Atlas Shrugged is a novel by Ayn Rand, first published in 1957 in the United States. Rand's fourth and last novel, it was also her longest, and the one she considered to be her magnum opus in the realm of fiction writing. Atlas Shrugged includes elements of romance, mystery and science fiction, and it contains Rand's most extensive statement of Objectivism in any of her works of fiction.
The protagonist, Dagny Taggart, sees society collapse around her as the government increasingly asserts control over all industry. The book explores a dystopian United States where many of society's most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations and go on strike. The refusal evokes the imagery of what would happen if the mythological Atlas refused to continue to hold up the world. They are led by John Galt. Galt describes the strike as "stopping the motor of the world" by withdrawing the minds that drive society's growth and productivity. In their efforts, these people "of the mind" hope to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is doomed, that civilization cannot exist where every person is a slave to society and government, and that the destruction of the profit motive leads to the collapse of society.
Atlas Shrugged is set in an alternative dystopian United States at an unspecified time, in which the country has a "National Legislature" instead of Congress and a "Head of State" instead of President. Writer Edward Younkins noted, "The story may be simultaneously described as anachronistic and timeless. The pattern of industrial organization appears to be that of the late 1800s — the mood seems to be close to that of the depression-era 1930s. Both the social customs and the level of technology remind one of the 1950s." Many early 20th-century technologies are available, and the steel and railroad industries are especially significant; jet planes are described as a relatively new technology, and television is a novelty significantly less influential than radio. While many other countries are mentioned in passing, there is no mention of the Soviet Union, no reference to World War II or the Cold War. It is implied that the countries of the world are converting to big government statism, along vaguely Marxist lines, in references to "People's States" in Europe and South America. Plot elements also refer to nationalization of businesses in these "People's States", as well as in America. The "mixed economy" of the book's present is often contrasted with the "pure" capitalism of 19th century America, wistfully recalled as a lost Golden Age.
A dystopia is a place in which "people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives" or in which "everything is unpleasant or bad, typically....totalitarian or environmentally degraded." Common elements of dystopias may vary from environmental to political and social issues.
Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (or rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans' metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.