Whenever June comes around, summer reading lists are sure to follow. They appear from a variety of sources, each of which wishes to enlighten us on how to best spend our afternoons at the beach and our lazy summer evenings. Most lists include a popular spy/crime thriller along with other mindless diversions. But this summer, my son and I tackled a more challenging, yet vastly more fulfilling book: Atlas Shrugged.
I have read Atlas twice before. When I proposed the idea to my son, who turned 21 years old in August, I pointed out that it was generally considered to be America’s second most influential book, after the Bible. We sent my old, worn paperback to the recycle store and ordered two beautiful new copies.
The 1,168 page tomes arrived and my boy did not flinch, even though he was staring at the longest book with the smallest type that he had ever attempted to read. Our plan was to read about 100 pages a week, after which we would meet to discuss what we had read and to share particularly moving passages.
Taking on such a challenge can be quite … challenging. As you read through what is generally regarded as Ayn Rand’s manifesto for capitalism, you must wonder how she conceived such a project. While many authors have described the process of writing a 350-page crime novel – usually how they must outline the entire story before they start – Ms. Rand’s sheer brilliance is reflected in the fact that she actually completed this project, which was both her final and her finest novel. The fact that it is written in such clear prose, and covers such essential life concepts, makes you realize why so many people are so consumed by the book.
During the summer I told some friends what my son and I were doing. Everyone had some type of reaction. The people who had not read it spoke of their desire to do so, and the others told me of how many times they had read it. I told everyone that the book is a work of science fiction, an opinion which was generally met with either a quizzical look or a sigh. I explained to them that the book, which was first published in 1957, clearly predicts our society under the Obama Administration. Veteran and virgin readers alike realized that they needed to get their nose into Atlas to gain clarity on what we are all facing as long as Obama remains in office.
If you doubt the prescience of Ayn Rand, turn to page 744 to read about a doctor who no longer practices his profession. When asked why, he replies “I quit when medicine was placed under State control many years ago. Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I would not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun.” If you don’t think vast numbers of doctors feel this way, you have not spoken to any. If ObamaCare goes into effect as passed in 2010, you will soon see droves of doctors living by this creed, and the medical care that most Americans receive will come at the hands of graduates from schools in Indonesia, Mexico, and India because America will not be able to replace the retired doctors quickly enough.
The book, which is sometimes a love story and sometimes a thriller, expresses Ms. Rand’s philosophy on the greatest issues that you will ever face as an individual, and that we will ever face as a society. Each week, my son and I cherished the opportunity to discuss issues that are timeless and yet have never been as relevant as they are today. And each week, I saw the boy who used to ride on my shoulders become a true man, not only in body and age, but in mind.
Reading Atlas Shrugged remains a daunting task. Reaching page 1,000 provides you with certain self-satisfaction, and completing the book brings a feeling of euphoria. Sharing such a vital book with a loved one made the effort totally worthwhile, and absorbing again the philosophies of Ayn Rand made this an experience that will live with me forever.