to 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 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 that Rand would subsequently develop into the philosophy of Objectivism. It advocates the core tenets of Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and expresses her concept of human achievement. In doing so, it expresses many facets of Rand’s philosophy, such as the advocacy of reason, individualism, capitalism, and the failures of government coercion.
Atlas Shrugged received largely negative reviews after its 1957 publication, but achieved enduring popularity and consistent sales in the following decades.
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”. Her stated goal for writing the text was “to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them”. Nonetheless, when asked by film producer Albert S. Ruddy if a screenplay could focus on the love story, Rand agreed and said, “That’s all it ever was.”
Rand remarked that 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 a nonfiction book 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 set out to create a work of fiction that explored the role of the mind in human life and the morality of rational self-interest, by exploring the consequences when the people “of the mind” go on strike, refusing to allow their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas to be taken from them by the government or by the rest of the world. The working title throughout her writing was The Strike, but Rand thought this title would have revealed the mystery element of the novel prematurely, so she was pleased when her husband suggested Atlas Shrugged, previously the title of one of the chapters, as a better title for the book.
To produce Atlas Shrugged, Rand conducted research on American industry, specifically the railroad industry, which forms a key element in her novel. 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 observed, “Both The Driver and Atlas Shrugged 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.”
To persuade Rand to publish her novel with Random House, publisher Bennet Cerf proposed a “philosophic contest” in which Rand would submit her work to various publishers to judge their response to its ideas, so she could evaluate who might best promote her work. Because of the success of Rand’s 1943 novel The Fountainhead, the initial print run was 100,000 copies. It marked a turning point in her life, ending her career as novelist and beginning her tenure as a popular philosopher.
Atlas Shrugged is set in an alternative 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 President. Writer Edward Younkins noted, “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 a novelty significantly less influential than radio. While many other countries are mentioned in passing, there is no mention of the Soviet Union, no reference to World War II or the Cold War. It is implied that the countries of the world are converting to big government statism, along vaguely Marxist lines, in references to “People’s States” in Europe and South America. Plot elements also refer to nationalization of businesses in these “People’s States”, as well as in America. The “mixed economy” of the book’s present is often contrasted with the “pure” capitalism of 19th century America, wistfully recalled as a lost Golden Age.
The novel is divided into three parts consisting of ten chapters each. Robert James Bidinotto noted “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’.”
Template:See alsoAs the novel opens, protagonist Dagny Taggart, the Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental, a giant railroad company originally pioneered by her grandfather, attempts to keep the company alive during difficult economic times marked by collectivism and statism. While Dagny runs the company from behind the scenes, her brother, James Taggart, the railroad’s President, is peripherally aware of the company’s troubles, but will not make any difficult choices, preferring to avoid responsibility for any actions while watching his company go under. He 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. In this as in other decisions, Dagny simply goes ahead with her own policy and challenges him to repeal it. As this unfolds, Dagny is disappointed to discover that Francisco d’Anconia, a true genius and her only childhood friend, first love, and king of the copper industry, appears to have become a worthless playboy who is destroying his family’s international copper company, which has made him into one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.
Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate of great integrity, has recently developed a metal alloy called Rearden Metal, now the strongest and most reliable metal in the world. Hank chooses to keep the instructions to its creation a secret, sparking jealousy and uproar among competitors. False claims are made about the danger of the alloy and are backed by government agencies. As a result of this, pressure is put on Dagny to use conventional steel, but she refuses. Hank’s career is hindered by his feelings of obligation toward his manipulative wife, mother, and ungrateful younger brother, who show no appreciation for everything he provides for them. Dagny also becomes acquainted with Wesley Mouch, a Washington lobbyist initially working for Rearden, whom he betrays. Mouch eventually leads the government’s efforts in controlling all commerce and enterprise, intentionally destroying the common man’s opportunity to build a largely successful, free-market business. The reader also becomes acquainted with Ellis Wyatt, the sole founder and supervisor of the successful enterprise Wyatt Oil. He is a young, self-possessed, hard-working man one of the few men still loyal to Dagny and Hank’s efforts in pushing for a system of business free of government meddling and control.
While economic conditions worsen and government agencies continue to enforce their control on successful businesses, the nave, yet weary mass of citizens are often heard reciting the new, popular street phrase, “Who is John Galt?” This sarcastic phrase is given in response to what tend to be sincere questions about heavy subjects, wherein the individual can find 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?”
Dagny begins to notice the nation’s brightest innovators and business leaders abruptly disappearing, one by one, under mysterious circumstances, all leaving their top industrial businesses to certain failure. The most recent of these leaders to have vanished is Dagny’s friend Ellis Wyatt, who, like the others, has suddenly disappeared into thin air with no warning, leaving nothing behind except an empty office and his most successful oil well now spewing petroleum and fire high into the air (later to be named “Wyatt’s Torch”). Each of these men proves to be absent despite a thorough search put on by ever-anxious politicians, who have now found themselves trapped within a government that has been “left to dry”, by its leaders in business utterly helpless without them.
In a romantic subplot, Dagny and Hank fall deeply in love. Rand refers to their love as a purer kind of love than the one that most men and women experience. These two people have a similar purpose in life, and they see in each other a kindred soul. In the universe of the novel, men and women with purpose are rare and, to an extent, deified thus making their love especially sacred. Hank (who is still married to another woman) goes on vacation with Dagny on a drive across the United States. They discover, amongst the ruins of an abandoned factory, an incomplete motor that transforms atmospheric static electricity into kinetic electricity. Deeply moved by the significance of a motor which has the potential to completely transform the world, Dagny sets out to find the inventor.
In addition to the inventor of the motor, Dagny also makes it her mission to find the reason so many important people keep disappearing. These two quests converge when Dagny flies to Utah to speak with a scientist she has working on reverse-engineering the motor. While still at the airfield, she discovers the scientist has just flown off with a mysterious man. Dagny follows the plane to where it mysteriously disappears, eventually crash-landing through a “ray screen” used to hide Galt’s Gulch – the hidden Atlantis where John Galt has been bringing those he recruits. John Galt proceeds to explain the series of events which led to an organized “strike” against those who use the force of law and moral guilt to confiscate the accomplishments of society’s productive members.
Unable to give up her railroad to destruction, Dagny leaves the valley as soon as she can. As the nation is collapsing, Galt follows Dagny back to New York City (where she learns he has been working in plain sight for her railroad as a lowly laborer), where he hacks into a national radio broadcast to deliver a long speech to the people (70 pages in the first edition), serving to explain the novel’s theme and Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. As the government begins to collapse following Galt’s message, the leaders decide the only way to restore order is to capture Galt and force him to save them. While they succeed in following Dagny to him and subsequently taking him prisoner, they are unable to turn Galt, who is eventually freed in a rescue mission by a group of friends. While they are flying back to their hidden valley, they see the lights go out in New York City – the indication that their mission has been completed. The novel closes with a brief section where the strikers complete their preparations and Galt announces that they will return to the world.
The story of Atlas Shrugged dramatically expresses Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism: Rand’s ethical egoism, her advocacy of “rational selfishness”, is perhaps her most well-known position. For Rand, 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 each of which she explains in some detail in “The Objectivist Ethics”. 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 it provides to the Marxist version of exploitation 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 portrays fascism, socialism and communism any form of state intervention in society as systemically and fatally flawed. In addition, positions are expressed on a variety of other topics, including sex, politics, friendship, charity, childhood, and many others. Rand said it is not a fundamentally political book, but a demonstration of the individual mind’s position and value in society.
Rand argues that independence and individual achievement enable society to survive and thrive, and should be embraced. But this requires a rational moral code. She argues that, over time, coerced self-sacrifice must cause any society to self-destruct.
Similarly, Rand rejects faith (that “short-cut to knowledge”, she writes in the novel, which in fact is only a “short-circuit” destroying knowledge), along with any sort of a god or higher being. Rand urges the rejection of anything claiming “authority” over one’s own mind apart from the absolute of existence, itself. The book positions itself against religion specifically, often directly within the characters’ dialogue.
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”. Rand holds that evil is a parasite on the good and can only exist if the good tolerates it. Atlas Shrugged can be seen as an answer to the question of what would happen if this sanction were revoked. When Atlas shrugs, relieving himself of the burden of carrying the world, he is revoking his sanction.
Throughout Atlas Shrugged, numerous characters admit there is something wrong with the world that they cannot identify; frequently, they are struggling with the idea of sanction of the victim. We first glimpse the concept when Hank Rearden feels he is duty-bound to support his family, despite their hostility towards him; later, the principle is stated explicitly 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 vows to stop the motor of the world by persuading the creators of the world to withhold their sanction: “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”.
In Rand’s view, morality requires we do not sanction our own victimhood. She assigns virtue to the trait of rational self-interest. However, Rand contends moral selfishness does not mean a license to do whatever one pleases, guided by whims. It means the exacting discipline of defining and pursuing one’s rational self-interest. A code of rational self-interest rejects every form of human sacrifice, whether of oneself to others or of others to oneself.
Atlas Shrugged endorses the belief that a society’s best hope rests on adopting a system of pure laissez-faire. Rand’s view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt, who says, “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”, and claims that “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 as the only way to live consistently with his beliefs.
In the world of Atlas Shrugged, society stagnates when independent productive achievers are socially demonized and even punished for their accomplishments. Independence and personal happiness had flourished to the extent that people were free, and achievement was rewarded to the extent that individual ownership of private property was strictly respected. This is in line 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 characterizes the actions of government employees in a way that is consistent with public choice theory, describing how the language of altruism is used to pass legislation that is nominally in the public interest (e.g., the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule”, and “The Equalization of Opportunity Bill”) but which in reality serves special interests and government agencies at the expense of the public and the producers of value.
“Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter.”
Francisco d’Anconia, Atlas Shrugged
Rand’s heroes must continually fight against “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” confiscate others’ earnings by force (“at the point of a gun”) and include government officials, whose demands are backed by the implicit threat of force. Some officials are merely executing government policy, such as those who confiscate one state’s seed grain to feed the starving citizens of another; others are exploiting 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” demand others’ earnings on behalf of the needy and those unable to earn themselves; however, they curse the producers who make that help possible and are jealous and resentful of the talented upon whom they depend. They are ultimately as destructive as the looters destroying the productive through guilt, and appealing to “moral right” while enabling the “lawful” looting performed by governments.
Looting and mooching are seen at all levels of the world Atlas Shrugged portrays, from the looting officials Dagny Taggart must work around and the mooching brother Hank Rearden struggles with, to the looting of whole industries by companies like Associated Steel and the mooching demands for foreign aid by the starving countries of Europe.
One of the novel’s heroes, Francisco d’Anconia, indicates the role of “looters” in relation to money itself:
“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 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 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? …Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into bread you need to survive tomorrow. …Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men’s protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values… Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: ‘Account Overdrawn.'”
“Through Dagny’s associations… Rand illustrates what a relationship between two self-actualized, equal human beings can be… Rand denies the existence of a split between the physical and the mental, the desires of the flesh and the longings of the spirit.”
In Atlas Shrugged, characters are sexually attracted to those who embody or seem to embody their values, be they higher or lower values by Rand’s standards. Characters who lack clear purpose find sex devoid of meaning. This is illustrated in the contrasting relationships of Hank Rearden with Lillian Rearden and Dagny Taggart, by the relationships of James Taggart with Cherryl Brooks and with Lillian Rearden, and finally in the relationship between Dagny and John Galt.
Adultery is committed by three characters throughout the course of the novel. The first and predominate act is that of Hank Rearden, who sleeps with Dagny after the opening of the John Galt Line, to celebrate the success of his metal and her determination to have the line built. The affair continues for some time – even including a cross-country vacation for the two – until Hank’s wife finds out; his wife does not want to divorce him, but instead wants to maintain her image as Mrs. Rearden and allows the affair to continue until Hank manipulates the judicial system to obtain a divorce. Later in the novel, as Mrs. Rearden knows the divorce will be processed shortly, she has sex with Dagny’s brother James (who is also married, and despises Hank), as an act of revenge for them both against him. Having caught them, James’ wife proceeds to commit suicide. Yet adultery is never addressed on moral grounds; the sex is addressed on its own, either as celebration of accomplishment or as an act of revenge.
Technological progress and intellectual breakthroughs in scientific theory both figure prominently in Atlas Shrugged, leading some observers to classify Atlas 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 included in the story are refractor rays (Gulch mirage), a sophisticated electrical torture device (the Ferris Persuader), voice activated door locks (Gulch power station), palm-activated door locks (Galt’s New York lab), 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.”
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.
“Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of greed is good. Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out.”
Atlas Shrugged was generally disliked by critics, despite being a popular success. The book was dismissed by some as “a homage to greed”, while author Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality”. Helen Beal Woodward, reviewing Atlas Shrugged for The Saturday Review, opined that the novel was written with “dazzling virtuosity” but that it was “shot through with hatred”. This was echoed by Granville Hicks, writing for The New York Times Book Review, who also stated that 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 magazine 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, whereby “Randian man, like Marxian man is made the center of a godless world”. Chambers also wrote that 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, including a letter by Alan Greenspan to The New York Times Book Review, in which he responded to Hicks’ claim that “the book was written out of hate” by saying, “…Atlas Shrugged is 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.” Greenspan had read unpublished drafts of the work in Rand’s salon at least three years earlier. In an unpublished letter to the National Review, 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. Mr. Chambers may have changed a few of his political views; he has not changed the method of intellectual analysis and evaluation of the Party to which he belonged.”
Positive reviews appeared in a number of publications. Richard McLaughlin, reviewing the novel for The American Mercury, compared it to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in importance. Well-known journalist and book reviewer John Chamberlain, writing in The New York Herald Tribune, found Atlas Shrugged satisfying on many levels: science fiction, a “Dostoevsky” detective story and, most importantly, a “profound political parable”. However, Mimi Reisel Gladstein writes that reviewers who have “appreciated not only Rand’s writing style but also her message” have been “far outweighed by those who have been everything from hysterically hostile to merely uncomprehending”.
Former Rand friend, associate, business partner and lover Nathaniel Branden, to whom the book was originally dedicated, has had differing views of Atlas Shrugged in his life. He was initially quite favorable to it, praising it in the book he and Barbara Branden wrote in 1962 called Who is Ayn Rand? After he and Ayn Rand ended their relationship in 1968, both he and Barbara Branden repudiated their book in praise of Rand and her novels. As of 1971 though, in an interview he gave to “Reason” he listed some critiques, but concluded, “But what the hell, so there are a few things one can quarrel with in the book, so what? ATLAS SHRUGGED is the greatest novel that has ever been written, in my judgment, so let’s let it go at that.”
But years later, in 1984, two years after Rand’s death, he argued that Atlas Shrugged “encourages emotional repression and self-disowning” and that her works contained contradictory messages. Branden claimed that the characters rarely talk “on a simple, human level without launching into philosophical sermons”. 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. Rand herself, however, would not have regarded a novel as needing to portray such “ordinary” human interaction at all, even if an entire philosophy of life does need to address this.
Template:DetailsOver the years, Atlas Shrugged has attracted an energetic and committed fan base. Each year the Ayn Rand Institute donates 400,000 copies of works by Ayn 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 situated between the Bible and M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled as the book that made the most difference in the lives of 5,000 Book-of-the-Month club members surveyed, with a “large gap existing between the #1 book and the rest of the list”. 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.
In 1997, the libertarian Cato Institute held a joint conference with The Atlas Society, an Objectivist organization, to celebrate the fortieth 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”.
The C-SPAN television series American Writers listed Rand as one of twenty-two surveyed figures of American literature, though primarily mentioning The Fountainhead rather than Atlas Shrugged.
Rand’s impact on contemporary libertarian thought has been considerable, and it is noteworthy that the title of the leading 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”.
The Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises admired the unapologetic elitism of Rand’s work. In a private letter to Rand written a few months after the novel’s publication, he declared, “…Atlas Shrugged is not merely a novel. It is also (or may I say: first of all) 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.”
Acclaim has not been unanimous. Nobel Prize-winning economist and liberal commentator Paul Krugman alluded to an oft-quoted quip by John Rogers in his blog: “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.”
“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that Atlas Shrugged has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas.”
In the late 2000s, the book gained more media attention and 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 have offered high praise of the book on their respective radio and television programs. In 2006 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas cited Atlas Shrugged as among his favorite novels. Republican Congressman 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”.
The sales of Atlas Shrugged have since then sharply increased, according to The Economist magazine and The New York Times. The Economist reported that the fifty-two-year-old novel ranked #33 among Amazon.com’s top-selling books on January 13, 2009 and that its thirty 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. At the time of publication the novel was on the New York Times best-seller list and was selling at roughly a third the volume of 2011.
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 agreed that Ruddy could focus on the love story. “That’s all it ever was,” Rand said. 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 Shrugged television miniseries on NBC. Michael Jaffe hired screenwriter Stirling Silliphant to adapt the novel and he obtained approval from Rand on the final script. However, in 1979, with Fred Silverman’s rise as president of NBC, 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 Phillip 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 re-written 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, however audience and user reviews rate it at a 74% rating, on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and had less than $5 million in total box office receipts. The producer and screenwriter John Aglialoro blamed critics for the film’s paltry box office take and said he might go on strike.
However, 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. Critics gave the film a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews, while audiences gave the film an 84% rating. Film critics were not impressed with the film based on several reviews: one reviewer gave the film a “D” rating; while another reviewer gave the film a “1” rating (of 4).
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