Who is John Galt?

I’ve seen this bumper sticker more and more in recent months, and it’s a rare occasion when I’m actually with someone who understands the reference. This quote serves as the tagline for Ayn Rand’s iconic novel Atlas Shrugged, which espoused the merits of rational self-interest and influenced some of the most influential free market thinkers of the last several decades. Of course, in order to explain the quote I’ll have to give away some key plot points. So if you haven’t read it yet—or want to see the new movie with a clean palate—stop reading.

The identity of John Galt isn’t revealed until well into the book, but we learn that he has designed an electric motor that uses the Earth’s rotational energy to generate its power. The motor is touted as an indefinite solution to the energy crisis and a crowning achievement of engineering and human ingenuity—along with Rearden Steel. The question “who is John Galt?” can be viewed almost as a calling, beckoning the next world-altering inventor and innovator.