Atlas Shrugged debuted on The New York Times Bestseller List at #13 three days after its publication. It peaked at #3 on December 8, 1957, and was on the list for 22 consecutive weeks. It continued to sell strongly through the 1960s and beyond. By 1984, its sales had exceeded five million copies.
Sales of Atlas Shrugged increased following the 2007 financial crisis. The Economist reported that the 52-year-old novel ranked #33 among Amazon.com's top-selling books on January 13, 2009, and that its 30-day sales average showed the novel selling three times faster than during the same period of the previous year. With an attached sales chart, The Economist reported that sales "spikes" of the book seemed to coincide with the release of economic data. Subsequently, on April 2, 2009, Atlas Shrugged ranked #1 in the "Fiction and Literature" category at Amazon and #15 in overall sales. Total sales of the novel in 2009 exceeded 500,000 copies. The book sold 445,000 copies in 2011, the second-strongest sales year in the novel's history.
"Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of greed is good. Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out."– Harriet Rubin in The New York Times
Despite being a popular success, Atlas Shrugged was generally disliked by critics. Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein later wrote that when the novel was released, "reviewers seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs"; one called it "execrable claptrap", while another said it showed "remorseless hectoring and prolixity". Author Gore Vidal described its philosophy as "nearly perfect in its immorality". In the Saturday Review, Helen Beal Woodward said that the novel was written with "dazzling virtuosity" but was "shot through with hatred". This was echoed by Granville Hicks in The New York Times Book Review, who stated that the book was "written out of hate". The reviewer for Time magazine asked: "Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare? Is it Superman – in the comic strip or the Nietzschean version?" In the National Review, Whittaker Chambers called Atlas Shrugged "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly", and said it "can be called a novel only by devaluing the term". Chambers argued against the novel's implicit endorsement of atheism, whereby "Randian man, like Marxian man is made the center of a godless world". Chambers wrote that the implicit message of the novel is akin to "Hitler's National Socialism and Stalin's brand of Communism": "To a gas chamber — go!".
The negative reviews produced responses from some of Rand's admirers, including a letter by Alan Greenspan to The New York Times Book Review, in which he responded to Hicks' claim that "the book was written out of hate" by saying, "... Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should." Greenspan had read unpublished drafts of the work in Rand's salon at least three years earlier. In an unpublished letter to the National Review, Leonard Peikoff wrote, "... Mr. Chambers is an ex-Communist. He has attacked Atlas Shrugged in the best tradition of the Communists — by lies, smears, and cowardly misrepresentations. Mr. Chambers may have changed a few of his political views; he has not changed the method of intellectual analysis and evaluation of the Party to which he belonged."
There were some positive reviews. Richard McLaughlin, reviewing the novel for The American Mercury, described it as a "long overdue" polemic against the welfare state with an "exciting, suspenseful plot", although unnecessarily long. He drew a comparison with the antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, saying that a "skillful polemicist" did not need a refined literary style to have a political impact. Journalist and book reviewer John Chamberlain, writing in The New York Herald Tribune, found Atlas Shrugged satisfying on many levels: as science fiction, as a "philosophical detective story", and as a "profound political parable". In a tribute written on the 20th anniversary of the novel's publication, John Hospers, a leading philosopher of aesthetics, praised it as "a supreme achievement, guaranteed of immortality."
Influence and legacy
Over the years, Atlas Shrugged has attracted an energetic and committed fan base. Each year, the Ayn Rand Institute donates 400,000 copies of works by Ayn Rand, including Atlas Shrugged, to high school students. According to a 1991 survey done for the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged was situated between the Bible and M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled as the book that made the most difference in the lives of 5,000 Book-of-the-Month club members surveyed, with a "large gap existing between the #1 book and the rest of the list". Modern Library's 1998 nonscientific online poll of the 100 best novels of the 20th century found Atlas rated #1 although it was not included on the list chosen by the Modern Library board of authors and scholars.
Rand's impact on contemporary libertarian thought has been considerable. The title of one libertarian magazine, Reason: Free Minds, Free Markets, is taken directly from John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, who argues that "a free mind and a free market are corollaries". In 1983, the Libertarian Futurist Society gave the novel one of its first "Hall of Fame" awards. In 1997, the libertarian Cato Institute held a joint conference with The Atlas Society, an Objectivist organization, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged. At this event, Howard Dickman of Reader's Digest stated that the novel had "turned millions of readers on to the ideas of liberty" and said that the book had the important message of the readers' "profound right to be happy".
Former Rand business partner and lover Nathaniel Branden, to whom the book was originally dedicated, has expressed differing views of Atlas Shrugged. He was initially quite favorable to it, praising it in the book he and Barbara Branden wrote in 1962 called Who Is Ayn Rand?. After he and Rand ended their relationship in 1968, both he and Barbara Branden repudiated their earlier book.:12 As of 1971, though, in an interview he gave to Reason, he listed some critiques, but concluded, "But what the hell, so there are a few things one can quarrel with in the book, so what? Atlas Shrugged is the greatest novel that has ever been written, in my judgment, so let's let it go at that.":17 However, in 1984, two years after Rand's death, he argued that Atlas Shrugged "encourages emotional repression and self-disowning" and that her works contained contradictory messages. Branden claimed that the characters rarely talk "on a simple, human level without launching into philosophical sermons". He criticized the potential psychological impact of the novel, stating that John Galt's recommendation to respond to wrongdoing with "contempt and moral condemnation" clashes with the view of psychologists who say this only causes the wrongdoing to repeat itself.
The Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises admired the unapologetic elitism he saw in Rand's work. In a private letter to Rand written a few months after the novel's publication, he declared, "... Atlas Shrugged is not merely a novel. It is also (or may I say: first of all) a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society, a substantiated rejection of the ideology of our self-styled "intellectuals" and a pitiless unmasking of the insincerity of the policies adopted by governments and political parties ... You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you."
In the years immediately following the novel's publication, many American conservatives, such as William Buckley, Jr., strongly disapproved of Rand and her Objectivist message. In addition to the strongly critical review by Whittaker Chambers, Buckley solicited a number of critical pieces: Russell Kirk called Objectivism an "inverted religion", Frank Meyer accused Rand of "calculated cruelties" and her message, an "arid subhuman image of man", and Garry Wills regarded Rand a "fanatic". In the late 2000s, however, conservative commentators suggested the book as a warning against a socialistic reaction to the finance crisis. Conservative commentators Neal Boortz, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh have offered high praise of the book on their respective radio and television programs. In 2006, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas cited Atlas Shrugged as among his favorite novels. Republican Congressman John Campbell said, for example, "People are starting to feel like we're living through the scenario that happened in [the novel] ... We're living in Atlas Shrugged", echoing Stephen Moore in an article published in The Wall Street Journal on January 9, 2009, titled "Atlas Shrugged From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years".
"I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 CEOs that Atlas Shrugged has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don't agree with all of Ayn Rand's ideas."– John A. Allison, former CEO of BB&T
In 2005, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan said that Rand was "the reason I got into public service", and he later required his staff members to read Atlas Shrugged. In April 2012, he disavowed such beliefs however, calling them "an urban legend", and rejected Rand's philosophy. Ryan was subsequently mocked by Nobel Prize-winning economist and commentator Paul Krugman for reportedly getting ideas about monetary policy from the novel. In another commentary, Krugman quoted a quip by writer John Rogers: "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."
BioShock, a critically acclaimed 2007 video game, is widely considered to be a deconstruction of Atlas Shrugged. The story depicts a collapsed Objectivist society, with the player learning of how it fell apart after the fact. Significant characters in the game, such as Atlas and Andrew Ryan (a play on the name Ayn Rand), owe their naming to Rand's work. When asked about the influences for BioShock, the creator of the game, Ken Levine, replied, "I have my useless liberal arts degree, so I've read stuff from Ayn Rand and George Orwell, and all the sort of utopian and dystopian writings of the 20th century, which I've found really fascinating."
References to Atlas Shrugged have appeared in a variety of other popular entertainments. In the first season of the drama series Mad Men, Bert Cooper urges Don Draper to read the book, and Don's sales pitch tactic to a client indicates he has been influenced by the strike plot: "If you don't appreciate my hard work, then I will take it away and we'll see how you do." Less positive mentions of the novel occur in the animated comedy Futurama, where it appears among library of books flushed down to the sewers to be read only by grotesque mutants, and in South Park, where a newly literate character gives up on reading after experiencing Atlas Shrugged.
In 2013, it was announced that Galt's Gulch, Chile, a settlement for libertarian devotees named for John Galt's safe haven, would be established near Santiago, Chile. The settlement has been dogged by internal power struggles, bureaucracy, and accusations of fraud against the founders.