on April 3, 2001
I bought a copy of The Fountainhead at a used bookstore. At the time I had never even heard of Ayn Rand. After reading The Fountainhead I began searching for information about her and was surprised to find how prolific she was. Most people either love her or hate her; no middle ground. Rand has been much criticized for events in her personal life. Let me just say that if all philosophers were discredited on such grounds, there would be few who could withstand such scrutiny. Human beings aren't perfect. Rand's mistakes in her personal life do not detract from her brilliance. Her support of logic over emotion is just plain good sense. She encourages everyone to be self-sufficient and to base their decisions on reason rather than blindly accepting what others would tell you is right based on their own agenda. However, don't take my opinion or that of anyone else. Simply read the book for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Even if you don't agree with Rand's philosophy, the story is riveting. But I must say that the validity of her ideas is illustrated every night on the six o'clock news! Since reading this book I have viewed politics, philosophy, and human relations in an entirely new light.
Of course, this is more than a novel. This is Ayn Rand's attempt to use the vehicle of fiction to present her philosophy of objectivism. In addition, she used another epic type novel, Atlas Shrugged.
In terms of literary value, there is a lot to be desired in this novel. It is long. It rambles in places. It could have used a great deal of editing and rewriting to make it tight and the characters at times seem shallow and are revealed for the literary vehicles they obviously are to make her point.
Why give it 4 stars then?
Because this book has succeeded in what it set out to do. It has stood the test of recent time and grown in popularity. It has had a profound impact in philosophy, politics and simple human values and as such it can be said to truly be a classic.
Lest you think that means that I'm a huge fan of the message of the book, I am not necessarily.
You have to put the book into context however.
Ayn Rand grew up in Soviet Russia and viewed the impact of collectivism and the impact that it had upon the individual when society's needs were elevated above opportunity for the individual to rise and shine. She chafed and wrestled against it.
Introduced to the US and capitalism, she swung in rebellion to her upbringing and sought to elevate selfishness to a virtue which was to be encouraged and allowed with minimal restraint and influence from "Big Brother."
The Fountainhead, in my opinion is better than Atlas Shrugged, because here Rand achieves a more personable protagonist in which there is a sense of idenitification and sympathy. In that context, her philosophy takes on a rosier glow and seems more inviting and palatable
Of course, ultimately, for me as well as many others, this philosophy breaks down. As others note, the presentation breaks down in many areas. There are no children, no dirty diapers, human emotions are kept in check to logic. This is what I have found with objectivism as well when I flirted with it. The constraints against abuse are artificial and rest too deeply in an idealism that itself doesn't pass the reality test for me.
It does a wonderful job though of demonstrating the folly of the opposite extreme, that Rand saw in Russia and her evaluation of that system and its viability in the long term has been borne out by history.
That's why I like and recommend the book. You don't have to agree with it to benefit from reading it. It has driven me more to the middle rejecting either extreme. That wasn't Rand's goal. But she did a good job presenting her case and I felt able to make some choices and evaluations. I was affected and that is the measure of a good book.
The success of a book isn't necessarily in garnering your support and agreement. If it presents its case well enough that you can form an independent opinion and grow for the experience of reading it, then it is valuable whether you adopt objectivism or not.
Read it. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Interact with it.
It's a gripping read in the realm of thought, even if literarily it falls a little flat.
on June 24, 2004
I first read this book in 1986. It was the first serious piece of literature I read outside of school and it had a dramatic affect on me. I was struck by Howard Roark's unfaltering adherence to his values when society in general portrayed him as "dangerous" and a "failure." While society happily jumped on the latest bandwagon without a second thought, Roark continued on his own journey even in the face of personal and economic tragedy.
A self-proclaimed "non-conformist" at the time, this novel forced me to re-evaluate many of my beliefs. Was I truly marking my own path, or was I just conforming to a smaller group of outsiders? This novel does not attempt to prove that the "good guys win in the end" - so how far was I willing to walk my own walk?
To this day, I am still asking those questions. I re-read The Fountainhead last month and found it no less profound than I first did in 1986. I can't help but picture Roark as the subject of Robert Frost's prose, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
In the end, whether or not one agrees with Ayn Rand's picture of man and his role in society, The Fountainhead will stimulate thought and discussion - and in that respect, this novel serves its social purpose.
on January 3, 2004
While I was reading this book every paragraph seemed to give me a different feeling. Most parts were laughable on how blunt the woman could be to get her point across. Others stuck a nerve to a deep realization that what she says has truth. While reading this novel you can definitely tell she wasn't writing for the casual reader. Speeches drag on, characters disappoint you, but for some reason people have latched on to her like she is the goddess of objectivism and can't be question with. I did enjoy the novel to the point where I respect the thoughts it contains and what the novel has done for many peoples lives. For my own satisfaction I would not read the novel again. It did teach me many lessons but after reading the Fountainhead there seems to be no hope for mankind and leaves a deep depressing thought in ones mind after reading. Many people would just say I don't understand and comprehend, but you can't believe everything one woman says just because she was one of the first that questioned society this way.
on October 25, 2000
I am a 30 year old architect. I read fountainhead for the juicy details of big time architecture. Rand wrote a story that is both bigger than life and true to life. She was a voracious researcher and a highly imaginative writer.
Art imitates life in Fountainhead, in glorified fashion. I can attest from personal experience that a career in architecture does indeed include elements such as school rivalries, office politics, insecurities, megalomania, long hours designing, critiques, skyscrapers, mansions, engineers, contractors, tradesmen, and wealthy clients.
There is mediocrity in American architecture, and there was a modernistic movement in the early twentieth century. Rand abridged it for her story. The lives of her magnified characters are entangled in destiny. This could never happen in real life, could it?
Many scenes are so confident and gritty I cannot forget them. Also, her building descriptions are vivid and beautiful.
As you can tell, I needed some extra excitement in my 9 to 5. I thank Rand for the greatest American story about architects that I know of.
Only, I wish she would have finished it.
I have a big problem with the last third of the book. A misplaced dialectic of philosophy cuts into her ending. The ending is missing something. If only Rand would have kept her artistry and philosophy more separated.
Thus, as is, Fountainhead ultimately is not literature to me, but propaganda. And every person should be wary of propaganda. The message of this story is not universal. It is a mistake for young readers to imitate Rand's protagonist.
Roark is the most wooden hero. He is a robot programmed to design masterpieces. A puppet in a book, not to be confused with a real life fountainhead.
Instead of anthropormizing Roark, look for real life leaders who struggle and ultimately change our world. I know I'm just a regular architect. If I was a fountainhead, I would know it. Don't be a player hater.
on June 8, 2000
Like all the rest of Rand's fiction, "The Fountainhead" clonks along like a 1956 Chevy pickup with flat tires on a dirt road. It exhibits as much literary grace as a hippopotamus on waterskis, splashing didactic Objectivism in its wake and nearly drowning laughing observers in waves of pedantry.
I first read this book at age 15 and at the time it certainly seemed brave and inspiring. I read it again at age 25 and was far less impressed, and the last time I tried to read it I couldn't finish it. The plotline is painfully simple. The dialogue has no trace of authenticity, or any of the rhythm of normal human speech. The characters are cardboard cutouts with little or no subtlety. The less said about the agonizing length of the book, the better. Nothing happens but talk for enormously long stretches, and then when something does happen, it seems anticlimactic, because the characters have already signaled what is going to happen. And afterwards they analyze each event in excruciating detail, never forgetting to put a nice Randian Objectivist spin on everything.
Rand could have taken a lesson from Robert Heinlein. Heinlein was another objectionable, obnoxious person with a semipolitical/philosophical axe to grind, but Heinlein knew that you couldn't talk your reader to death. So he had the good grace to put in the occasional explosion, alien invasion, or sex scene in between his philosophical rants. He also had a sense of humor, which Ayn Rand's books completely and absolutely lack.
This is primarily a very dull book. It appeals to misunderstood adolescents because it addresses their concerns: being misunderstood, wanting freedom, wanting to be the big hero who triumphs over all through sheer force of will, etc., etc.
But those who have left adolescence behind, who are not as self-absorbed or as self-righteous as Rand and her characters are, will not find much to like in this book. The positive reviewers in the "Synopsis" section above harp on how much Rand's novels have sold, but if large sales guarantee high quality, then V.C. Andrews must be the new Shakespeare.
I advise anyone with good sense to give this book a pass. There are thousands of other good books you could read, including the New York City Telephone Directory, before you try to tackle this unreadable, lumpy mess.
on July 27, 2013
This enduring classic was written in 1943 – now 70 years later Ayn Rand's philosophy against collectivism is as true today. Ayn Rand was a great literary novelist and philosopher, who shared her point of view through fiction.
This book is about an architect who dared to be passionate about his work and his integrity. It showcases how many people are willing to live a life of being second-handers. They are unable of thinking their own thoughts and simply follow along with the masses.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy on objectivism is explored, nor through boring doctrine, but rather unfolds through in a page-turning story of love, passion, truth, relationships and power. While it has all the ingredients of a good drama, it also encourages you to think and question some of your own values.
This book followed “We The Living” written in 1936 (which I’m now going to read) and also Atlas Shrugged (1957) which is my all-time favourite book on entrepreneurship and capitalism.
The Fountainhead is the perfect blend of an engaging and entertaining story, while also educating and making you think.
P.S. Since this book is 70 years old, it also offers good insight in to the culture of that time. The world was very man-centered, which comes through loud and clear where it was expected that a woman simply support her man and also quit her job once she got married. Fortunately, this has changed. Also, Ayn writes that of one of the female characters that she “was a petite lady only a size 12”. Unfortunately this has changed and the media has created a belief that size 12 is now extra-large.
Diana Young- World Traveler – currently sailing in the South Pacific for six months and #1 Amazon Best-selling author of Financial Fitness for Beginners.
on April 25, 2005
I read this first in September of 2004, and after a lot of thought, it officially replaced Nineteen Eighty-Four as my overall favorite novel.
Many people think that this is a psuedo-fiction 'novel' about capitalism with a lot of rhetoric - it is not. Though brilliant, Atlas Shrugged touches a lot more on politics and has a lot of long speeches by its characters, and therefore could be said to have non-fiction segments.
However, The Fountainhead is the story of an egoist/individualist and his consistent optimisism in an irrational society. The novel is dedicated to 'The noble profession of architecture,' the perfect profession to use as an example in the story. The characters are strong, the plot builds up to a passionate climax that compeltely reflects his personality, and you grow attached to the different characters, especially him and two others.
This is one of, or the greatest novel ever written. If you haven't bought it yet, I suggest that you do so now - it will be one of the most selfish things you've ever done, nobly enough.
on August 10, 2004
I don't usually read novels since I'm not into fiction but this novel kept me interested all the way through. The characters are representations of various ideologies and all have various imperfections. Ayn Rand basically leaves her outline for the philosophy of Objectivism for "Atlas Shrugged" but this book is a good starter for those who may not share such political orientations but are curious. After reading more of Rand's philosophy which are practiced by many people to varying degrees, nonconformity became a virtue rather than a simple constant. Although the characters are polarized versions of the contemporary debate, this is quite acceptable and necessary in a fiction novel since it has a goal of engaging the reader as much as possible. throughout the novel, Howard Roark is held up at the star observer of the philosophy but other less perfect versions are given such as Dominique Francon and Gail Wynand who share similar views, and strive to follow the philosophy as much as possible. In a final throughful courtroom speech Roark admits the limits and obstacles one will encounter in following such an individualistic path but heralds the journey and effort as what is important. Libertarians and many other people will find this book to be quite uplifting while also entertaining. Rand's greatest success in the novel is the portrayal of Ellsworth Toohey as the greatest threat man has encountered. One begins viewing the character as an intriguing and mysterious intellectual with a considerable amount of witty banter. By the end you see him as the most despicable dictator you can ever imagine. An amazing experience to read
on March 22, 2004
A beautiful story of extremes - in Howard Roark we see the greatness of complete independence; in Elsworth Toohey we see a dependent striving to be great. The contrast of these two figures is not fully revealed until the last hundred or so pages, but it is startling and, when looking back, always present. First, the dependent - a man who relies on others for his survival. Rand shows us that the great dictators of the past are these people - the ones who have no power unles they control others; destroy them and rule them. Yes, it's power - but it is still dependency. The people under Toohey - Peter Keating, his authors and playwrights and architects - all broken and relying on this man's tyrany. Toohey boosts the mediocre so that "greatness" can be achieved by anyone. He discourages people from taking a course that they would be good at and that would make them happy, all to eliminate the chance that anything truly great could exist. In one sad scene he even tells poor Peter this, and Peter, at the end of the confession, still clings to Toohey, because he has nothing else left.
Second, the independent. Roark has no concern for others because he expects to be scorned. Far from hating man-kind, he loves by making them cope with the truth - letting them see what they could be and allowing them to heal themselves. He can only respect those that have respect for themselves. The only way to live is to be completely selfish - unwilling to give up integrity, truth, courage, kindness, greatness. People lose themselves briefly in the blinding truth embodied by Roark - and then heal, become better people because he looked upon them.
The Fountainhead is a stunning examination of the power of the independent, written in such a way that a single character can become that term and another its opposite. Too often we hear that worthiness is defined by "selfless acts" with egoism being the true evil. Rand argues that the center of selfishness depends on what you're speaking of - selflessly giving away your integrity is suddenly not such a selfless act. Told within the context of architecture, the story gains scale. What does the audience see of Roark's buildings - his modern masterpieces - and what do they see of the filth (excuse me - the things everyone else build) that quickly fill the skylines? Roark respects all aspects of designing and building - enough to insist it be done his way, with complete integrity as he knows few others are capable of.
I found this book to be beautiful and sad - a startling model of two disceptively similar roles blown completely out of proportion. If you find Roark to be emotionless than you did not read correctly, for he cares about many things, and if you blindly believe my words you have missed the point. We may never be able to reach Roark's independence, if ever we want to, but it never hurts to know what a purely selfish and undeniably great person can do.