Context and writing
Rand's stated goal for writing the novel was "to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them" and to portray "what happens to a world without them". The core idea for the book came to her after a 1943 telephone conversation with a friend, who asserted that Rand owed it to her readers to write fiction about her philosophy. Rand replied, "What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?" Rand then began Atlas Shrugged to depict the morality of rational self-interest, by exploring the consequences of a strike by intellectuals refusing to supply their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas to the rest of the world. The working title throughout her writing was The Strike, but Rand having thought this title would have revealed the mystery element of the novel prematurely, she was pleased when her husband suggested Atlas Shrugged, previously the title of a single chapter, for the book.
To produce Atlas Shrugged, Rand conducted research on the American railroad industry. Her previous work on a proposed (but never realized) screenplay based on the development of the atomic bomb, including her interviews of J. Robert Oppenheimer, was used in the portrait of the character Robert Stadler and the novel's depiction of the development of "Project X". To do further background research, Rand toured and inspected a number of industrial facilities, such as the Kaiser Steel plant, rode the locomotives of the New York Central Railroad, and even learned to operate the locomotive of the Twentieth Century Limited (and proudly reported that when operating it, "nobody touched a lever except me").
Rand's self-identified literary influences include Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Edmond Rostand, and O. Henry. In addition, Justin Raimondo has observed similarities between Atlas Shrugged and the 1922 novel The Driver, written by Garet Garrett, which concerns an idealized industrialist named Henry Galt, who is a transcontinental railway owner trying to improve the world and fighting against government and socialism. In contrast, Chris Matthew Sciabarra found Raimondo's "claims that Rand plagiarized ... The Driver" to be "unsupported", and Stephan Kinsella doubts that Rand was in any way influenced by Garrett. Writer Bruce Ramsey observed, "Both The Driver and Atlas Shrugged have to do with running railroads during an economic depression, and both suggest pro-capitalist ways in which the country might get out of the depression. But in plot, character, tone, and theme they are very different."
Atlas Shrugged was Rand's last completed work of fiction. It marked a turning point in her life: the end of her career as a novelist and the beginning of her role as a popular philosopher.
Due to the success of Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead, she had no trouble attracting a publisher for Atlas Shrugged. This was a contrast to her previous novels, which she had struggled to place. Even before she began writing it, she had been approached by publishers interested in her next novel. However, her contract for The Fountainhead gave the first option to its publisher, Bobbs-Merrill. After reviewing a partial manuscript, they asked her to discuss a number of cuts and other changes. She refused, and Bobbs-Merrill rejected the book.
Hiram Hayden, an editor she liked who had left Bobbs-Merrill, asked her to consider his new employer, Random House. In an early discussion about the difficulties of publishing a controversial novel, Random House president Bennett Cerf proposed that Rand should submit the manuscript to multiple publishers simultaneously and ask how they would respond to its ideas, so she could evaluate who might best promote her work. Rand was impressed by the bold suggestion and by her overall conversations with them. After speaking with a few other publishers (out of about a dozen who were interested), Rand decided a multiple submission was not needed; she offered the manuscript to Random House. Upon reading the portion Rand submitted, Cerf declared it a "great book" and offered Rand a contract. It was the first time Rand had worked with a publisher whose executives seemed truly enthusiastic about one of her books.
Random House published the novel on October 10, 1957. The initial print run was 100,000 copies. The first paperback edition was published by New American Library in July 1959, with an initial run of 150,000. A 35th-anniversary edition was published by E. P. Dutton in 1992, with an introduction by Rand's heir Leonard Peikoff.
Many translations have been published, including editions in Albanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Marathi, Mongolian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Slovak, Swedish, and Turkish.