My father, Sloan Wilson, wrote novels that would help define 1950s America. I loved and admired him, but the prospect of following in the footsteps of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and A Summer Place was like being expected to climb Mount Everest. My love of nature provided an alternative path. I would become an ecologist, spending my days researching plants and animals, which fascinated me since the summers I spent as a boy at Lake George and a magical boarding school in the Adirondack mountains.
Little did I know that by heading away from the madding crowd of humanity and my father’s vocation, I would end up writing a sequel to another famous novel of the 1950s—Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But don’t get me wrong. I’m no Rand acolyte. I’m not here to praise her ideas but to bury them.
Even if you never read Atlas Shrugged or anything else by Rand, you probably know the names and what they stand for: The sanctity of the individual and the pursuit of self-interest as the highest moral ideal. Rand constructed an entire philosophy around this called Objectivism, which she claimed could be fully justified by rationality and science. But it was through fiction that she reached her largest audience, with Atlas Shrugged selling over 7 million copies and still widely read. She wisely noted that “Art is the essential medium for the communication of a moral ideal.” [Continue reading…]