We all have those formative, extremely profound experiences that help shape us right? Well one of mine is the reading of one book, "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. A dear friend in college gave me this book. Ms. Rand has since passed away, but her story is quite interesting: raised in Russia she came "west" after great amounts of study, worked in Hollywood, then theater and then progressed to writing as her last traditionally creative outlet before she became a leader of her own movement of "Objectivism". Ms. Rand was obviously shaped by seeing her home country (and others post WWII) become Communist and came to build her philosophies around the idea that the mind is the is the most significant tool for humanity and reason being its highest virtue. Atlas Shrugged was her opus and a highly disputed, still successful book.
Some of my friends despise Ms. Rand - it is easy to categorize her way of thinking as selfish, too ego-feeding or, too focused on capitalism...too much head, not enough heart. I understand these judgements. But every year, since I received this book, I pull out my tattered copy (the cover is literally falling off and two weeks of beach reading didn't help that cause) and re-read all 1000+ pages. And here's why...this books speaks to some of my most core beliefs. Right or wrong, I believe in capitalism; I believe in the value of the individual, and of work and the value of ethics overriding social grandstanding, "favor granting" and the falsities of the social game. Don't get me wrong, I believe 100% in the value of creating and maintaining social bonds, but only those that are pure of intention and honest in all communications. I find most others rather pointless, often annoying and borderline insulting. I don't like "playing the game" - I'm not good at it.
My spirit is also almost inseparable from the idea of always trying to be at your highest level of performance and seeking out new and better ways - for living, for loving, for working, for being. These are all themes I pull out of this book.
Now the book also goes a bit overboard. There's a bit too much condemning of social activism for my taste and don't even get me started on the way that she relates the role of sexual relationships and what makes them good or not, (but I digress). But, I also do believe that when someone is truly trying to make a point that is so clear cut in their mind, at the risk of offending some they may take that point overboard - or to the extreme - to make the point crystal clear and beyond misinterpretation. That is what I like to think of some of these ideas that Ms. Rand explores in her work.
But why is this so important...well, to be honest, if you want a fairly deep look into me, this book is a rather good start. Further, some of the discussions I've had with people about this book have been the most passionate, compelling and rewarding of my entire life - and I always end up learning something. And, every time I read this book it re-centers me...that is not to say I am an Ayn Rand disciple by any means but its extremes force me to think about what I really think about the ways of the world, the implications of decisions large and small, the impact of each of us at the micro and macro level.
Particularly this year - with our country being soooo divided, and political stereotypes feeling almost crippling to me in their refusal to work together and in an open minded way (on BOTH sides, in my opinion) I almost want to send this book to every senator, every representative and say "THINK! Think about it...realize the impact of any extreme and find the solution that lies in the middle that would (most likely) truly be the best one". Since this book takes both a liberal and a conservative perspective to a ridiculous level, it would sure be a good place to start thinking about how we sometimes appear and how we are perceived.
But anyway - as you can see, this book takes me down a million rabbit holes, and it can always seem to bring insight to where ever my life is at any given moment. I love it. I love Ayn Rand for writing it. Reading this book is one of the most rewarding things I do...and whether you fall into the "love it" or "hate it" category (and sometimes I can fit both), I recommend "Atlas Shrugged". Its a pleasure to read even in its style and rhythm. So I thank Ayn Rand for putting this out there...I don't hear much of her and I for one, thinks she kicks some major butt.