Great Beginnings – Atlas Shrugged

“He’s the character mentioned in the first line of Atlas Shrugged,” read Alex Trebek. It’s the final Jeopardy question and I know the answer! “Who is John Galt?” I immediately respond. The Jeopardy answer also happens to be the complete opening line of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel.

I read Atlas Shrugged many years ago. Honestly, I don’t know exactly who John Galt is because I don’t remember the details of what happened in the 1000+ paperback pages that follow the memorable opening line. It really was a long time ago that I read the story. I do remember those words, though, and the fact that the question is repeated often throughout the book; it is the reader’s quest to discover the answer.

Based on the question “what if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?”, Rand began writing the epic tale, which includes elements of mystery, science fiction, and romance, under the working title The Strike. The final title “symbolizes the book’s plot: the rebellion of the unrecognized and often persecuted creative heroes who bear the rest of the world on their shoulders”.

Atlas Shrugged received generally negative reviews when it was released, but since then it has achieved enduring popularity, selling over six million copies. In January of this year, the novel was No. 33 among’s top-selling books. With those statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t the only home viewer who won final Jeopardy by knowing this book’s opening line. I also surmise that I’m not alone in thinking this is a great beginning:

“Who is John Galt?”
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still –as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness with him.
“Why did you say that?” asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
“Why does it bother you?” he asked.




Filed under Books, Great Beginnings

5 responses to “Great Beginnings – Atlas Shrugged

  1. It’s probably fair to say that “Atlas Shrugged” enjoys cult status. I used to know a woman who reread it every year, although, like you, I no longer remember the details. Here in Ontario, we KNOW who John Galt was. He was the founder of Guelph, and they celebrate John Galt day annually on the August long weekend.

  2. Grammarian

    If I planned on rereading Atlas Shrugged every year, I would definitely need to get a copy with bigger print!

  3. Fiddlegirl

    I have a copy, but it’s not worth re-reading in my opinion. I was quite taken with the ideas presented in it when I first read it at about 16, but upon further reflection, and greater understanding of the world, much of it is just poorly thought out and generally stupid. Like the premise that all people have equal opportunity to rise to the top, and should, and if they don’t it’s their own fault (and thus charities are just a way for greedy, lazy socialists to wrangle money out of those poor hard-working, wealthy capitalists, the “Atlases” who courageously support the rest of the world at great personal sacrifice). It was a decent story though, and decently written, if you skip the long and boring John Galt radio speech near the end which reiterates what the rest of the book has already said.

    • It’s interesting how much your opinion has changed in what is a relatively short period of time.
      As mentioned, I would have to read the book again before I could offer any opinion other than about the opening lines.

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