Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Atlas Shrugged: 50 Years In Print

Fifty years ago today, Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" hit the bookshelves for the first time. I cannot express fully how much reading Rand and "Atlas Shrugged" in particular changed my life.

While I had read and enjoyed her other well-known works ("Anthem" & "The Fountainhead"), it was "Atlas" with it's female protagonist, excellent mystery and absolutely frustrating description of Objectivism that entralled me. I never claimed to be an "Objectivist" per se (indeed I found their occasional dogmatism quite ironic). And a great bit of my intellectual enjoyment of the book derived from the fact I completely disagreed with what she was saying. The Gold Standard? Seriously? That #^@$*%* Radio Speech? Hell, the entire John Galt character?

Agree or disagree, the book engaged me on all mental levels simultaneously. I was emotionally invested in the characters. I still tear up thinking about what happened to Eddie Willers. I was intellectually engaged in the ideas presented, forcing myself to think about WHY I thought the things I did, what was my basis for my opinions about the world, freedom and capitalism. And I felt connected to this author, through the character of Dagny and through Ayn Rand's distinct if sometimes biting voice. As a teenager, I couldn't get over the fact that someone that rational had even been alive in 1957, much less thinking along the same lines as me.

So much of who I am, I first confronted while reading "Atlas Shrugged": The beauty of invention, love of creating something, solving a puzzle. These were implicit, unnamed things always present in me. But reading this book gave me the courage to name, treasure and acknowledge them. I clearly remember the first running of the John Galt Line and the invention of Rearden Metal as moments that made me feel so much, I had to pause. Even now, I still am in little bit in love with the act of invention, the (long-drawn out) process by which you make something. As an engineer I consider myself quite fortunate to have some insight into the mental gymnastics required to produce something and send it out into the world. And the first time I remember loving that process AND knowing that admiration for what it was, came from reading "Atlas Shrugged".

It's a very schizophrenic read for me, more so today than originally. I literally go from one sentence to the next: "That is the most profound & beautiful defense of individualism ever." (reads next line) "What a horrible idea! Wait until I get my hands on this Ayn chick." Also, everyone talks about Francisco D'Anconia's money speech but I greatly prefer his speech on sex. Then & now, I find it quite erotic. It also cemented my life-long crush on the dear wayward copper baron.

Whether it's providing intellectual development, making a teenager feel a bit less alone or infuriating someone enough to go out & prove her wrong, I do love Ayn Rand's masterpiece.

Thank you Ayn Rand for a life-changing, mind-bending and opinion-testing work of literature.

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