Atlas Shrugged depicts a dystopian United States in which private businesses suffer under increasingly burdensome laws and regulations. Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and her lover, steel magnate Hank Rearden, struggle against “looters” who want to exploit their productivity. At its heart, Atlas Shrugged is a book in support of free-market capitalism and against socialism. However, it also introduces philosophical ideas of how you can become a more effective person.
About Ayn Rand
Alisa Rosenbaum was born in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg to a prosperous Jewish family. When the Bolsheviks requisitioned the pharmacy owned by her father, Fronz, the Rosenbaums fled to the Crimea. Alisa returned to the city (renamed Leningrad) to attend the university, but in 1926 relatives who had already settled in America offered her the chance of joining them there. With money from the sale of her mother’s jewelry, Alisa bought a ticket to New York. She moved swiftly to Hollywood, where she learned English. Alisa worked in the RKO wardrobe department and as an extra. She also wrote through the night on screenplays and novels. In these novels, she introduced the idea of Objectivism. Objectivism has been an influence on various other movements such as libertarianism.
“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 in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.” – Ayn Rand
The book is set in a time of worsening economic conditions that could be described as pre-dystopic. America’s operations are run by the current vice president, who is a woman called Dagny Taggart. His current aim is to repair the Taggart Transcontinental company’s Rio Norte Line to Colorado. In this novel, Colorado remains the only area in the country that is still benefiting from industrial business.
Taggart struggles to achieve this repair due to the majority of the country’s most talented entrepreneurs retiring or disappearing. The railroad crisis worsened when the Mexican government decided to nationalize Taggart’s line through San Sebastian. This line was initially built as a way of servicing a man called Francisco d’Anconia’s copper mills. However, the mills turned out to be worthless. Francisco was initially a successful industrialist, but with age, he had just become a worthless playboy. He was the lover of Taggart. Taggart’s brother, Jim, aimed to solve the railroad’s financial problems through his political influence. Specifically, he attempts to pass legislation that would ultimately destroy Taggart’s only competition in Colorado.
To fix the Rio Norte line, Taggart attempts to use Rearden metal. This new metal had been created by an innovator named Hank Rearden. Taggart also confronts her lover, Francisco, about his involvement with the San Sebastian mines. However, Francisco outlines that he is deliberately destroying d’Anconia copper to help Taggart.
Disaster strikes after Taggart invests in Rearden metal. The State Science Institute issues a rebuke of the metal. Subsequently, Taggart loses significant wealth and influence. Therefore, she decides to start her own company to build the line herself. Based on hard work and her knowledge, she was able to make the company a huge success. During this time, Taggart moves on from Francisco and forms a romantic relationship with the metal innovator, Rearden. Together, they discover a motor in an abandoned factory. Remarkably, this motor was able to run on static electricity. Amazed by the innovation of this work, they both sought to identify the inventor.
During this time, the government continued to significantly hinder industrial businesses. New legislation cripples Colorado’s industry. In addition to these legislations, odd happenings start to emerge. For example, an oil industrialist named Ellis Wyatt suddenly disappears. The police conclude that he had set fire to his own wells, but the circumstances are suspicious. Wyatt would not be the only industrialist to disappear. Soon after, many more industrialists start disappearing without apparent reason. Based on these disappearances, Taggart starts to believe that there is a ‘destroyer’ at work. She states that this ‘destroyer’ seeks to make important people disappear when they are most needed.
Subsequently, the metal innovator, Rearden, goes on trial for breaking one of the government’s new laws. However, he refuses to participate in the proceedings. Plus, he tells the judges that they cannot coerce him into accepting guilt. Although the legal system had become more repressive, they were also wary of looking like thugs. Therefore, they released Rearden.
Economic dictator Wesley Mouch needs Rearden’s cooperation for a new set of socialist laws. He is able to coerce this cooperation by speaking to Rearden’s wife. She is aware that Rearden has been having an affair with Taggart. Therefore, she provides Mouch with this information for money. Mouch uses this information to blackmail Rearden to agree to the new set of laws. Rearden agrees to sign over his metal to protect Taggart’s reputation. She tells him Rearden and Dagny are having an affair, and he uses this information in a trade. The new set of laws, Directive 10-289, is irrational and repressive. It includes a ruling that requires all patents to be signed over to the government.
After the new laws are put in place, Taggart decides to quit her company and retreat to a mountain lodge. Although this period is relaxing, she is forced back into work when she learns of a massive ‘accident’ at the Taggart Tunnel. She receives a letter from a man who fears he will be the next target of the ‘destroyer’. In her attempts to protect him and get to the bottom of the mysteries, Taggart followed his airplane in her own private plane. However, the airplane directs her into the mountains, where her airplane ultimately crashes. Taggart is unconscious for a period and then wakes up to a remote valley where all the retired industrialists live. Instead of dying, the industrialists had been on strike. Here Taggart finds a man named John Galt, who she would learn is both the ‘destroyer’ and the man who built the motor she was amazed by in the abandoned warehouse.
Taggart falls in love with Galt. He was a man passionate about business. However, she cannot give up her railroad. Therefore, she leaves the valley to go back to work. She returns to a nationalized railroad industry. The government leaders suggest Taggart makes a speech reassuring the public of the new laws. Although she initially refuses, she is blackmailed by Mouch due to the dirt he has on her. To the government’s surprise, she goes on air to proudly announce her affair with Rearden. Plus, she reveals that the government had been blackmailing her and were seeking to repress all of the public.
After this speech, the politicians no longer pretend to work for the public good. The new nationalization also creates greater chaos, with crops rotting while they wait on trains diverted for personal favors. To gain control of Francisco’s mills, the government stages a riot at Rearden Steel. However, the steelworkers organize and fight back, led by Francisco. Francisco had been working undercover at the mills. Francisco saves Rearden’s life, then convinces him to join the strike.
Just as the head of state prepares to give a speech on the economic situation, John Galt takes over the airwaves. He delivers a lengthy address to the country. Galt lays out the terms of the strike he has organized. In desperation, the government seeks Galt to make him their economic dictator. However, Galt decides to return to the valley. She formally becomes part of their strike’ Without the industrialists, the outside world falls apart. After the demise of the outside world, the industrialists slowly return and start rebuilding their world.
Lessons To Be Learned From the Novel
“I never found beauty in longing for the impossible and never found the possible to be beyond my reach.” – Ayn Rand
Be Effective, Not Efficient
Throughout the book, there is a comparison of people who get things done and those who don’t. Taggart encounters a wide range of obstacles that prevent her from living up to her potential. However, even though these obstacles left her inefficient, she was still effective. In the end, she and the other industrialists are the ones who were left to rebuild the world. The inefficiency caused by others meant she had to play the long game. However, she was willing to wait. She was effective in her response to inefficiency rather than attempting to be continually efficient despite the obstacles.
Based on the teachings of the book, it is possible to identify five ways that highly effective individuals, such as Taggart, deal with others’ forced inefficiency:
- Call people out when they are illogical. Throughout the book, Taggart has a habit of pointing out what is wrong with other people’s arguments or logic. This is a far more effective approach than getting irate or making things personal.
- Respond to inefficiency with action. Generally, the obstacles you will face will be placed there by other people. However, instead of facing these obstacles head-on and dealing with somebody else’s failings, Atlas Shrugged suggests going round or completely ignoring others’ obstacles. This is the do-it-yourself attitude that will help you maintain high levels of effectiveness.
- Reframe other people’s objections into a positive. Objections are often an excuse for inaction by other people. However, Taggart had a knack for spinning other people’s objections to motivation.
- Conviction in your ideas and voice. Social anxiety is a common feature of many people’s conversations. However, to be an effective individual, you need people to believe in your messages. One way to do this is to show confidence and belief in your own message.
- Tell people what they want to hear. Although you might tend to argue about every little difference, it is sometimes better to just smile and play nice. The small things are often not that important. Therefore, instead of worrying about small differences to maximize efficiency, you should think about your effectiveness.
Lessons on Business
Atlas Shrugged provides several lessons on how business should be approached. Within the plot, these lessons are introduced through the experiences of some of the main characters.
- Do not rely on others to tell you whether you are making progress. When you establish goals, you are the best measure of whether you are effectively progressing towards these goals. Others will rarely oppose the pursuit of your goals, but they also are unlikely to approve of your pursuits. Most people will be indifferent to your goals. Therefore, do not rely on others to tell you that you are making progress.
- Life is full of unpleasant tasks and experiences. However, some of these tasks will be necessary for your progress. Therefore, do not avoid them.
- Once you have created goals, you should make life as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Strip your life back to the bare minimum of things that help you progress towards your goals.
- Personal needs and feelings are unimportant in the business world. Business is ruthless, and you have to buy into this way of life to excel.
- Plan everything to the letter. When you have developed goals, ensure that you know exactly when you plan to finish something. These benchmarks will help motivate you.
- Surround yourself with the right people. For example, if you surround yourself with productive people, then you will become more productive.
Avoid State Dependency
“There is no such thing as a lousy job – only lousy men who don’t care to do it.” – Ayn Rand
In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand provides characters who can be placed into one of two categories based on whether they are productive or not. You should always avoid falling into the unproductive half. These people rely on charity and theft to get by in life. Here is an outline of the type of person you do not want to be:
- Not wanting to add any value to the world.
- Making things harder than they actually need to be by establishing imaginary obstacles.
- Living without purpose.
- Seeking validation from others before considering how you feel about something.
- Resenting the achievements of others rather than using them as motivation and inspiration.
Buy Into Specific Values
“I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle.” – Ayn Rand
Throughout Atlas Shrugged, the characters use specific values to guide their behaviors. Firstly, Ayn Rand suggests that people should value what others do rather than what they say they can do. Plus, taking responsibility for all your actions. In doing so, you are better able to improve upon your mistakes and become more productive. Finally, Ayn Rand describes happiness as being a combination of the goals you set and the actions you take.
There are also specific characteristics that Ayn Rand frequently associates with effective people within the book:
- Good will
“If you don’t know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.” – Ayn Rand
If you have feedback about this summary or would like to share what you have learned, comment below.
New to StoryShots? Get the audio and animated versions of this summary and hundreds of other bestselling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, The Guardian, The UN, and Google as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.
Related Book Summaries
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
The Originals by Adam Grant
Creativity Inc. by Edwin Catmull
Super Human by Dave Asprey
Peak by K. Anders Ericsson
Limitless by Jim Kwik
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho