The Atlas Shrugged Quote Book

Recently I talked with someone who would love Ayn Rand’s prophetic dystopian classic, Atlas Shrugged, but she was daunted by its immense size.  That’s unfortunate, and it made me want to do this as a teaser to invite people in.  By no means is this a “condensed” summary of the novel, but it is a collection of my favorite, representative quotes. 

I went through my copy of the book, and I typed up the passages I’d marked which were short and especially relevant.  I had to skip ones that were long (though I did include one whole paragraph below), and items that were simply examples of excellent writing.  My choices focus on the life-affirming aspects of the text, its insistence on patriotism and how Rand’s vision brings joy to life.  Most of the quotes about music, education, and political criticism had to be left out–I wanted my collection to be no more than three pages long, and that’s what it is.  This collection represents about a quarter of what I have marked in my copy. 

The page numbers refer to the mass market paperback edition, which I believe is still the current edition in print. 

Enjoy this introduction to the awesome world of Atlas Shrugged


“We who hold the love and the secret of joy, to what punishment have we been sentenced for it, and by whom?” (69)

“The reason my family has lasted for such a long time is that none of us has ever been permitted to think he is born a d’Anconia. We are expected to become one.” (89)

“Francisco, what’s the most depraved type of human being?”

“The man without a purpose.” (98)

“One is not supposed to be intellectual at a ball. One is simply supposed to be gay.”

“How? By being stupid?” (102)

“Then why do you want to struggle for years, squeezing out your gains in the form of pennies per ton–rather than accept a fortune for Rearden Metal? Why?”

“Because it’s mine.” (172)

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” (188)

“He’s the looter who thinks that his end justifies his seizure of my means.” (189, first appearance of term “looter” in text)

First, the vision–then the physical shape to express it. First, the thought–then the purposeful motion down the straight line of a single track to a chosen goal. Could one have any meaning without the other? Wasn’t it evil to wish without moving–or to move without aim? Whose malevolence was it that crept through the world, struggling to break the two apart and set them against each other? (226)

“It’s a backward, primitive, unenlightened place. They don’t even have a modern government. It’s the worst government in any state. The laziest. It does nothing–outside of keeping law courts and a police department. It doesn’t do anything for the people. It doesn’t help anybody. I don’t see why all our best companies want to run there.” (254, a villain on Colorado)

“If you kill Colorado, what is there going to be left for your damn looters to survive on?” (280)

She could not descend to an existence where her brain would explode under the pressure of forcing itself not to outdistance incompetence. (281)

“Why, yes I can,” said Midas Mulligan, when he was asked whether he could name a person more evil than the man with a heart closed to pity. “The man who uses another’s pity for him as a weapon.” (294)

“You see, Dr. Stadler, people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue–a highly intellectual virtue–out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness and their guilt.”

“And you propose to pander to that?”

“That is the road to popularity.” (322)

“I don’t think that the strong should have the right to wound the self-esteem of the weak.” (328, a villain, of course)

“Why did he want to waste his mind on practical appliances?”

“Perhaps because he liked living on this earth.” (331)

“Do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement.” (333)

“Everyone agrees that anything you do is good, so long as it’s not for yourself.” (361)

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals.” (404)

“If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they deem to be their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it–well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act.” (442)

“I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation–as any looter must, when he runs out of victims.” (445)

“I’m the man who…robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.” (532)

“The purpose of a military fleet is to protect from violence the citizens who paid for it, which is the proper function of a government.” (532)

“The austerity of the marble face was the form of a disciplined capacity to feel too deeply.” (536)

“Dagny, we who’ve been called ‘materialists’ by the killers of the human spirit, we’re the only ones who know how little value or meaning there is in material objects as such, because we’re the ones who create their value and meaning. We can afford to give them up, for a short while, in order to redeem something much more precious.” (571)

“It’s a sin to sit down and let your life go without making a try for it.” (606)

“Money inside a man’s pocket had the power to turn into confidence inside his mind.” (623)

“We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?” she whispered.

“No, we never had to.” (644)

“The inhabitants of slums were not the men who made this country.” (659)

She thought of this structure, half the size of a boxcar, replacing the power plants of the country, the enormous conglomerations of steel, fuel and effort–she thought of the current flowing from this structure, lifting ounces, pounds, tons of strain from the shoulders of those who would make it or use it, adding hours, days and years of liberated time to their lives, be it an extra moment to lift one’s head from one’s task and glance at the sunlight, or an extra pack of cigarettes bought with the money saved from one’s electric bill, or an hour cut from the workday of every factory using power, or a month’s journey through the whole, open width of the world, on a ticket paid for by one day of one’s labor, on a train pulled by the power of this motor–with all the energy of that weight, that strain, that time replaced and paid for by the energy of a single mind who had known how to make connections of his thought. But she knew that there was no meaning in motors or factories or trains, that their only meaning was in man’s enjoyment of his life, which they served–and that her swelling admiration at the sight of an achievement was for the man from whom it came, for the power and the radiant vision within him which had seen the earth as a place of enjoyment and had known that the work of achieving one’s happiness was the purpose, the sanction and the meaning of life. (670)

“We do not claim–we prove. It is not your obedience that we seek to win, but your rational conviction.” (674)

“I quit,” said Ellis Wyatt, “because I didn’t wish to serve as the cannibals’ meal and to do the cooking, besides.”

“I discovered,” said Ken Danagger, “that the men I was fighting were impotent. The shiftless, the purposeless, the irresponsible, the irrational–it was not I who needed them, it was not theirs to dictate terms to me, it was not mine to obey demands. I quit, to let them discover it, too.” (683)

“Every form of happiness is one, every desire is driven by the same motor–by our love for a single value, for the highest potentiality of our own existence–and every achievement is an expression of it.” (704)

“This country was the only country in history born, not of chance and blind tribal warfare, but as a rational product of man’s mind. This country was built on the supremacy of reason–and, for one magnificent century, it redeemed the world. It will have to do so again.” (707)

Each was devouring himself, while screaming in terror that some unknowable evil was destroying the earth. (836)

He remembered the sensation of proud chastity with which he had fought through those moments, refusing to surrender to pain, a sensation made of his love, of his loyalty of his knowledge that joy is the goal of existence, and joy is not to be stumbled upon, but to be achieved, and that the act of treason is to let its vision drown in the swamp of the moment’s torture.  (852)

She had wanted the outward beauty of existence to match its inner splendor. (869)

“You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards.” (937)

“You want to keep the electric lights, but to destroy the generators–it is our wealth that you use while destroying us, it is our values that you use while damning us, it is our language that you use while denying the mind.” (950)

“In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win.” (965)

There were waiting lines years’ long for the jobs of janitors, greasers, porters and bus boys; there was no one to apply for the jobs of executives, managers, superintendents, engineers. (989-990)

“The desire not to be anything, is the desire not to be.” (1030)

3 comments on “The Atlas Shrugged Quote Book

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