Atlas Shrugged is the fullest expression in fiction of Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. The novel begins sometime in the near future. Technology and fashion are close to what they were when Rand wrote the novel, but private property has been abolished in most countries, now called “People’s States.” Shortages, delays, and excuses are commonplace. The United States still maintains some freedom, but the government increasingly dictates terms to producers through planning boards and economic directives. A few notice that gifted people in business, the sciences, and the arts are vanishing.
The novel’s opening line, “Who is John Galt?” introduces Rand’s theme: the value of the productive individual. John Galt institutes a strike by the world’s best minds against a collectivist social order. While Galt is the book’s spirit, the main plot line focuses on Dagny Taggart, the vice president of Taggart Transcontinental, whom reviewer Mimi Reisel Gladstein has called “probably the most admirable and successful heroine in American fiction.” Another important character is Hank Rearden, a self-made steel magnate. The novel’s villains ruin the world by confiscating the wealth of the productive.
Dagny, aided by Hank Rearden and his new company Rearden Metal, tries to save her foundering railroads by rebuilding one of the company’s abandoned lines (which she renames the John Galt line) into Colorado, one of the few states with a growing economy. Rand shows the joy of achievement through a thrilling account of the line’s construction. Dagny and Hank persevere and triumph. Hopes for an economic turnaround in Colorado are dashed, however, by a series of new laws crippling the state’s businesses. Rand’s heroes can control nature but not politics.
(The entire section is 739 words.)