I’m pleased to announce that the book version of Explore Atlas Shrugged, my study guide for Ayn Rand’s epic novel, is now available in paperback and kindle formats.

Explore Atlas Shrugged is an in-depth course consisting of study questions, podcasts, and other resources developed by me over the past few years. The course breaks Atlas Shrugged into 20 manageable sessions, each covering about 65 pages of the novel.

The newly expanded course — including over 1400 study questions, plot synopses, character summaries, questions for a three-session book club, and a FAQ on creating an Atlas Shrugged Reading Group — is available online at ExploreAtlasShrugged.com. That online course also includes over 22 hours of lively and engaging podcasting. Each podcast — one per session — is an in-depth look at the events, characters, and ideas from those chapters of the novel. The price for all that is $20.

Now, I’ve also made available the print material from the course (meaning: everything except the podcasts) available in book form on Amazon. That’s here:

If you purchase one of these versions, you can access the full online course (including the podcasts) for half price — just $10.

For more details, including free previews of the questions, podcasts, and other resources, visit ExploreAtlasShrugged.com

Explore Atlas Shrugged will help you gain fresh insights into the complex events, characters, and ideas of Ayn Rand’s epic novel—whether you’ve read it just once or a dozen times before.

Notably, the response to Explore Atlas Shrugged has been overwhelmingly positive, including the following remarks:

I require students to read Atlas Shrugged in my introductory economics class. Dr. Hsieh’s Explore Atlas Shrugged podcasts were an essential tool to help communicate the novel’s lesson and hold effective class discussion. Do not attempt to teach the book without consulting the podcasts first!

— Bailey Norwood, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University

And:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Diana – our GLO Atlas Reading Group is going so very well. We have about 12-13 people attending, and it is truly the most fun we’ve had in a long time. So much rewarding fun comes out of your ideas and organization. Can’t thank you enough for your efforts!!!

And:

I just wanted to send you a quick note and thank you for your efforts on Explore Atlas Shrugged. As part of the Charm City Objectivists Society we used your questions and podcast to help kick off our reading group yesterday for session one. We had epiphanies all around the table from someone who is a firm student of Objectivism to a person who had read Atlas Shrugged but is new to Objectivism. I know that neither Ray (our moderator) or myself could have undertaken this kind of thing without the wonderful resource you have created. You have helped me make a difference in my community and I thank you for it.

And:

The other day, I began listening to your Explore Atlas Shrugged podcasts. I have read and listened to the book several times, but it has been admittedly too long since the last time. Although I can not adequately express how much experiencing your podcasts has meant to me and the extent to which they have reinvigorated me, I did want to thank you…Thank you.

Update on Explore Atlas Shrugged

 Posted by on 30 March 2015 at 11:00 am  Atlas Shrugged, Explore Ayn Rand
Mar 302015
 

I want to give y’all a quick progress report on the book version of my course Explore Atlas Shrugged.

This book is a study guide to Ayn Rand’s epic novel. It consists of the study questions for each session (over 1400 in total), plus the plot outline, character inventory, questions for a three-session book club, and FAQ on running an Atlas Shrugged Reading Group. (Yes, turning the podcasts into a book is on my agenda, but that will be a huge project.)

Earlier this week, I finalized the PDF of the print-on-demand version of the the book. (It’s 187 pages!) I’ve uploaded that to Amazon’s CreateSpace, and they’ve approved it. A proof copy is on the way, and once I approve that, the book will be available in print and kindle formats.

Notably, the online version of Explore Atlas Shrugged is fully up-to-date with all my expansions and revisions, and you can purchase access to that for $20. That includes the 22 hours of awesome podcasts, plus everything else in this forthcoming book.

To promote the course, I plan to run weekly trivia contests on Atlas Shrugged, with prizes. I’ve been busy writing up questions, and MWHAHAHAHA, I’m going to have fun with this. :-)

Mysterious Notes

 Posted by on 11 June 2014 at 10:00 am  Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Jun 112014
 

Every once in a while, I find some set of notes floating around the house that, although well-organized, now make not the slightest bit of sense to me. To wit:

Any ideas?

… Oh oh oh! I just figured out what they’re in reference to! 10 points to anyone who can guess!

Sep 172013
 

In last Sunday’s radio show, I answered the following Rapid Fire Question:

In his 1977 essay “Political Freedom and Its Roots in Metaphysics,” Moshe Kroy argued that Ayn Rand’s advocacy of government, in contrast to the libertarians’ advocacy of anarchism, stemmed from her having a different view of the nature of man than Murray Rothbard did. Is Kroy right?

I skimmed the article in advance of the broadcast, so I knew that the Kroy’s analysis was based on utterly ridiculous — as in, fabricated — claims about Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I quoted a bit of the article in the broadcast, but I thought I’d blog a bit more commentary. The first example that Kroy offers is long and complicated, so I’ll skip that. Let’s look at the second:

A Randist judge would demand compensation whenever a promise was unilaterally made and broken (i.e., a promise of a gift, or of charity service). A Rothbardian judge would not consider these legal matters — though he may privately advise the victim to advertise the fact of default as much as he can, so as to make the defaulter realize that breaking promises is bad for your business reputation.

Nothing in Ayn Rand’s writings — fictional or philosophical — supports this claim that mere promises constitute contracts. In fact, as William Stoddard observed, Hank Rearden’s thinking about his abysmal marriage — when Lillian drags him to Jim Taggart’s wedding — suggests the opposite view:

Then, as if a single, sudden blow to his brain blasted a moment’s shift of perspective, [Hank] felt an immense astonishment at what he was doing here and why. He lost, for that moment, all the days and dogmas of his past; his concepts, his problems, his pain were wiped out; he knew only — as from a great, clear distance — that man exists for the achievement of his desires, and he wondered why he stood here, he wondered who had the right to demand that he waste a single it-replaceable hour of his life, when his only desire was to seize the slender figure in gray and hold her through the length of whatever time there was left for him to exist.

In the next moment, he felt the shudder of recapturing his mind. He felt the tight, contemptuous movement of his lips pressed together in token of the words he cried to himself: You made a contract once, now stick to it. And then he thought suddenly that in business transactions the courts of law did not recognize a contract wherein no valuable consideration had been given by one party to the other. He wondered what made him think of it. The thought seemed irrelevant. He did not pursue it.

Basically, because Hank received no “valuable consideration” from Lillian in their marriage, Hank ought to consider that marriage to be a mere promise and not a binding contract. Hence, he’s not obliged to endure it, come what may — and ultimately, he doesn’t. In fact, when Hank divorces Lillian after the debacle with the “Gift Certificate” for Rearden Metal, he goes to considerable lengths to prevent her from benefitting from the marriage. He bribes judges and others to prevent any property settlement or alimony. That’s because Hank aims to leave Lilliam without another cent of his — whatever the promises of the marriage — precisely because she’s offered him no valuable consideration in the marriage.

If I read Atlas Shrugged through from beginning to end, I suspect that I could find more than a few promises broken by the heroes (mostly due to changed circumstances) that wouldn’t ever result in any kind of court case. Contracts are a kind of promise, but they’re not mere promises.

As for the third example:

A Randist judge would have to defend, in court, a contract in which a man sells himself to be a slave: once a man made a contractual commitment to be a slave, and to forego any further freedom of choice, he has to abide by his promise. A Rothbardian would consider the contract cancelled the minute the slave refuses to be a slave any more (thereby implying that the contract was never valid). At the same time, if the slave got some money, which he has been capable to continue to control independently, for becoming a slave, then he no more legally holds the money: the money belongs to the deceived, purported slavemaster. Thus, the institutions of justice should remedy the breach of control and ownership incurred.

Again, that’s a complete fabrication. Nothing in Ayn Rand’s writings would ever support that position. In fact, another example from Atlas Shrugged suggests that Ayn Rand held the opposite view — namely, when Dagny attempts to convince Dan Conway to fight the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule.”

“Dan, you have to fight them. I’ll help you. I’ll fight for you with everything I’ve got.”

Dan Conway shook his head.

He sat at his desk, the empty expanse of a faded blotter before him, one feeble lamp lighted in a corner of the room. Dagny had rushed straight to the city office of the Phoenix-Durango. Conway was there, and he still sat as she had found him. He had smiled at her entrance and said, “Funny, I thought you would come,” his voice gentle, lifeless. They did not know each other well, but they had met a few times in Colorado.

“No,” he said, “it’s no use.”

“Do you mean because of that Alliance agreement that you signed? It won’t hold. This is plain expropriation. No court will uphold it. And if Jim tries to hide behind the usual looters’ slogan of ‘public welfare,’ I’ll go on the stand and swear that Taggart Transcontinental can’t handle the whole traffic of Colorado. And if any court rules against you, you can appeal and keep on appealing for the next ten years.”

“Yes,” he said, “I could … I’m not sure I’d win, but I could try and I could hang onto the railroad for a few years longer, but… No, it’s not the legal points that I’m thinking about, one way or the other. It’s not that.”

“What, then?”

“I don’t want to fight it, Dagny.”

She looked at him incredulously. It was the one sentence which, she felt sure, he had never uttered before; a man could not reverse himself so late in life.

Dan Conway was approaching fifty. He had the square, stolid, stubborn face of a tough freight engineer, rather than a company president; the face of a fighter, with a young, tanned skin and graying hair. He had taken over a shaky little railroad in Arizona, a road whose net revenue was less than that of a successful grocery store, and he had built it into the best railroad of the Southwest. He spoke little, seldom read books, had never gone to college. The whole sphere of human endeavors, with one exception, left him blankly indifferent; he had no touch of that which people called culture. But he knew railroads.

“Why don’t you want to fight?”

“Because they had the right to do it.”

“Dan,” she asked, “have you lost your mind?”

“I’ve never gone back on my word in my life,” he said tonelessly. “I don’t care what the courts decide. I promised to obey the majority. I have to obey.”

In the rest of the scene, Dagny continues her attempts to persuade Conway, but without effect. Notice, however, that Dan Conway embraces the view of the supposedly “Randist judge” in the example from the article. He agreed to abide by the majority, so he has lost all right to fight their ruling now. Dagny, on the other hand, vehemently asserts that Dan has every right to fight for himself and his railroad. Dagny’s view is clearly Ayn Rand’s view.

(For anyone interested in more direct discussion of this question of whether a person can sell himself into slavery, check out this podcast segment: 12 March 2012: Selling Yourself into Slavery.)

Ultimately… is it too much to ask that critics of Ayn Rand refrain from that time-honored traditions of “ignoring the text” and “making stuff up”? Apparently so.

 

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the depth of Ayn Rand’s fictional characters. The question was:

Are the characters in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged flat due to philosophic consistency? I’m reading the novel currently, and rather enjoying it. However, I’ve heard many people claim her characters are flat, one-dimensional, etc. I usually respond to this by saying that Ayn Rand’s characters are the incarnation of her ideas, the physical embodiment of her ideas: an individual is consumed with this philosophy, so much so that they are entirely logically consistent (or at least as much as humanly possible, they are human, and do make mistakes, e.g. Rearden’s marriage), thus, because of their abnormally extensive logical consistency within their philosophy, these characters merely appear to be ‘one-dimensional’. Is this an accurate understanding of Rand’s characters?

My answer, in brief:

The criticism that Ayn Rand’s characters are flat is dead wrong, as is the response that they embody ideas.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends via social media, forums, and e-mail! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Join the next Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at www.PhilosophyInAction.com/live.

In the meantime, Connect with Us via social media, e-mail, RSS feeds, and more. Check out the Webcast Archives, where you can listen to the full webcast or just selected questions from any past episode, and our my YouTube channel. And go to the Question Queue to submit and vote on questions for upcoming webcast episodes.

 

Attention, students!

The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism is happy to announce its sixth annual Summer Conference for Students, titled Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the Moral Foundations of Capitalism. We’re accepting applications now. The conference will feature an in-depth analysis of Rand’s magnum opus and explore the following questions:
  • What is the moral basis for a free market?
  • How to individual rights function in a capitalist society?
  • What does the history of capitalism teach us about its moral basis?
  • How is Ayn Rand’s view of capitalism unique?

The conference features lectures by Craig Biddle, Eric Daniels, Richard Ebeling, and Andrew Bernstein as well as special guest to be announced soon.

The conference will take place on the Clemson University campus from May 24 – 28th. Scholarships are available to qualified undergraduate and graduate students, including housing, meals, and a travel stipend. For more information and to apply, visit the 2012 conference website or use the contact form. Testimony from conference alumni, video highlights, and an FAQ are also available.

The deadline to apply is March 1, 2012.

Here is the web site for the conference and the form to apply. It’s free, and travel stipends are available.

 

Since the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is now available on DVD (and on Blu-Ray), I thought that I should repost my video review of the movie:

For detailed analyses of Ayn Rand’s epic novel, Atlas Shrugged, see my Explore Atlas Shrugged podcast series.

Apr 162011
 

Last night, I saw the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. While I’d really hoped to be able to like it, my assessment is highly mixed: I’d give it a C+. If you’d like to hear my reasons why and chat with other movie-goers, join my Rationally Selfish Webcast tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at www.philosophyinaction.com.

The first question that I’ll be answering is “What did you think of the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1?” I plan to discuss that at some length, so some of the other scheduled questions might need to be deferred until next week.

As a teaser, here are the notes that I made last night, immediately after the movie. (A Wells Fargo deposit envelope was the only paper that I had on hand! Silly me!) The good is on the left, and the bad and ugly is on the right. Click them to enlarge to actual size or thereabouts.


Update: For those of you who missed my Rationally Selfish Webcast on Sunday, here’s the video of my review of the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1.

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