The irony is so delicious I might just dine on it for weeks, because all those looters, parasites and second-raters populating Ayn Rand’s barely readable Atlas Shrugged turn out to be precisely the same ones citing her novel today as their primary formative influence as they busily calculate the price of human life compared to the bare necessities of accumulating capital and enhancing profits amid our cancerous late-stage capitalism.
COVID-19 shortly will become their own personalized Taggart Tunnel. I don’t want anyone to die, but these real-life moochers need to go far, far away where they can live happily ever after making mad, passionate love to their fattened wallets.
John Galt, my pasty white ass.
However, perhaps even bizarrely, I’ve read Atlas Shrugged. It’s actually one of the most influential 32 books of my life (a list that needs updating this summer). How I came to read Atlas Shrugged is a story worth retelling, though only briefly.
Rest assured that I didn’t choose the novel for leisurely beach reading, or because of a fondness for its mentally unbalanced author, her bizarre message or the self-indulgent cult politics it spawned: Woman meets married man and falls for the steel he invented, and they don’t live happily ever because her real spirit animal is another guy who is stopping the engine of the world to lead a rich dude’s revolution so that millions will starve, and in the process, somehow prove his point.
No, the reason I read Atlas Shrugged is that the late, great Bob Youngblood, my literature teacher as a senior in high school, commanded me to read it in two weeks flat or risk failing his course, this edict coming after I’d devoured the class assignment (Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations) in a single weekend, then openly taunted Bob on Monday about it not being sufficiently challenging.
“Fine, you little shit“: I was kept after class to be informed that if I was so incredibly bright and advanced — if I wasn’t willing to help my classmates understand Dickens — a book like Atlas Shrugged should be the ideal, advanced challenge I so evidently craved.
Scoffing, I agreed … and got schooled, hearing Bob’s message loud and clear long before the infamous section in Rand’s novel where Galt commandeers the planet’s radio frequencies and delivers the single best cure for insomnia ever conceived by a speech maker. It asphyxiates me even now, 43 years later.
Atlas Shrugged was in fact completed, the college prep course passed and Bob’s letter-perfect point very well taken … and retained. I hope I never have to read that book, ever again.