In a scrap heap within an abandoned factory, the greatest invention in history lies dormant and unused. By what fatal error of judgment has its value gone unrecognized, its brilliant inventor punished rather than rewarded for his efforts?
In defense of those greatest of human qualities that have made civilization possible, one man sets out to show what would happen to the world if all the heroes of innovation and industry went on strike. Is he a destroyer or a liberator? And why does he fight his hardest battle not against his enemies but against the woman he loves?
Tremendous in scope and breathtaking in its suspense, Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, an electrifying moral defense of capitalism and free enterprise which launched an ideological movement and gained millions of loyal fans around the world.
Lets start with what I feel are the most important characters to know. You can find a full list of the characters here.
Edwin “Eddie” Willers is the Special Assistant to the Vice-President in Charge of Operations at Taggart Transcontinental. His father and grandfather worked for the Taggarts, and himself likewise. He is completely loyal to Dagny and to Taggart Transcontinental. Willers does not possess the creative ability of Galt’s associates, but matches them in moral courage and is capable of appreciating and making use of their creations.
The President of Taggart Transcontinental. Taggart is an expert influence peddler but incapable of making operational decisions on his own. He relies on his sister, Dagny Taggart, to actually run the railroad, but nonetheless opposes her in almost every endeavor because of his various anti-capitalist moral and political beliefs. In a sense, he is the antithesis of Dagny. This contradiction leads to the recurring absurdity of his life: the desire to overcome those on whom his life depends, and the horror that he will succeed at this.
Cherryl Brooks is a dime store shopgirl who marries James Taggart after a chance encounter in her store the night the John Galt Line was falsely deemed his greatest success. She marries him thinking he is the heroic person behind Taggart Transcontinental. Cherryl is at first harsh towards Dagny, having believed Jim Taggart’s descriptions of his sister, until she questions employees of the railroad. Upon learning that her scorn had been misdirected, Cherryl puts off apologizing to Dagny out of shame until the night before she commits suicide, when she confesses to Dagny that when she married Jim, she thought he had the heroic qualities that she had looked up to – she thought she was marrying someone like Dagny. She eventually commits suicide, unable to live with her worthless husband, and unable to escape.
Dagny Taggart is Vice-President in Charge of Operations for Taggart Transcontinental, under her brother, James Taggart. Given James’ incompetence, Dagny is responsible for all the workings of the railroad.
Henry (known as “Hank”) Rearden is one of the central characters in Atlas Shrugged. He owns the most important steel company in the United States, and invents Rearden Metal, an alloy stronger than steel (with similar properties to stainless steel). He lives in Philadelphia with his wife Lillian, his brother Philip, and his elderly mother.
Lillian Rearden is the unsupportive wife of Hank Rearden, who dislikes his habits and (secretly at first) seeks to ruin Rearden to prove her own value. Lillian achieves this, when she passes information to James Taggart about her husband’s affair with his sister. This information is used to persuade Rearden to sign a Gift Certificate which delivers all the property rights of Rearden Metal to others. After her divorce from Hank she lives with his mother Gertrude Rearden, and his brother Phillip Rearden.
For most of the book it is unknown if he is a hero or protagonist. He remains mostly hidden and vaguely referred to until part 3: He initially appears as an unnamed menial worker for Taggart Transcontinental, who often dines with Eddie Willers in the employees’ cafeteria, and leads Eddie to reveal important information about Dagny Taggart and Taggart Transcontinental. Only Eddie’s side of their conversations is given in the novel. Later in the novel, the reader discovers this worker’s true identity.
Before working for Taggart Transcontinental, Galt worked as an engineer for the Twentieth Century Motor Company, where he secretly invented a generator of usable electric energy from ambient static electricity, but abandoned his prototype, and his employment, when dissatisfied by an easily corrupted novel system of payment. This prototype was found by Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.
Francisco d’Anconia is one of the central characters in Atlas Shrugged, an owner by inheritance of the world’s largest copper mining operation. He is a childhood friend, and the first love, of Dagny Taggart. A child prodigy of exceptional talents, Francisco was dubbed the “climax” of the d’Anconia line, an already prestigious family of skilled industrialists. He began working while still in school, proving that he could have made a fortune without the aid of his family’s wealth and power. After the death of his father he became a playboy and eventually bankrupts the family business.
Ragnar Danneskjöld is a world-famous as a pirate, who seizes relief ships sent from the United States to the People’s States of Europe. Kept in the background for much of the book, Danneskjöld makes a personal appearance to encourage Rearden to persevere in his increasingly difficult situation. Danneskjöld is always seen through the eyes of others (Dagny Taggart or Hank Rearden), except for a brief paragraph in the very last chapter.
Ellis Wyatt is the head of Wyatt Oil. He has almost single-handedly revived the economy of Colorado by discovering a new process for extracting more oil from what were thought to be exhausted oil wells. When first introduced, he is aggressive towards Dagny, whom he does not yet know and whom he blames for what are, in fact, her brother’s policies which directly threaten his business. When the government passes laws and decrees which make it impossible for him to continue, he sets all his oil wells on fire, leaving a jeering note: “I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It’s yours.” One particular burning well that resists all efforts to extinguish it becomes known as “Wyatt’s Torch”
Midas Mulligan is a wealthy banker who mysteriously disappeared in protest after he was given a court order to lend money to an incompetent applicant. When the order came down, he liquidated his entire business, paid off his depositors and disappeared. Mulligan’s birth name was Michael, but he had it legally changed after a news article called him “Midas” in a derogatory fashion, which Mulligan took as a compliment.
Hugh Akston is identified as “One of the last great advocates of reason.” He was a renowned philosopher and the head of the Department of Philosophy at Patrick Henry University, where he taught. He was, along with Robert Stadler, a father figure to Francisco d’Anconia, John Galt, and Ragnar Danneskjöld. Akston’s name is so hallowed that a young lady, on hearing that Francisco had studied under him, is shocked. She thought he must have been one of those great names from an earlier century. He now works as a cook in a roadside diner, and proves extremely skillful at the job. When Dagny tracks him down, and before she discovers his true identity, he rejects her enthusiastic offer to manage the dining car services for Taggart Transcontinental.
Ken Danagger owns Danagger Coal in Pennsylvania. He helps Hank Rearden illegally make Rearden Metal, then later decides to quit and join Galt’s strike moments before Dagny arrives to try to persuade him otherwise.
Dr. Floyd Ferris
Ferris is a biologist who works as “co-ordinator” at the State Science Institute. He uses his position there to deride reason and productive achievement, and publishes a book entitled Why Do You Think You Think? He clashes on several occasions with Hank Rearden, and twice attempts to blackmail Rearden into giving up Rearden Metal. He is also one of the group of looters who tries to get Rearden to agree to the Steel Unification Plan. Ferris hosts the demonstration of the Project X weapon, and is the creator of the Ferris Persuader, a torture machine.
The incompetent and treacherous lobbyist whom Hank Rearden reluctantly employs in Washington, who rises to prominence and authority throughout the novel through trading favours and disloyalty. In return for betraying Hank by helping broker the Equalization of Opportunity Bill (which, by restricting the number of businesses each person may own to one, forces Hank to divest most of his companies), he is given a senior position at the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. Later in the novel he becomes its Top Co-ordinator, a position that eventually becomes Economic Dictator of the country.
Orren Boyle is the head of Associated Steel, antithesis of Hank Rearden and a friend of James Taggart. He is an investor in the San Sebastián Mines. He disappears from the story after having a nervous breakdown following the failed ‘unification’ of the steel industry.
Dr Robert Stadler
A former professor at Patrick Henry University, and along with colleague Hugh Akston, mentor to Francisco d’Anconia, John Galt and Ragnar Danneskjöld. He has since become a sell-out, one who had great promise but squandered it for social approval, to the detriment of the free. He works at the State Science Institute where all his inventions are perverted for use by the military, including the instrument of his demise: Project X (Xylophone). To his former student Galt, Stadler represents the epitome of human evil, as the “man who knew better” but chose not to act for the good.
Head of State Thompson
Mr. Thompson is the “Head of the State” for the United States. He is not particularly intelligent and has a very undistinguished look. He knows politics, however, and is a master of public relations and back-room deals.
So what is Atlas Shrugged:
Atlas Shrugged is set in a dystopian United States at an unspecified time described as the day after tomorrow, in which the country has a “National Legislature” instead of Congress and a “Head of State” instead of a President. Rand’s stated goal for writing the novel was “to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them”
The good: The good is that Rand has a philosophy that she believes and to her it is black and white with no grey. This allows her to write a book that shows exactly what happens when the prime movers go on strike. She has many notable sections that give to great quotes.
The point she tries to make (while long winded) is one that every person can learn from. Her cast is diverse, and her ability to tell a story that holds your attention even through the long winded monologues is remarkable.
She researched her settings so that she was able to accurately portray her characters and the content they dealt with. One would think she grew up a child of a railroad titan rather than as a shop keeper’s daughter from Russia.
The book is fairly timeless and can be put into any century. The movies made off the book are case and point as they set it in our current day with air travel being too costly and rail travel being the only form of transportation that is affordable. The movies also use our current economic climate instead of the Great Depression style climate in the book.
For much of the book you are unsure of which side of good or bad some of the characters fall.
The Bad: Her characters are rather one dimensional. Those who are good have almost no weaknesses, and those who are bad have almost no redeeming attributes. The characters are either all good or all bad. There are none who are shades of grey and sit in the middle. None of us are all good or all bad.
Her monologues are long (John Galt’s speech takes over an hour to listen to alone.
She is redundant. She has to make the same point multiple times showing industry after industry fall due to the ‘good guys’ disappearing with no trace. This could have been easily done through Wyatt Ellis and Hank Rearden instead of having character after character after character disappear.
She has all too many characters to track. Each good guy is a representation of one part of the good of humanity while each bad guy has to be the exact opposite of one of the good guys.
My Final thoughts:
While the message Rand tried to pass on to the reader is ultimately that capitalism is founded on good principles and that as Jefferson stated ‘A government big enough to give you everything you need is also big enough to take everything from you’ her long winded monologues allow most people reading the book will take the wrong lesson from the book, and choose the points they want that will justify their own social agenda.
I give this book 4.5 stars. There are some turn offs such as the long windedness of the whole thing and the lack of depth of characters for some, but overall the book is worth reading and her points worth listening to.