Atlas Shrugged Author:Ayn Rand As the novel opens, protagonist Dagny Taggart, executive 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 railroa... more »d'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. 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 monopoly, which has made him into one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.
She meets Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate of great integrity, who 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. 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 who 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 gentleman - 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 naive, 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 often imploring heavy subjects, wherein the individual can find no answer. It sarcastically means, "Don't ask important questions, because we don't have answers."
As the reader proceeds, 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 dissolved into thin air, void of a single warning, leaving nothing behind except an empty office and his most successful oil well now spewing petroleum and fire high into the air. Each of these men prove to be absent despite a thorough search put on by the ever anxious politicians, who've now found themselves trapped within a government that has been "left-to-dry," by its leaders in business - utterly helpless without them.
Dagny and Hank find the remnants of a motor that turns atmospheric static electricity into kinetic energy, along with evidence that the "Atlases" of the world, its "prime movers", seem to be disappearing due to the actions of a figure she calls the "destroyer". While searching for the motor's creator, Hank and Dagny begin to experience the futility of their attempts to survive in a society that hates them and resents their motivation and their ability to create and achieve.
In the final section of the novel, Taggart discovers the truth about John Galt, who is leading an organized "strike" against those who use the force of law and moral guilt to confiscate the accomplishments of society's productive members. With the collapse of the nation and its rapacious government all but certain, Galt emerges to reconstruct a society that will celebrate individual achievement and enlightened self-interest, delivering a long speech (seventy pages in the first edition) serving to explain the novel's theme and Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, in the book's longest single chapter.« less