Atlas Shrugged is a 1957 novel by Ayn Rand. 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 science fiction, mystery, and romance, and it contains Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction.
The book depicts a dystopian United States, wherein many of society’s most prominent and successful industrialists abandon their fortunes and the nation itself, in response to aggressive new regulations, whereupon most vital industries collapse. The title is a reference to Atlas, a Titan 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 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 from which Rand would subsequently develop Objectivism. In doing so, it expresses the advocacy of reason, individualism, capitalism, and the failures of governmental coercion.
Atlas Shrugged received largely negative reviews after its 1957 publication, but achieved enduring popularity and consistent sales in the following decades.
Context and writing
Rand’s stated goal for writing the novel 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”. 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 fiction 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 began Atlas Shrugged to depict the morality of rational self-interest, by exploring the consequences of a strike by intellectuals refusing to supply their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas to the rest of the world. The working title throughout her writing was The Strike, but Rand having thought this title would have revealed the mystery element of the novel prematurely, she was pleased when her husband suggested Atlas Shrugged, previously the title of a single chapter, for the book.
To produce Atlas Shrugged, Rand conducted research on the American railroad industry. 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.”
Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s last completed work of fiction. 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.
Due to the success of Rand’s 1943 novel The Fountainhead, she had no trouble attracting a publisher for Atlas Shrugged. This was a contrast to her previous novels, which she had struggled to place. Even before she began writing it, she had been approached by publishers interested in her next novel. However, her contract for The Fountainhead gave the first option to its publisher, Bobbs-Merrill. After reviewing a partial manuscript, they asked her to discuss a number of cuts and other changes. She refused, and Bobbs-Merrill rejected the book.
Hiram Hayden, an editor she liked who had left Bobbs-Merrill, asked her to consider his new employer, Random House. In an early discussion about the difficulties of publishing a controversial novel, Random House president Bennett Cerf proposed that Rand should submit the manuscript to multiple publishers simultaneously and ask how they would respond to its ideas, so she could evaluate who might best promote her work. Rand was impressed by the bold suggestion and by her overall conversations with them. After speaking with a few other publishers (out of about a dozen who were interested), Rand decided a multiple submission was not needed; she offered the manuscript to Random House. Upon reading the portion Rand submitted, Cerf declared it a “great book” and offered Rand a contract. It was the first time Rand had worked with a publisher whose executives seemed truly enthusiastic about one of her books.
Random House published the novel on October 10, 1957. The initial print run was 100,000 copies. The first paperback edition was published by New American Library in July 1959, with an initial run of 150,000. A 35th-anniversary edition was published by E. P. Dutton in 1992, with an introduction by Rand’s heir Leonard Peikoff.
Many translations have been published, including editions in Albanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Marathi, Mongolian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian,Spanish, Slovak, Swedish, and Turkish.
Atlas Shrugged is set in a 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 significantly less influential than radio. Although other countries are mentioned in passing, the Soviet Union, World War II, or the Cold War are not. The countries of the world are implied to be organized along vaguely Marxist lines, in references to “People’s States” in Europe and South America. Characters 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, 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‘.”
As the novel opens, protagonist Dagny Taggart, the Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company established by her grandfather, attempts to keep the company alive against collectivismand statism. Her brother, James Taggart, the railroad’s president, is peripherally aware of the company’s troubles, but 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 continues her own policy, but is herself disappointed to discover that Francisco d’Anconia, her childhood friend and first love, appears to be destroying his family’s international copper company without cause.
Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate, has developed an alloy called Rearden Metal, now the most reliable metal in the world, but keeps its composition secret, sparking jealousy among competitors. As a result, pressure is put on Dagny to use conventional steel, but she refuses. Hank’s career is hindered by his feelings of obligation to his wife, mother, and younger brother. Dagny also becomes acquainted with Wesley Mouch, a Washington lobbyist initially working for Rearden, whom he betrays, and later notices the nation’s most capable business leaders abruptly disappearing, leaving their industries to failure. The most recent of these is Ellis Wyatt, the sole founder and supervisor of Wyatt Oil, who leaves his most successful oil well spewing petroleum and fire into the air (later named “Wyatt’s Torch”). Each of these men remains absent despite a thorough search by politicians. While economic conditions worsen and government agencies enforce their control on successful businesses, the citizens are often heard repeating “Who is John Galt?”, in response to questions to which the individual has 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?”.
Having demonstrated the reliability of Rearden Metal in a railroad line named after John Galt, Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart become paramours, and later discover, amongst the ruins of an abandoned factory, an incomplete motor that transforms atmospheric static electricity into kinetic energy, of which they seek the inventor. Eventually, this search reveals the reason of business-leaders’ disappearances, when Dagny pursues a scientist to ‘Galt’s Gulch’, where the character John Galt is leading an organized “strike” of business leaders against the government.
Reluctant to forsake her railroad, Dagny leaves Galt’s Gulch, but Galt follows Dagny to New York City, where he hacks into a national radio broadcast to deliver a long speech (70 pages in the first edition), to explain the novel’s theme and Rand’s Objectivism. As the government collapses, the authorities capture Galt, but he is rescued by his partisans, while New York City loses its electricity. The novel closes as Galt announces that they will later reorganize the world.
The story of Atlas Shrugged dramatically expresses Rand’s ethical egoism, her advocacy of “rational selfishness“, whereby 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. 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 to Marxism 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 caricatures fascism, socialism, communism, and any state intervention in society, as allowing poor people to “leech” the hard-earned wealth of the rich, and Rand contends that the outcome of any individual’s life is purely a function of its ability, and that any individual could overcome adverse circumstances, given ability and intelligence.
Sanction of the victim
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”. Accordingly, throughout Atlas Shrugged, numerous characters are frustrated by this sanction, as when Hank Rearden appears duty-bound to support his family, despite their hostility toward him; later, the principle is stated byDan Conway: “I suppose somebody’s got to be sacrificed. If it turned out to be me, I have no right to complain”. John Galt further explains the principle: “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”.
Government and business
Rand’s view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt: “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”, whereas “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.
In the world of Atlas Shrugged, society stagnates when independent productive agencies are socially demonized for their accomplishments. This is in agreement with an excerpt from a 1964 interview with Playboymagazine, 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 also depicts public choice theory, such that the language of altruism is used to pass legislation nominally in the public interest (e.g., the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule”, and “The Equalization of Opportunity Bill”), but more to the short-term benefit of special interests and government agencies.
Property rights and individualism
“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 continually oppose “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” are Rand’s depiction of bureaucrats and government officials, who confiscate others’ earnings by the implicit threat of force (“at the point of a gun”). Some officials execute government policy, such as those who confiscate one state’s seed grain to feed the starving citizens of another; others exploit 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” are Rand’s depiction of those unable to produce value themselves, who demand others’ earnings on behalf of the needy, but resent the talented upon whom they depend, and appeal to “moral right” while enabling the “lawful” seizure by governments.
The character 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.'”
Theory of sex
“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.”
The first and predominant act is of Hank Rearden, who partners with Dagny after the opening of the John Galt Line to celebrate their success. The affair continues until Hank’s wife discovers it, but allows the affair to continue until Hank manipulates the judicial system to obtain a divorce, awaiting which Mrs. Rearden seduces Dagny’s brother James (who is also married, and despises Hank). Having caught them, and by now understanding that Dagny Taggart was in fact the real mind behind Taggart Transcontinental (and her husband the archetypal ‘looter’), James’ wife Cherryl commits suicide after a violent argument – screaming “No! No! Not your kind of world!” as she leaps to her death.
Mentions of consent within the text include Dagny and Francisco’s first sexual encounter, described as “a shocking intimacy that needed no consent from her, no permission” and “she knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his”. During the encounter, the text says, “he left nothing possible to her except the thing she wanted most – to submit”. When she is with Hank, it says he “took her wrist and threw her inside his room, making the gesture tell her that he needed no sign of consent or resistance”.
Ayn Rand also presents sex as the sole act a human being can do only out of desire. And since it stems only from desire, it reflects with precision the true personality of that person, and the person’s most passionate wants.
The novel includes elements of mystery, romance, and science fiction. 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”. Nonetheless, when asked by film producer Albert S. Ruddy if a screenplay could focus on the love story, Rand agreed and reportedly said, “That’s all it ever was”.
Technological progress and intellectual breakthroughs in scientific theory appear in Atlas Shrugged, leading some observers to classify it 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 are “refractor rays” (to disguise ‘Galt’s Gulch’), a sophisticated electrical torture device (the Ferris Persuader), voice-activated door locks (at the Gulch’s power station), palm-activated door locks (in 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”. Science fiction historian John J. Pierce describes it as a “romantic suspense novel” that is “at least a borderline case” of science fiction.
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. It continued to sell strongly through the 1960s and beyond. By 1984, its sales had exceeded five million copies.
Sales of Atlas Shrugged increased following the 2007 financial crisis. The Economist reported that the 52-year-old novel ranked #33 among Amazon.com’s top-selling books on January 13, 2009, and that its 30-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.
“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.”
Despite being a popular success, Atlas Shrugged was generally disliked by critics. Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later wrote that when the novel was released, “reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs”; one called it “execrable claptrap”, while another said it showed “remorseless hectoring and prolixity”. Author Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality”. In the Saturday Review, Helen Beal Woodward said that the novel was written with “dazzling virtuosity” but was “shot through with hatred”. This was echoed by Granville Hicks in The New York Times Book Review, who 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 theNational 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 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.”
There were some positive reviews. Richard McLaughlin, reviewing the novel for The American Mercury, described it as a “long overdue” polemic against the welfare state with an “exciting, suspenseful plot”, although unnecessarily long. He drew a comparison with the antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, saying that a “skillful polemicist” did not need a refined literary style to have a political impact. Journalist and book reviewerJohn Chamberlain, writing in The New York Herald Tribune, found Atlas Shrugged satisfying on many levels: as science fiction, as a “philosophical detective story”, and as a “profound political parable”. In a tribute written on the 20th anniversary of the novel’s publication, John Hospers, a leading philosopher of aesthetics, praised it as “a supreme achievement, guaranteed of immortality.”
Influence and legacy
Over 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.
Rand’s impact on contemporary libertarian thought has been considerable. The title of one 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”. In 1983, the Libertarian Futurist Society gave the novel one of its first “Hall of Fame” awards. In 1997, the libertarian Cato Institute held a joint conference with The Atlas Society, an Objectivist organization, to celebrate the 40th 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”.
Former Rand business partner and lover Nathaniel Branden, to whom the book was originally dedicated, has expressed differing views of Atlas Shrugged. He was initially quite favorable to it, praising it in the book he and his wife Barbara Branden wrote in 1962 called Who Is Ayn Rand?. After he and Rand ended their relationship in 1968, both he and Barbara repudiated their earlier book.:12 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.”:17 However, 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.
The Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises admired the unapologetic elitism he saw in 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.”
In the years immediately following the novel’s publication, many American conservatives, such as William Buckley, Jr., strongly disapproved of Rand and her Objectivist message. In addition to the strongly critical review by Whittaker Chambers, Buckley solicited a number of critical pieces: Russell Kirk called Objectivism an “inverted religion”, Frank Meyer accused Rand of “calculated cruelties” and her message, an “arid subhuman image of man”, and Garry Wills regarded Rand a “fanatic”. In the late 2000s, however, 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”.
“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 CEOs 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 2005, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan said that Rand was “the reason I got into public service”, and he later required his staff members to read Atlas Shrugged. In April 2012, he disavowed such beliefs however, calling them “an urban legend”, and rejected Rand’s philosophy.Ryan was subsequently mocked by Nobel Prize-winning economist and commentator Paul Krugman for reportedly getting ideas about monetary policy from the novel. In another commentary, Krugman quoted a quip by writer John Rogers: “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.”
BioShock, a critically acclaimed 2007 video game, is widely considered to be a deconstruction of Atlas Shrugged. The story depicts a collapsed Objectivist society, with the player learning of how it fell apart after the fact. Significant characters in the game, such as Atlas and Andrew Ryan (a play on the name Ayn Rand), owe their naming to Rand’s work. When asked about the influences for BioShock, the creator of the game,Ken Levine, replied, “I have my useless liberal arts degree, so I’ve read stuff from Ayn Rand and George Orwell, and all the sort of utopian and dystopian writings of the 20th century, which I’ve found really fascinating.”
References to Atlas Shrugged have appeared in a variety of other popular entertainments. In the first season of the drama series Mad Men, Bert Cooper urges Don Draper to read the book, and Don’s sales pitch tactic to a client indicates he has been influenced by the strike plot: “If you don’t appreciate my hard work, then I will take it away and we’ll see how you do.” Less positive mentions of the novel occur in the animated comedy Futurama, where it appears among library of books flushed down to the sewers to be read only by grotesque mutants, and in South Park, where a newly literate character gives up on reading after experiencing Atlas Shrugged.
In 2013, it was announced that Galt’s Gulch, Chile, a settlement for libertarian devotees named for John Galt’s safe haven, would be established near Santiago, Chile. The settlement has been dogged by internal power struggles, bureaucracy, and accusations of fraud against the founders.
Film and television adaptations
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 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, when Fred Silverman became president of NBC in 1979, 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 rewritten 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 on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and had less than $5 million in total box office receipts. The film earned an additional $5M in DVD and Blu-ray sales, for a total of about half of its $20M budget. The producer and screenwriter John Aglialoro blamed critics for the film’s paltry box office take and said he might go on strike, but ultimately went on to make the next two installments.
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, without a special screening for critics. It suffered one of the worst openings ever, 98th worst according to Box Office Mojo, among films in wide release. Final box office take was $3.3 million, well under that of Part I despite the doubling of the budget to $20 million according to The Daily Caller. Those figures should be treated as tentative as the Internet Movie Database estimates Part 1 budget at $20 million and the Part II budget at $10 million, while Box Office Mojo says Part 1 cost $20 million and Part 2 data are “NA”. Critics gave the film a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.
The third part in the series, Atlas Shrugged: Part III, was released on September 12, 2014. The movie opened on 242 screens and grossed $461,197 its opening weekend. It was panned by critics, holding a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on ten reviews.
- Branden, Nathaniel (1962). “The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged”. Who is Ayn Rand?. Book co-authored with Barbara Branden. New York: Random House. pp. 3–65. OCLC 313377536. Reprinted by The Objectivist Center as a booklet in 1999, ISBN 1-57724-033-2.
- Michalson, Karen (1999). “Who Is Dagny Taggart? The Epic Hero/ine in Disguise”. In Gladstein, Mimi Reisel & Sciabarra, Chris Matthew. Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Re-reading the Canon. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-534-57625-7.
- Wilt, Judith (1999). “On Atlas Shrugged“. In Gladstein, Mimi Reisel & Sciabarra, Chris Matthew. Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Re-reading the Canon. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-534-57625-7.