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Atlas Shrugged Changed My Life

Atlas Shrugged Changed My Life

6 Mins
April 5, 2007

Exactly forty years ago, this month, I was contemplating the tattered wreckage of my college career.

And The Book was responsible.

Those words, “Atlas Shrugged changed my life,” have been uttered by thousands who have read Ayn Rand’s masterpiece. And each of us whose life has been forever changed has his own story to tell.

Here’s mine.

I had been very interested in politics since junior high. You’re right, I didn’t have much of a social life. But thanks to the encouragement of a dear history teacher, and to the subversive inclinations of a school librarian (and D.A.R. member) who stocked the shelves with the likes of Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and Frank Chodorov (yes,  really), I took solace in political and economic theory.

By 1964, I was a big Goldwater fan. It was then that I first read about Ayn Rand. It was an article in Life (or was that Look?) titled “Goldwater People,” which briefly profiled a number of prominent people who had the nerve to publicly support Barry. Rand was one of them. I vaguely remember the photo. She was wearing black, standing in front of rack of pamphlets, probably at the Nathaniel Branden Institute, looking intense, and gesturing with a cigarette holder.

I thought she seemed strange.

In those days, you see, I considered myself a conservative “fusionist”: I found attractive the ideas of Frank Meyer, who was trying to wed traditionalist conservatism with libertarianism. For a kid who had been raised a Roman Catholic, it seemed to make sense at the time.

A bit later, I formed a local chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. Back then, YAF was the national organization for conservative and libertarian youth (I mean, there weren’t enough of us to have even two national right-wing organizations). The chapter attracted maybe a half-dozen members from our heavily Democratic county.

One of them was a very smart, musically talented Jewish kid. David was also completely arrogant and obnoxious. And he called himself an “Objectivist.” When I told him I didn’t know what that was, he looked at me as if I were an idiot. “That’s the philosophy of Ann Rand,” he replied coldly. Yes, that’s how he pronounced her first name. But being an idiot, of course, how would I know otherwise?

David said things about selfishness and Atlas Shrugged that seemed strange.

David wasn’t a very attractive introduction to Objectivism.

In my junior year, I picked up The Fountainhead. I found it absorbing, but philosophically troubling. I liked hero Howard Roark’s principled individualism a lot. But as a nominal Roman Catholic, Rand’s atheism, her rejection of conventional ethics, and, well, her endorsement of sex outside of holy matrimony, were all a bit hard to take. I remember turning around in class to chat about it with the smartest girl in school. Jackie said she’d read it and loved it. “Well, I don’t,” I said.

I read about five-sixths of The Fountainhead, then stopped.

By that time, I had become a huge fan of Frederic Bastiat, the nineteenth-century French political economist. Bastiat’s The Law brought a moral dimension to political thinking that I found immensely appealing. How could I know then that Bastiat’s consistently principled approach toward limited government was setting me up for Ayn Rand?

I graduated from high school in June 1967. That summer, I picked up and read Rand’s We the Living. It hit me like a hammer. I’d always been fervently anti-communist, but Rand’s scorching portrait of life in the Soviet hellhole seared my soul. Being a true child of the ’50s, I still had problems with the atheism and the overt sexuality; but thanks to Bastiat, Rand’s intransigent individualism was starting to seem more reasonable.

That same summer, prior to starting my first year of college, I attended the national YAF convention in Pittsburgh, as an official voting member of the Pennsylvania delegation. It was a heady experience to meet hundreds of very smart kids who shared my political interests. I didn’t feel quite so weird and alone anymore.

There was heated debate between libertarians and traditional conservatives who were vying for control of YAF. The libertarians were led by a group of self-proclaimed Objectivists from Philadelphia who ran the Pennsylvania delegation. They had put up a slate of candidates for YAF’s national board, and everyone on the state delegation was expected to vote for the ticket.

I still had nagging problems with Rand’s atheism and some of her moral views (as I understood them from my cursory reading). So, being stubborn, I was the only one on the Pennsylvania delegation not to vote for the Objectivist candidates.

Funny, how things turn out, isn’t it?

Anyway, a few guys were walking around the hotel with bumper stickers slapped on their briefcases: “I KNOW WHO JOHN GALT IS. I’VE READ ATLAS SHRUGGED.” This piqued my curiosity. I’d been having delightful chats with a pretty girl, and I asked her, “What’s that bumper sticker all about? Who is this ‘John Galt’?”

She looked up, with stars in her eyes, and replied softly: “He’s the perfect man.”

She looked up, with stars in her eyes, and replied softly: “He’s the perfect man.”

Now, when a lonely young man hears something like that from a lovely young lady, it arrests his attention. I damn well wanted to know who the hell this John Galt character was, and what about him would put those stars in that young lady’s eyes.

So, a few weeks later, while buying freshman-year textbooks at the college bookstore, it was that profoundly philosophical motive that prompted me to buy a copy of Atlas Shrugged. I think it was late September, maybe early October, before I got around to reading it.

I can’t begin to describe what that was like. I have no recollection of how long it took me—perhaps a week. I don’t remember if I ate or slept during that time; I guess I must have. I shared a twin suite with five other guys; but I don’t recall if I even talked to anyone. Maybe I mumbled something about this incredible book I was reading; I just don’t know.

But at “the end,” I was changed.



By then, I was a week behind in all the classes and homework that I had skipped. I had many looming obligations clamoring for attention.

So, I did the only reasonable thing.

I opened the book and started to read it again.

This time, I did it with pen and colored markers in hand. This time, I underlined all the important passages—which turned out to be most of the book—and made notes in the margins. This time, I read even more closely, arguing with Rand at every step, challenging her every statement, looking for holes and flaws in her reasoning.

This time, at “the end,” I knew Ayn Rand had won me over.

Exactly forty years ago, this month, I was contemplating the tattered wreckage of my college career.

And The Book was responsible.

I have never regretted it for a single moment.

Photo above: Author Robert James Bidinotto receives the 2007 Folio gold award for editorial excellence, for his article "Up from Conservatism" published by The Atlas Society. He is now a best-selling thriller author.

This article first appeared in the October 2007 print edition of
The New Individualist, a publication of The Atlas Society.

Robert James Bidinotto
About the author:
Robert James Bidinotto
Atlas Shrugged
Ayn Rand's Ideas and Influence