Response to JEFF9K (Original post)
Sun Jan 27, 2013, 12:00 PM
Dragonfli (7,277 posts)
31. Re-posting the best summary of the book I have ever read (It was written by a DUer)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (Random House, 1957) takes place in a universe where trucking, shipping and air freight are impractical, where hard alloys can be made of soft elements, where oil can be extracted from shale to any degree desired, where steam engines are incapable of out-pulling diesel, where gasoline does not evaporate over long periods of time, where sound waves can destroy structures hundreds of miles away without damaging the transmitter, and -- in a particularly important plot point -- where the laws of optics do not apply. It is a universe, in other words, that resembles our own so closely that the allegorical argument can easily be carried over to life in the real world.
Since the novel is for the most part character-driven, I will describe the more important characters as we meet them. Those we meet early on include:
* Dagny Taggart, an attractive, hard-working, creative, well-spoken, somewhat aloof railroad manager who is a hyper-capitalist.
* Hank Rearden, an attractive, hard-working, creative, well-spoken, somewhat aloof steel magnate who is a hyper-capitalist (but doesn't quite know it yet).
* James Taggart, a lazy, unreasonable, unproductive, whiny, hypocritical, communist, physically repugnant, grammatically challenged CEO who is desperate to kill your children and pets.
* Eddie Willers, a regular guy who works for Taggart Transcontinental, and who worships the ground Dagny walks on.
As the novel begins, Dagny, in order to preserve her flagship route's unbroken record of punctuality, orders the train's engineer to run a red light and assumes personal responsibility for the order. In this way, Dagny becomes personally responsible for a head-on collision of trains at eighty miles per hour killing hundreds of people.
Or would, if this were anything like the real world -- in this world, all goes well and the train pulls in on time.
Hank, a man who prides himself on always keeping his promises, invents a metal, which he modestly calls Rearden Metal, and which is virtually indestructible compared to Orren Boyle's Steel.
* Orren Boyle, a lazy, unreasonable, unproductive, whiny, hypocritical, communist, physically repugnant, grammatically challenged CEO who is desperate to kill your children and pets.
Dagny wants to build a new railroad out of Rearden Metal instead of Orren Steel -- since, as everyone knows, the brittleness of a material is inversely proportional to its owner's capitalistic tendencies. James refuses. Dagny goes to build it herself.
For a period of months, she works constantly, takes her type-A personality everywhere she goes, almost never sleeps, and lives pretty much on a diet of caffeine and nicotine. At the end of three months, she drops dead.
Or would, if this were anything like the real world -- in this world, she succeeds in building the railroad. Dagny and Hank celebrate by making the inaugural run of the new route to the oilfields of:
* Ellis Wyatt, an attractive, hard-working, creative, well-spoken, somewhat aloof oil magnate who is a hyper-capitalist.
They spend the night at Wyatt's pad, where Hank rapes Dagny. Kind of. Actually, she wanted it -- and will be the first to say so, as evidenced by a flashback to the first time she was kind-of-raped by her first lover:
* Francisco Something Something Something d'Anconia, an attractive, hard-working, creative, well-spoken, somewhat aloof copper magnate who is a hyper-capitalist.
Anyway, Dagny then begins a full-fledged affair with Hank, who prides himself on always keeping his promises. And who is married. Did I forget to mention that? Silly me. But don't worry, he's not breaking his marriage vows.
* Lillian Rearden, a lazy, unreasonable, unproductive, whiny, hypocritical, communist, physically repugnant, gramatically challenged housewife who is desperate to kill your children and pets.
Promises made to such people don't count.
Brother James, not wanting to feel left out, meets and marries a girl:
* Cherryl Brooks, a shop clerk who is completely irrelevant to the story of the novel, and exists only to prove a philosophical point, which she does by committing suicide about 600 pages later.
Meanwhile, the government seizes certain property, including Rearden Metal and Wyatt's oil. The hyper-capitalists believe that they have no right to do this; after all, their property is not legitimately their property because the government recognizes it as such and imposes limitations on property recognition, but because they created the land, metal and oil out of thin air, and patrol the boundaries every night with a rifle slung over their shoulder to keep out trespassers.
Hank strikes up a friendship with Francisco Something Something Something d'Anconia, who says that if he saw Atlas holding up the world, he would tell him to shrug. This is good novel titling, but bad mythology -- the Greek Titan Atlas did not, as Rand believed, hold up the world -- instead, he was holding up another Greek Titan -- namely, Uranus, the god of the sky. Hence, an equally appropriate title for this novel would have been, The Sky Is Falling.
Hank also meets a mysterious stranger:
* Ragnar Danneskjöld, an attractive, hard-working, creative, well-spoken, somewhat aloof pirate who is a hyper-capitalist.
Yes, I said pirate. In this world, piracy is perfectly acceptable, provided a hyper-capitalist does it for the purpose of furthering his political agenda.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, a Taggart train suffers various mechanical problems and is forced to take a diesel engine into a very long tunnel. Everyone on the train dies of asphyxiation. The author provides a very brief philosophical biography of all the waking passengers on the train, and makes it clear, as they go to their deaths, who they are.
* Every person who dies in the Winston Tunnel: a lazy, unreasonable, unproductive, whiny, hypocritical, communist, physically repugnant, grammatically challenged something-or-other who is desperate to kill your children and pets.
Yes, including the children on the train. The obvious implication is that they deserved their fate, and the author even suggests that they somehow caused it.
After dealing with the ensuing crisis the way only a hyper-capitalist can, Dagny meets a hobo who tells her about John Galt, an engineer who, when his company adopted some liberal policies, quit in protest and found work somewhere else.
Or would have, if this were the real world -- in this world, the company in question adopted full blown Marxism, and in response, Galt made a vow to destroy all of civilization.
Dagny comes to suspect that this John Galt is responsible for the rash of unexplained disappearances of hyper-capitalists around the country. She buys a plane, takes off in search of him -- somehow, in the midst of working herself to death keeping the railroad afloat, she found time to get her pilot's license.
Or not; she crashes.
When she comes to, she is looking at . . .
* John Galt, an extremely attractive, very hard-working, unbelievably creative, spellbindingly well-spoken, very much aloof engineer who is so hyper a hyper-capitalist that before long, Dagny dumps Hank and starts fucking John.
He's living in a cloaked valley with all the other hyper-capitalists that he persuaded to join him. Everything here is powered by the Galt Engine, a device that extracts energy from ambient static electricity -- literally drawing energy out of thin air. (Because they're in the mountains, ha ha.) They have their own little hyper-capitalist society, complete with currency in the form of gold.
They come here because John has talked them into going on strike from society -- in this world, it's appropriate to strike from society if you're a hyper-capitalist, but not if you're a teacher or a nurse. Dagny sympathizes, but goes back to the world because she loves her railroad.
Meanwhile, James Taggart and Lillian Rearden engage in a contemptible repudiation of life and existence: they have sex. You see, it's contemptible when communists commit adultery, but a grand, life-affirming act when hyper-capitalists do it.
Anyway, Cherryl catches them in the act, realizes that James is a communist -- something which he has remarkably kept secret from her during their entire marriage. She further realizes that the world is chock full of communists and, as noted earlier, promptly commits suicide to prove a philosophical point. This is tragic because she wanted to be a hyper-capitalist when she grew up -- as opposed to the children on the train in the tunnel, who of course were fully capable of understanding and willfully adhering to communism, and therefore deserved to die.
Well, with all the hyper-capitalists disappearing, civilization is beginning to fall apart piece by piece. Fortunately, there are intelligent and creative people who are not hyper-capitalists, who still give a damn about their fellow man, and who, with time, effort and teamwork, manage to put it all back together.
Or there would be, in the real world; in the world of the novel, no such luck. So it is that we meet . . .
* Mr. Thompson: a lazy, unreasonable, unproductive, whiny, hypocritical, communist, physically repugnant, grammatically challenged head of state who is desperate . . . yeah I know, you get the idea by now, but I had to suffer through more than eleven hundred pages full of tiny little words of this shit, and I want you to feel some of my pain, okay?
With the crisis deepening, he prepares to make a nationally broadcast speech on the radio -- but John Galt jams the signal, everywhere in the country, and gives a speech of his own.
The speech is sixty or seventy pages long, takes about three hours to read if you read it aloud, and constitutes the nucleus of Ayn Rand's philosophy. I will condense it here to twelve words: A equals A; therefore if you're not selfish, you deserve to die.
The government locates Galt and kidnaps him. Mr. Thompson and others try to persuade him to help repair things; Galt refuses. They torture him. It doesn't work; Galt is simply too fucking handsome to be tortured. Discovering this, James Taggart realizes for the first time that he is a communist asshole, and promptly goes catatonic.
This gives Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, Francisco Something Something Something d'Anconia and their buddies a chance to rescue him -- which they do, killing those who stand in their way, which is justified because they chose to stand in their way.
As they fly away, the cities go dark. Everything stops. (Eddie, the regular guy who worshiped the ground that Dagny and her buddies walked on, is on a train that breaks down at the time, and is abandoned in the middle of nowhere. There's probably a lesson there.)
And then all is well. The hyper-capitalists settle down to a simple but well-electrified life in Galt's Gulch, waiting for the day when the masses will beg for them to come back to the world. The book ends with John Galt standing and gazing out at the landscape, majestically tracing the sign of the dollar in the air.
There's no joke here -- that's exactly how the book ends.
**please note I can't remember the DUer's name that posted it, I didn't remember to save his/her name the with text, hopefully he/she will show up and take a deserved bow**
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