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Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort, the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders, what would you tell him?”

“I don’t know… What could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

This excerpt from Atlas Shrugged, a bestseller by Russian-American philosopher and writer Ayn Rand, pretty much summarises the plot of the entire novel. If her earlier book The Fountainhead is an overture to the objectivism philosophy, Atlas Shrugged is an encyclopaedia. Accordingly, Rand has seamlessly interweaved fiction with philosophy in this 1957 novel. Through an elaborate plot, she puts forth her ideas on money, love, guilt, morality and integrity, thereby adding bones and muscles to her idea of objectivism.

Atlas Shrugged is set in a dystopian world where productivity and efficiency are replaced by lethargy and incompetence. Realising that the entire economy is on the brink of collapse, a handful of industrialists religiously take the weight of the world on their shoulders. They work twice as hard to offset other’s inefficiency and low productivity and, thereby, make tons of money for their selfish gains. Not surprisingly, these top-performers are criticised for their money-making motives and their capitalistic mindset. Meanwhile, a mysterious man meets these industrialists and convinces them to quit. So, one by one, businesses shut down and their owners abscond. But all is not easy for the mystery man, as Dagny Taggart, the protagonist of the story, gets on to him. With an indefatigable energy, she challenges him and strives to expose his identity. A businesswoman herself, she doesn’t quit, and instead fights against the world to protect her own enterprise from ‘looters’ and ‘moochers’. So, the plot revolves around who the mysterious man is, what is his agenda, and whether Dagny would eventually join his side.

“I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Though the plotline is simple and straightforward, Rand uses her ingenuity to interweave her philosophy of objectivism through fiction. Controversial to say the least, her philosophy opposes conventional wisdom. Yet, she manages to convince readers to see her point of view (if not buy them outright) through her straightforward, logical explanations. For example: money is generally perceived as the root of all evil. But in Atlas Shrugged, Rand provides a powerful argument why it isn’t. “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 of 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?” she asks.

Objectively speaking, Atlas Shrugged has rich philosophical underpinnings which could inspire readers to introspect and broaden their minds. Rand celebrates the infinite potential within every individual when she urges readers to propagate their free will. The profoundness of the line “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish… The world you desire can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours” is bound to resonate with readers. But, the novel itself is not flawless. One, the novel is over a thousand pages, with too many characters and subplots. A reader could get impatient with the book sooner or later. Two, the characters often get into lengthy monologues in an effort to better explain objectivism. This, unfortunately, takes away the storytelling charm and can be a turn-off for some readers. Despite its imperfections, Atlas Shrugged can be a compelling read.


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