Why Atlas Shrugged Changes Lives

More widely, when the novel's heroes learn that they should not feel guilt in the face of irrational demands -- even if the demands come from your mother who is nagging you to give your shiftless brother a job he does not deserve -- we learn it too. When they learn to stand up for the right to their own lives and happiness -- even if this means you will be denounced by your family, colleagues, and the public for refusing to sacrifice yourself -- we learn it too. When the novel's heroes refuse to be sacrificial lambs, we come to agree with their reasons.

And so as readers, sometimes against our previous beliefs, we side with her heroes and want to see them overcome their opponents. After Hank Rearden invests millions and his very soul into creating Rearden Metal, the response is a concerted effort to keep the metal off the market; worse, when its value is grudgingly recognized, people demand subsidized access to it in the name of the public good. How completely unjust! -- we think in outrage. We rally behind the proud, value-creating man. We become invested in his success. What our priests and teachers taught us was immoral, Rand boldly presents as heroic -- and we wish we could meet her heroes in real life.

How did Ayn Rand reach us with such impact? Her challenge to conventional thinking is presented in the form of a riveting story. We can be inspired by her new ideas, see their concrete meaning, and apply them to our own lives. This is the reason her book has had a lasting impact on so many people since it was published in 1957.

So whatever your response to the movie, know that there is no substitute for reading Atlas Shrugged -- or rereading it and reconnecting with why it changed your life.

(Also see: "Mr. Galt Goes to Washington.")