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.
on June 5, 2011
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 October 13, 2000
"The Fountainhead" was supposed to be -if one believes the back cover- a book about two architects at war. But instead of focusing on such an interesting idea -Peter Keating, always leaning on crutches; and Howard Roark, always breaking free with new forms and materials- what we have here instead is a "novel of ideas" that attempts in one swoop to cover the media, altruism and selfishness, and a love story that reminds one of pulp fiction (not the movie, but the "school" of writing).
I gave it two stars because, if you can suffer through all the cliches, there's some extremely thought provoking ideas that are inspiring. Stick to your guns, Rand tells us, and anything is possible. Don't compromise, and don't listen to others telling you you can't.
But oh, the cliches! Every time Roark raises a building he walks through the skeleton, the girders lunging heavenward (as she might put it in her many variations on this same exact scene), with his hands clasped, with a cool, confident demeanor, languishuing in his own deftness and surety. And of course the kid on the bike, whom Roark gave "the courage to go on living". I suppose some cliche usage is permissable, but after 700 pages it really gets on the nerves!
Philosophically the book is very interesting, very foundation-shaking, but it's a NOVEL, of course, not a book on philosophy (of which she has several), and in examining "The Fountainhead" strictly as a novel, as a big story, I'm left feeling cold. Perhaps I'm just a product of my times, but way too much artifice and melodrama, and not nearly enough passion. Also: far too diffused, too many topics! Read it for the powerful philosophical ideas, but skip it if you want a good story!
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 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 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 July 10, 2000
There is so much in this book that will make you think in ways you have never thought. At first I didn't think I would make it, it's a long book, but once you're into it there is no turning back you are just overpowered by the strength of the characters and the ideas expressed so perfectly through them. I was constantly thinking about myself and those around me as I read this book. It's characters are so real and so awesome. And the dialogue is the best ever written in any book I've read. The dialogue is both smart, funny, brilliant and touching. By the end you are just exhausted and at the same time you feel free. I think that this book if for anyone who is looking for answers to life and looking for a way to live in this cruel world. This book will show you that it's possible to be creative and to survive and to win the greatest battles. This book is for the dreamer and I highly recommend it. But at the same time I understand why there are those who don't like it or understand it. This novel isn't for everyone, in fact it could be pretty painful for some people to read, because some people will find themselves in the worst characters in the book. This book is a harsh lesson in survival, that might be too much for some readers. But it's worth it.
on November 30, 1998
WITH TYPOS CORRECTED
Everyone, of course, needs to read The Fountainhead. But it is certainly not a particularly good novel. For one thing, it is really a tract, not a work with a well developed plot or style.
Now, don't get me wrong. Personally, I agree with Rand's overall "philosophy." (Although, frankly, despite a lot of her mumbo jumbo, it is not nearly as complicated as many people would have you believe. Most of what Rand believes can be summed up by "Individualism: good. Collectivism: bad.")
My primary criticism of The Fountainhead is simply that it is poorly written. The characters are wooden and speak in a way that no human being ever does . . . or should. Rand's style is bad Taylor Caldwell. Well, okay, maybe that's redundant: there IS no such thing as GOOD Taylor Caldwell. But what I mean is that, in The Fountainhead, people are always storming out of rooms in a huff, usually after making some "devastating" remark that just seems silly.
And why was Rand never able to develop a name that SOUNDED like a real name: I mean "Dominique Francon," "Ellsworth Tooey," my God. Howard Roark (another clumsy an unappealing name) may be Rand's ideal man but, to my mind, he's a prig, a bore, and never acts in a way that seems natural . . . even for a supposed ideal human being.
So, sure, read The Fountainhead. But you're not going to like it. If you want to save some time, cut to the chase and read Roark's court speech at the end of the novel. Like everything else in The Fountainhead, it doesn't ring true. (No judge, past or present, would allow such a thing in court.) But at least it presents "the philosophy" in a pure form without the annoyance of Rand's leaden "plot," bloated and stilted prose, and her polyester characters. It really is an aggravating, amateurish book.
on December 30, 1999
Ayn Rand's Fountainhead has confused me. I've just finished reading it for the second time, a year after I read it first. It has confused me simply in the fact that I don't understand my own reaction to it. I loved the book both times, no doubt. But the more carefully I read and re-read passages, the more I hate what the characters are saying--ALL of them, protagonists and antagonists alike. I still love the book, but Raynd's philosophy bores me with its pretentiousness, and her description of Toohey and his followers is far too simplistic- he's written so blatantly evil that the reader is insulted...Did Raynd think we wouldn't pick up on his wiles if she didn't spell it out for us this way? And, strangely enough, the book has made me somehow more aware and embracing of my religion, instead of shunning it as one would expect to be affected by the book. I'd say everyone should read this book; it affects the way you think about things. But I don't think it has the effect on all people that Raynd necessarily wanted. In shamelessly plugging her own philosophy and attempting to win people over to it, she has contradicted the very things for which is purports to stand, leaving a funny taste in my mouth...I don't know. Like I said, I'm confused.