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I tackled this (very thick) book because I have always thought of it as a modern classic - something I should suck it up and read, just for the experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, I really did enjoy it, and found myself sucked into the philosophy behind it. I keep eyeballing it on my shelf and thinking that I should re-read it, after which I will probably post it. Very good.
The book is based on the not-too-farfetched premise that all of the producers of the world - producers in the sense that these are the hardworking, brilliant, movers and shakers and people of ideas in the world - get fed up with carrying the metaphorical burden of society. "What if Atlas shrugged?" A reference, of course, to refusing to carry the weight of the world on one's shoulders. The producers band together and agree as one to stop producing, stop letting the idle and useless benefit from their ideas, and society be damned. I won't give away any more, but I'd be willing to bet that if the idea intrigues you, you will be sucked in as well.
Atlas Shrugged is one of the best books I've ever read. It changed my life. It changed a lot of people's lives. So I won't go into how amazing it is -- you can read plenty of that elsewhere. I do, however, want to point out a few details specific to my experience with it:
--It is a big book, and it starts out really slow. If you're just picking it up, it would be easy to get discouraged with it 50 or 100 pages in. But trust me, once you get past page 200 or so, you won't be able to put it down. The story is really interesting and the characters really engaging. A thousand pages is a long journey, but it goes by fast once you're into it.
--I don't consider myself to be a devotee of Ayn Rand's philosophy, objectivism. I think it certainly has its merits, but it also has its drawbacks. Having grown up in Russia during the Soviet Revolution, and emigrating to the US as a young woman, she has some interesting and insightful perspectives on capitalism vs communism, individualism vs collectivism. As you are reading Atlas Shrugged, though, remember that the collectivist characters she creates are cartoons. They're exaggerated examples of the traits and mindsets she is vilifying. Similarly, the heroes of the book are cartoons of independent industrialists. They possess none of the faults that flesh and blood humans possess, nor are there ever any negative consequences to their actions, save what the nefarious collectivists have subverted and sabotaged.
Overall, Atlas Shrugged is amazing and has an important message. But if you ignore the exaggerations on both sides of the story, and take every word to heart as gospel, you'll pretty much turn into a big, unrealistic jerk.
This is not an easy read! This book requires a commitment that I haven't given to a book in years. It is over a thousand pages and you will feel as though you just completed a marathon when you are through. A friend had told me that I must read this book. After a few hundred pages, I found myself skipping entire paragraphs of beautiful narrative just to get to the meat of the story. I did not want to give up. I am glad I didn't. Three-quarters of the way through, I was finally engrossed in the story. It made my head spin with possibilities and questions. Not about the book, but about the world. By the time you finish, you will look at things much differently. I have not bought the entire philosophy, but it has made me question many long-held beliefs. There is room in the world for many viewpoints. And there is lots of room in the middle of opposing views, too. I am glad that I finally read this book!
Who is John Gault? It's a question that continues to echo in my head many years after first reading those words. "Atlas Shrugged" is the best book I ever read. And my second favorite is "The Fountainhead", also by Ayn Rand. I would recommend reading the latter first, which can be viewed almost as a prequel to "Atlas Shrugged". Huge in scope, fearless and unapologetic, these are books for the ages. Read them both; you won't be sorry you did. You might even be transformed by them, as I was.