Here’s a great quote from one of my two favorite novels:

The thought that soothed Rostopchin was not a new one. Since the world began and men have killed one another, no one has committed such an idea without consoling himself with the same idea. And that idea is le bien publique, the hypothetical welfare of other people.

Clue: The author is a great Russian philosopher-novelist.

I would be very tempted to guess Ayn Rand, but the real answer is: Leo Tolstoy, in War and Peace.

If you like either Atlas Shrugged or War and Peace, you should definitely read both. The structure is eerily similar: Characters begin in a world not so different from our own, but gradually see their societies fall to pieces. The main difference is that Rand depicts the disintegration as an avoidable consequence of bad ideas, while Tolstoy makes it nigh inevitable.

If Rand had written War and Peace, she would probably have blamed the invasion of Russia on the ideology of appeasement that let Napoleon get as far as he did. If Tolstoy had written Atlas Shrugged, John Galt would be suffering from the delusion that but for him the men of the mind would not be on strike.

Ultimately I like Rand’s masterpiece a little more than Tolstoy’s. AS is more original, better-plotted, and more of a page-turner. W&P, in contrast, is amazing for the breadth and depth of its characterization, for its overwhelming perceptiveness. Tolstoy brings to life virtually every kind of person you will ever meet. If you prefer to contemplate people as they might and ought to be, Rand’s got the edge. If you’d rather contemplate people as they really are, however, the prize clearly goes to Tolstoy.

Fortunately, anyone with a couple hundred free hours can read both.