A Brief Critique of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged

by Ken V. Krawchuk


1. Losing track...

Context: (474.1) [Rearden speaking] "I am supposed to deliver to Taggart Transcontinental, on February fifteenth, sixty thousand tons of rail, which is to give you three hundred miles of track. You will receive—for the same sum of money—eighty thousand tons of rail, which will give you five hundred miles of track. You know what material is cheaper and lighter than steel Your rail will not be steel, it will be Rearden metal.

Discussion: Given that 60,000 tons of steel rail is 300 miles of track, and two rails make one track, it takes 100 tons of steel rail per mile of rail, or about 113 pounds per yard of rail. However, the weight per yard laid by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1930's was 155 pounds per yard, about 36% heavier than the rail Rearden would have rolled. Since diesels didn't impose the concentrated loads on a track that a steam locomotive would, there was a shift back to 132 to 136 pound rail in the 1950's, which remains the typical weight range for modern rail, yet still about 20% heavier than the rail cited by Rand. Since much-more massive steam locomotives still plied the road throughout Atlas Shrugged, the heavier rail of the 1930's would serve as the better norm.

For rails made of Rearden metal, the calculations yield 80 tons per mile of track, or 90 pounds per yard. Given the revolutionary nature of Rearden Metal and the lack of any hard engineering data elsewhere in the book, this number can be accepted. But not for steel.

Alternative: ...sixty thousand tons of rail, which is to give you over two hundred miles of track, or the converse, eighty-two thousand tons of rail, which is to give you three hundred miles of track. A less-confusing comparison would be: For the same sum of money you will receive the same weight of rail, but it will give you more than twice as much track.

2. Distinguished Toastmaster?

Context: (1100.32) [Galt speaking] "It took me three hours on the radio to tell you why."

(1100.36) [Galt speaking] "What I told you, in three hours, was that it won't work."

Discussion: The average speaking rate for the English language is in the range of 125 to 150 words per minute. Given the subject matter, emotional content, and frequent bursts of dramatic delivery, Galt more likely delivered his speech in the 100-to-125-word range. However, Galt's speech contains over 33,000 words. Do the math, and that comes out to an Alvin and the Chipmunks-like 184 words per minute.

John Galt was never one to be a fast talker.

Alternative: ...five hours...

3. The Sounds of Silence...

Context: (250.30) The earth below was streaked with moonlight, when Wyatt led them up an outside stairway to the second floor of the house, to the open gallery at the doors of the guest rooms. He wished them good night and they heard his steps descending the stairs. The moonlight seemed to drain sound as it drained color. The steps rolled into a distant past, and when they died, the silence had the quality of a solitude that had lasted for a long time, as if no person were left anywhere in reach.

Discussion: Considering what happens next, the moon would have to be working overtime indeed to drain all that sound!

Alternative: Wyatt wished them good night. "You can sleep late if you like", he called over his shoulder. "The rooms of this house are all soundproofed, so it's likely no one will disturb your slumber." They heard his steps descending the stairs.

Atlas Flubbed

Part 1: Errors of Grammar
> Part 2: Errors of Calculation
Part 3: Errors of Logic
Part 4: Errors of Philosophy
Appendix: Finding quotes in other editions

Atlas Flubbed in PDF pamphlet format

An Unsanctioned
Pastiche Parody

Where no one is asking,
"Who is John Galt?"

Because now...
They know.