One of the recommended prompts in David R. MacIver’s guide to a daily writing practice is to pick a book up and flick through it for a passage to respond to. So I decided to start my first day of writing in this notebook with precisely that. And what I found was not a passage, but an index to a collection of passages.

My copy of Atlas Shrugged is well-worn. I think I’ve read it three times now, and I’ve lent it to a friend who read it too. Back before Covid-19, I used to do most of my reading on the tube, so my books would get pulled out of my backpack and rather unceremoniously chucked back in on each leg of my journey. (Incidentally, Ayn Rand’s books are the only books that have made me miss my stop on the tube.)

There’s a little index card that sits inside the front of Atlas Shrugged from the first time I read it. Scrawled on it, on both sides, there are page numbers and starting sentences of 23 separate passages that I found profound when I read them. And it strikes me that one of the things that I find valuable about the book is that it contains this large set of useful concepts. Just to give some quick examples:

  • By creating a thicket of ambiguous and contradictory laws, a government can control anyone by simply finding a law that they’ve broken and using that to put pressure on them.
  • FUD can be effective without any substance behind it.
  • It is not a sign of virtue to be charitable with other people’s money.
  • Money is a symbol of the opposite of coercion.
  • Romantic relationships should not involve sacrifice.

That little index card is not a good way to capture all of these ideas. If I had read this book recently then I would have been collecting them into my Zettelkästen system. Nonetheless, there’s some charm in having a reminder of the time spent on those tube journeys.