Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of my favorite novels, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. There have been a lot of articles recently on the significance and influence of this book, which I won’t try to recap here. My own favorite such article is this one by Robert Tracinski.
Oddly enough, this year also marks the 20th anniversary of my own first encounter with Rand’s writing. Back in 1987 I was 16, a junior in high school, very intelligent but increasingly cynical. A girl I knew, and had kind of a crush on, spent about six months pestering me to read The Fountainhead. She said it was the “most rational thing” I would ever read, and she was more or less right. By the time I reached the scene where architecture student Howard Roark was explaining to the dean of his school why the Parthenon was badly designed, I was hooked. I ploughed through that 700 page book in three days, then hit the library.
There I found two other novels by Rand: a novelette called Anthem and a huge doorstop called Atlas Shrugged. Since I hadn’t done any schoolwork for the past few days on account of The Fountainhead I decided to do the responsible thing and check out the short one. That took about an hour, and I was back at the library the next day. The 1168 pages of Atlas took me five days, and boy did I not get any homework done. (Precious little sleep, for that matter — it was wonderful being young.) That summer I worked my way through most of the extant non-fiction, and never looked back. (Well, there was that unfortunate libertarian anarchist phase I went through in college, but I got better. Let us never speak of it again.)
Many people say that Rand’s writings changed their lives. I’m not sure I would go that far in my own case. I always valued reason and freedom. What Rand taught me was how right I was to do so, how to understand exactly what it was I was valuing, and how to defend those values in action. She showed me how to think systematically, a skill which has proven invaluable in my career as an engineer. And she taught me not to be ashamed of being happy, or of pursuing happiness.
Sure sounds to me like her writings changed your life. I had a similar experience. I always valued freedom, individuation, and reason. But Rand gave me the words for it, and the justification down to the most elemental level. That certainty has made me more content, and made my life a more joyful journey.
Rand described her philosophy as one “for living on Earth”, and that’s exactly what it is. Properly understood and applied, I have found it leads to a happy and successful life. It’s true, and it works. What more could one ask for?
So, although I haven’t seen the girl since I graduated from high school, thank you Liz for pushing me into reading Rand. You were right, it was the most rational thing I’ve ever read, and 20 years later I’m still benefiting from it. And, more profoundly, thank you Ayn Rand for your insight, your courage and your inspiration. Well done.
OMG you had a crush on her? Who was this girl?? SHE WILL DIE!
But seriously, I had never heard of Ayn Rand until about 1993, which was when Kyle starting pestering me to read The Fountainhead (it only took me, what, 5 years into our marriage?) I went on to read Atlas, heeding Kyle’s advice to “read all of Galt’s speech. You think you know what he’s going to say, but you really don’t.” Good advice. Terrific books and an important philosophy that isn’t getting enough attention in schools or from humanity generally.