Friends and Fans — I have retired from my work as a public intellectual, so Philosophy in Action is on indefinite hiatus. Please check out the voluminous archive of free podcasts, as well as the premium audio content still available for sale. My two books — Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame and Explore Atlas Shrugged — are available for purchase too. Best wishes! — Diana Brickell (Hsieh)

Preview of Explore Atlas Shrugged, Session 1

5 October 2009

Do you want to better understand and appreciate Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged? Look no further! Explore Atlas Shrugged will help you gain fresh insights into the complex events, characters, and ideas of this epic novel – whether you've read it just once or a dozen times before.

The podcast and study questions below are a preview of Session 1. You can purchase access to the whole of Explore Atlas Shrugged – meaning, over 22 hours of podcasts, 1400 study questions, and other resources – for just $20 using the form below. The written materials in the course are also available from Amazon in paperback and kindle formats, and purchasers of those editions just pay $10 for access to the podcasts.

For more information, including previews of other sessions, visit Explore Atlas Shrugged.

The Reading

Session 1 of Explore Atlas Shrugged covers:

  • Part 1: Chapter 1: The Theme
  • Part 1: Chapter 2: The Chain
  • Part 1: Chapter 3: The Top and the Bottom

Preview the Podcast

Listen to the podcast preview of Session 1 of Explore Atlas Shrugged now – or download it:

  • Preview Duration: 25:14 (Full Podcast: 53:44)
  • Download Preview: Standard MP3 File (8.7 MB)

Tags: Art, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, Epistemology, Ethics, Literature, Metaphysics, Objectivism, Philosophy, Politics

Preview the Study Questions

The page numbers found in parentheses in these questions refer to the hardcover, softcover, and kindle editions of Atlas Shrugged, not the small mass market paperback. Due to this pagination difference, I don't recommend using the mass market paperback.

Part 1: Chapter 1: The Theme

Section 1 (3-12)

Eddie Willers walks through the streets of New York City to Taggart Transcontinental. There, he meets with its president Jim Taggart about the poor state of the track on the Rio Norte Line. Eddie speaks with Pop Harper.

Core Questions

  • What is the state of the world? What is Eddie's response to it? How is that world similar to and different from the world of today? (3-6, 11-2)
  • What does Eddie want to communicate to Jim in this meeting? What are the results – and why? (7-11)
  • What is the story of Ellis Wyatt? What is Eddie's view of him? How and why does that differ from Jim's view? (9-10)

Extra Questions

  • What kind of person is Eddie Willers? What are his distinctive qualities? (3-12)
  • What does the question "Who is John Galt?" seem to mean? (3, 12)
  • What do Eddie's recollections of the destruction of the oak tree reveal about him? How does that incident reflect the state of the world around him, including Taggart Transcontinental? (5, 6)
  • As children, how do Eddie and Dagny Taggart differ in their understanding of "the best within us"? What is Eddie's view of morality? (6)
  • What kind of person is Jim Taggart? What are his distinctive qualities? (7-11)
  • How does Jim manage problems on Taggart Transcontinental? How is Eddie's approach different? Are those differences morally significant – and, if so, how and why? (7-11)
  • How do Eddie and Jim differ in their styles of communication? How and why does the conversation end? (7-11)
  • What does Eddie's conversation with Pop Harper reveal about the state of mind of ordinary people? (12)

Section 2 (12-17)

Dagny Taggart returns to New York City on the Taggart Comet after inspecting the Rio Norte Line. On the way, she hears the brakeman whistling a seemingly new concerto by composer Richard Halley. The train is halted by a faulty switch and then restarted by Dagny's efforts.

Core Questions

  • What does Dagny think and feel while listening to the whistling of the brakeman? What does that reveal about her character and values? (13-4)
  • How does Dagny's response to the stalled train differ from that of the crew? What qualities of character does she exhibit? What does that contrast suggest about the state of Taggart Transcontinental – and the wider culture? (15-7)

Extra Questions

  • What kind of person is Dagny Taggart? What are her distinctive qualities? (12-7)
  • Why is Dagny puzzled by her conversation with the brakeman? How does she attempt to extract information from him? (14)
  • Why is the train crew surprised to find Dagny seated in a day coach car? Why wouldn't Jim Taggart have done the same? (17)
  • What is Dagny's attitude toward her work? How does that contrast with Jim Taggart's attitude? (14, 15-7, 7-11)
  • What does Dagny think of Owen Kellogg? Why does she want to promote him, albeit only reluctantly? What does that reveal about the economy? (17)

Section 3 (17-18)

Dagny Taggart enters the Taggart Terminal in the Comet.

Core Question

  • What is Dagny's emotional response upon entering the Taggart Terminal? How does she feel about her work? Is that unusual? Is it desirable? (17-8)

Section 4 (18-26)

Dagny Taggart meets with Jim Taggart, informing him that the rail for the Rio Norte Line will be made of a new alloy: Rearden Metal. Dagny learns that Richard Halley has written no new concertos. Owen Kellogg resigns for inexplicable reasons.

Core Questions

  • Why does Dagny want rail made of Rearden Metal for the Rio Norte Line? How and why does Jim oppose her? (18-24)
  • What principles and concerns motivate Jim in this meeting? How does that affect his business decisions? What is Dagny's response? (18-24)
  • Why does Jim tell Dagny that she is without feelings? How does Dagny respond? Why does she respond that way? (23-4)

Extra Questions

  • How and why do Dagny's methods of decision-making and communication differ from those of Jim in this meeting? What do those differences reveal about each of them? (18-24)
  • Does Dagny understand Jim well? Why or why not? (18-24)
  • What is Jim's response to Dagny's claim that the Mexican government will soon nationalize the San Sebastián Line? What does that reveal about him? (22)
  • What does Dagny discover about the possibility of a fifth concerto by Richard Halley? Why is that notable? (24)
  • Why is Dagny so surprised by Owen Kellogg's resignation? (24-6)

Whole Chapter (3-26)

  • What is the significance of the title of this chapter, "The Theme"? (3-26)

About Explore Atlas Shrugged

Do you want to better understand and appreciate Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged?

Explore Atlas Shrugged is an in-depth course consisting of a podcast series, study questions, and other resources by philosopher Dr. Diana Brickell. The course breaks Atlas Shrugged into 20 manageable sessions, each covering about 65 pages of the novel.

Explore Atlas Shrugged will inspire 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.

Check out the previews, then purchase access to the whole of Explore Atlas Shrugged for just $20. The written materials of Explore Atlas Shrugged are also available from Amazon in paperback and kindle formats, and purchasers of those editions pay just $10 for access to the podcasts.

Purchase Explore Atlas Shrugged

Access to the online version of Explore Atlas Shrugged costs just $20. It's half off – just $10 – for purchasers of the paperback and kindle editions of the book version. Also, if you contribute to Philosophy in Action's Tip Jar via recurring weekly or monthly contributions (or the equivalent), please email me for free access.

Terms of Sale: (1) You may share the podcasts with members of your household, but not beyond that. (2) You may share the study questions with members of your household, as well as with participants in your online or in-person Atlas Shrugged Reading Group. (3) Do not ever post the podcasts, study questions, or login credentials in any public forum.

Item: Course: Explore Atlas Shrugged ($20)

Praise for Explore Atlas Shrugged

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


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!!!


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.


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.

About the Author

I'm Dr. Diana Brickell (formerly Diana Hsieh). I'm a philosopher, and I've long specialized in the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I completed my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. I retired from work as a public intellectual in 2015.

From September 2009 to September 2015, I produced a radio show and podcast, Philosophy in Action Radio. In the primary show, my co-host Greg Perkins and I answered questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life. We broadcast live over the internet on Sunday mornings.

You can listen to these 362 podcasts by subscribing to the Podcast RSS Feed. You can also peruse the podcast archive, where episodes and questions are sorted by date and by topic.

My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. The book defends the justice of moral praise and blame of persons using an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility, thereby refuting Thomas Nagel's "problem of moral luck." My second book (and online course), Explore Atlas Shrugged, is a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to study Ayn Rand's epic novel in depth.

You can also read my blog NoodleFood and subscribe to its Blog RSS Feed.

I can be reached via e-mail to [email protected].

Share This Page