I just finished reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the famous novel that starts with the rhetorical queston “Who is John Galt?”. When I ordered the book I mainly did so because I felt it’s a book that everyone should read at least once in his/her life. During the US presidential campaign I saw references to the book quite often (both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan counted the book among their favorites) and that intrigued me. I am not a fan of the current Republican Party (especially because of their pro-religion and anti-global warming stance), but I wanted to understand the Republican’s points of view a bit better, and the book certainly helps to do that.
Because of this I didn’t really think I would enjoy the book, and when I saw that the novel was 1168 pages long and printed in a small font I wasn’t sure whether reading it would be a worthwhile investment of my time. But it turned out it was: Atlas Shrugged is actually one of the best books I ever read, a great story that makes you think about the virtues and disadvantages of capitalism, socialism/communism, politics, business and most important, reason.
Although I still don’t fully agree with the theme of the book (the role of man’s mind in existence) and especially not with the way Mrs. Rand describes it (too binary, it’s not either 0% or 100%), the book itself is excellent and makes you think about the world around you and the way people act – or don’t act. But it’s not just about economic theory or existential philosophy, because that would make an almost 1200 page book too boring to read for me.
The story is quite intriguing, describing the People’s State of America in a 1950’s like setting , in which the government is taking more and more control of businesses, leading the real business men to give up and disappear. The main character in the book is Ms. Dagny Taggart who runs Taggert Transcontinental, the biggest railroad in the country. She gives everything to let the railroad survive, despite the fact that it’s clear from the beginning that it will be impossible to win if the government’s goal is to eventually control (and thereby destroy) all businesses.
The book is a combination of a mythical story (think about a present-day Atlantis), an economic and political story, but also a love story with several of the main personas getting romantically involved with Dagny. And there is some mystery as well, because it takes more than half the book before you realize what is really going on and who John Galt is.
The only thing I would have changed is that I would have liked the book to be a bit shorter. Is it really necessary to have a 60-page speech (without a single interruption or remark, from page 1009-1069) by John Galt? Sometimes Mrs. Rand drags on for too long and she keeps on revisiting her favorite themes. Because of that it took me over a month to read this book, when I normally finish a book in 2-3 days. I even read a few books in between, but once I was halfway I finished the rest of the book in just over a week, and the last 270 pages in one day.
This book is not for everyone, but if you have an entrepreneurial mind I think you will enjoy it. The entrepreneurs are the heroes in this book and even though they are despised by the government they are idolized through Ayn Rand’s theories. Many people seem to have read Atlas Shrugged in high school, but I think that would have been too early for me. You need more life experience to really understand and enjoy it.
For me the book was much better than I had expected, but it’s not a novel that you can read in a few nights. It’s one of the very few books that I would describe as important to read at least once in your life. I am sure that over the coming years I will discuss it more than once over a glass of wine with others that also read it, and I may even reread it eventually.
Note: the book has been made into a movie as well, into 2 movies actually (part I and II). So if you are mainly interested in the story and less in the details of it philosophical themes, the film may be a decent substitute. I only watched the trailer of the movie and it saw that it plays in a different era, but from what I read the story seems to be quite similar.