Atlas Shrugged

Many people recommended this book to me, and I finally took them up on their advice. Without reservation, Ann Rand’s writing style is second to none. Some of her quips bite so poignantly, and some of her obvservations are so astute that some of my favorites thus far are worth mentioning here:

“At sixteen, sitting at her operator’s desk, watching the lighted windows of Taggart trains roll past, she had thought that she had entered her kind of world. In the years since, she learned that she hadn’t. The adversary she found herself forced to fight was not worth matching or beating; it was not a superior ability which she would have found honor in challenging; it was ineptitude–a gray spread of cotton that seemed soft and shapeless, that could offer no resistance to anything or anybody, yet managed to be a barrier in her way.” Here, Dagny is ruminating about her brother, Jim, who tries to block her every move, even though each one is good for their company. He was just vindictive of her accomplishments and will to succeed, and everything had to be done his way. All of the credit was supposed to be his.

“you’re a good man, Henry,” his mother said. “But not often enough.” I think we all have good within us, we just don’t utilize it often enough.

“He had clung to Rearden for years, in awed admiration. He came for advice, he asked for loans at times…His motive in the relationship seemed to resemble the need of an anemic person who receives a kind of living transfusion from the mere sight of a savagely overabundant vitality.” A friend told me that we must be totally happy independent of anyone else, and it is only by finding someone else who is totally happy by themselves that the two can come together and compound their happiness together.

“And it was, he thought; else why those constant complaints, those unceasing accusations about his indifference? Why that chronic air of suspicion, as if they were waiting to be hurt? He had never had a desire to hurt them, but he had always felt their defensive, reproachful expectation, they seemed wounded by anything he said, it was not a matter of his words or actions, it was almost…almost as if they were wounded by the mere fact of his being.” Here, Hank Rearden contemplates his family’s contempt for him, even though he has sustained them over the last 40 years. He gives them shelter and money, and does their every whim, but they are so frustrated by his lackluster social interests and probably his undisputed successes in business that they can’t accept the gift but begrudgingly. But they accept it nonetheless. All he wants is to be left alone, and he is happy to support them.

“Words were a lense to focus one’s mind.” How many times I wonder have I said the wrong thing. Yet my words only reflect what is really in my mind at the time. I think that we can tell a person’s character by the words they say over time. I’m sure everyone gets angry once in awhile and says things that reflect negative and hurtful thoughts. It is when such words are spoken constantly that true character is revealed.

“Two hundred tons of metal which was to be harder than steel, running liquid at a temperature of four thousand degrees, had the power to annihilate every wall of the structure and every one of the men who worked by the stream. But every inch of its course, every pound of its pressure and the content of every molecule within it, were controlled and made by a conscious intention that had worked upon it for ten years.” This quote is totally about discipline. The power of human potential is limitless, as is his power of destruction. It must be refined and controlled at every step to be channelled into something worthwhile.

“A passenger, who was a professor of economics, remarked to his companion: “Of what importance is an individual in the titanic collective achievements of our industrial age?” Another, who was a journalist, made a note for future use in his column; “Hank Rearden is the kind of man who sticks his name on everything he touches. You may, from this, form your own opinion about the character of Hank Rearden.” I just liked the implicit argument found in the journalist’s biting remark. It was unfounded, but clever.

“He thought of a summer day when he was ten years old. That day, in a clearing of the woods, the one precious companion of his childhood told him what they would do when they grew up. The words were harsh and glowing, like the sunlight. He listened in admiration and in wonder. When he was asked what he would want to do, he answered at once, “Whatever is right,” and added, “You ought to do something great…I mean, the two of us together.” “What?” she asked. He said, “I don’t know. That’s what we ought to find out. Not just what you said. Not just business and earning a living. Things like winning battles, or saving people out of fires, or climbing mountains.” “What for?” she asked. He said, “The minister said last Sunday that we must always reach for the best within us. What do you suppose is the best within us?” “I don’t know.” “We’ll have to find out.” She did not answer, she was looking away, up the railroad track.” I must admit this quote gives me chills when I read it. We must reach for the best within us. It’s definitely not easy. A good friend from Cambridge once shared with me his motivation for dedicating his life to medicine and neuroscience. He said, “If I don’t benefit my fellow man with my time, then my life will be a waste.” Obviously we want to be happy, but hopefully our goals lead us to make other peoples’ lives better.

“The action of naming an issue instead of evading it, was so unlike the usual behavior of all the men he knew, it was such a sudden, startling relief, that Rearden remained silent for a moment, studying d”Anconia’s face. Francisco had said it very simply, neither as a reproach nor a plea, but in a manner which, strangely, acknowledged Rearden’s dignity and his own.” Isn’t it fantastic when instead of backbiting and runaround ways of facing a problem, someone confronts it head on? We even do this ourselves through procrastination. We have problems to face, but we put them off and put them off. If instead we just confronted them and solved them, we could move on.

“The black dress seemed excessively revealing–because it was astonishing to discover that the lines of her shoulder were fragile and beautiful, and that the diamond band on the wrist of her naked arm gave her the most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.” Dagny’s character is portrayed quite harshly throughout the story thus far, but here she is revealed as being vulnerable, and somehow chained to something. It may be her love for d’Anconia, or it may be her work, I haven’t figured it out yet.

“My dear madam, the duty of thinkers is not to explain, but to demonstrate that nothing can be explained.” Just an interesing tautology.

“Man? What is man? He’s just a collection of chemicals with delusions of grandeur.” A pompous way of belittling man’s existence.

“Mother, do they think it’s exactly in reverse?” she asked.
“What?” asked Mrs. Taggart, bewildered.
“The things you were talking about. The lights and the flowers. Do they expect those things to make them romantic, not the other way around?”
“Darling, what do you mean?”
“There wasn’t a person there who enjoyed it,” she said, her voice lifeless. “Or who thought or felt anything at all. They moved about, and they said the same dull things they say anywhere. I suppose they thought the lights would make it brilliant.” This isn’t just romance. I enjoyed this quote immensely. “They thought the lights would make it brilliant.” I think sometimes people do things as an act. They do them as a show, and think that those actions will validify how they feel, or what motives they have. But the truth is any act began in such a way is empty. Any words said without
true meaning or feeling behind them are empty. Nothing makes a character brilliant unless the character itself is genuine. Sometimes, we realize this too late.

“James, you ought to discover some day that words have an exact meaning.” Words pinpoint our thoughts. The greater our vocabulary, the greater our expression of our thoughts, and probably all the more accurate.

“He flew through the days of his summer month like a rocket, but if one stopped him in midflight, he could always name the purpose of his every random moment. Two things were impossible to him: to stand still or to move aimlessly.” Direction is so important in life. I’ve experienced many times where I’ve lost my direction, and things can seem hopeless. Goals and steps towards goals are so important.

“Dagny,” he said. “Whatever we are, it’s we who move the world and it’s we who’ll pull it through.” Everyone of us can be like Dagny and d’Anconia I think. People who make the world move forward. Everyone of us can also be the people who hold it back. Maybe we toggle back and forth between the two. Hopefully over time we stabilize on the former.

“Colorado isn’t going to be stopped. You’ll pull it through. All that lunacy is temporary. It can’t last. It’s demented, so it has to defeat itself. You and I will just have to work a little harder for awhile, that’s all.” I loved this quote because I think that many times in life adversity crops up in our lives that is undeserved or unfounded. What Rearden is saying is that things that are unjust or wrong will somehow equalize themselves, like a broken engine can’t run for very long. It doesn’t make things easier in the moment, and so we have to work harder to get over them, but we can, and the problems and people that put themselves in our way will only end up defeating themselves in the end.

“Don’t waste time trying to figure him out. Let him spit. He’s no danger to anyone. People like Jim Taggart just clutter up the world.”
“I suppose so.” Jim Taggart is the obvious antagonist in this story, and d’Anconia’s and Dagny’s conversation about him is so great.

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4 thoughts on “Atlas Shrugged

  1. Kate says:

    When I’m done with the book I’ll come back and read your favorite excerpts. Til then, they are acting as spoilers! ha.

  2. Shannon Elizabeth says:

    love anne.

  3. Kate says:

    Are you kidding me with that? Emancipation=Mariah Carey to the second power. She created that equation… even though she failed remedial math. Get over it.

  4. Laura Berlin says:

    love ayn rand. Thought I couldn’t love another character as much as Howard Roark but Dagny got me 🙂

    the men who have carried the world on their shoulders, have kept it alive, have endured torture as sole payment, but have never walked out on the human race

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