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Fountainhead

1943 novel by Ayn Rand

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What Is a Man? And What is a Storyteller?

  • Jul 18, 2009
Rating:
+3
Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead," is perhaps one of the most well known books ever written.  Along those lines, Ayn Rand has also written "Atlas Shrugged."  They're mostly the only two books you need to read in order to grap Ayn Rand's philosophy (Though "Anthem" and "We the Living" certainly do help as well).  I want to precede this review by saying we're not going to talk much about Objectivism here.  I want to talk about The Fountainhead.  If you'd like to discuss the philosophy as a whole, there's a better place to discuss on this very website, but my review section is not one of them.  We will talk slightly about it, however.  And we'll do this shortly.  

The Fountainhead was written around 1943.  Ayn Rand is a meticulous writers, who often had notebooks cramed with notes with what she wanted to write about and how she wanted to do it.  As philosophy, Ayn Rand's book is probably one of the strongest books ever written.  As a piece of fiction, however?  It can be a drag.  It isn't that Ayn Rand is a bad writer.  Heaven's no!  She uses colorful, descriptive and vivid prose.  Yet as fiction it's a hard book to slug through.  At 700 pages and over 325,000 words (that means teeny font), it can feel like a chore to read.  There have been thicker books that have been able to move much faster and take a surprisingly shorter time to complete. 

The Fountainhead concerns itself with an arcitect named Howard Roark.  In the scheme of construcing buildings, Roark's vision is a little different from everyone else's.  It's out of the mainstream and just all around more "out there."  He is often rejected by people.  Yet as the book moves on his buildings do cause people to look toward him.  Roark may not be rising fast, but he is turning heads.  On the other hand there is his rival: Peter Keating, who also builds buildings.  Peter Keating takes most of his orders from the likes of Ellsworth Toohey.  Most of what Peter creates is in the mainstream but it isn't exactly of Peter's own doing.  Rather Peter is mostly just doing as he is told.  And while he is succeeding, there's something about what he does that displeases Roark.  Roark won't conform to these standards, Peter does unconditionally.  

But along those lines is Ellsworth Toohey, who is the books antagonist.  He is a master of manipulation. We see this as he manipulates Peter Keating, and he does this to gain power and trump over others.  In Ayn Rand's mind, Toohey is the perfect example of what a man should not be, but who also knows it.  That's what makes him evil in the world of Ayn Rand.  Toohey does what he can to get ahead at the expense of other people. 

There is also Gail Wynand, a man who could've been.  He has brought himself up from a hard childhood.  In this regard he and Roark could easily be friends.  But since he uses his paper as a means of manipulating public opinion, he can't quite reach out the way that Roark can. 

Lastly, there is Dominic Francon, who seems to be there only as a love interest for Howard Roark.  And while she loves him, she'll also do anything it takes to destroy him.  There are a lot of criticisms that people like to throw at Ayn Rand's female characters--particularly that they are weak and unable to do much for themselves.  You may feel this way about Dominic.  In one scene she allows herself to be raped.  Is she the right woman for Roark?  According to Ayn Rand... yes.  But she's perhaps one of the more complex characters in the novel.

As philosophy, Ayn Rand has definitely written a thought provoking book.  Even if you don't buy Ayn Rand's philosophy (as it in itself has been heavily criticized), it still might be good to read just to get a broad understanding of her interesting mind.  Ayn Rand believed heavily in the selfish nature of man, and the ego.  Very much in the ego.  There's a saying that writers who write overly long books just to be long are sometimes self-indulgent.  No one propels this philosophy better than Ayn Rand.  Who believed that she could write overly thick books because she was smart as hell, and that the reason no one else could write like her because they weren't smart as her.  Love her or hate her, she was without a doubt one of the most fascinating people to live, and her books are some of the most fascinating. 

Yet it's also part of makes her hard to deal with.  As a philosopher, Ayn Rand is quite interesting.  As a fiction writer, however... well... not so much.  She can definitely present through provoking ideas, but her talents as a writer are not best served for fiction.  Just being "smart" isn't always enough in the realm of fiction.  Sometimes it also helps to be much more stylistic than Ayn Rand.  So as a work of fiction The Fountainhead just doesn't stand tall. 

The first, and biggest hit to Ayn Rand is her characters.  There's nothing wrong with using characters as symbols, but it is rather strange that none of the characters actually seem like human beings in the slightest.  Each character feels like a robotic version of what Ayn Rand is trying to convey with them as symbols.  Howard Roark is the ideal man.  Peter Keating is what a man can never be, but doesn't know it.  Gail Wynand is what a man could've been.  Ellsworth Toohey is what a man could never be, but knows it.  Each character has a specific role, but none of these characters ever seem to really convey emotion with their role.  When Dominic is raped she is just as robotic as when she admits her love for Howard Roark.  It makes what was otherwise an interesting read, rather boring and lifeless.  Are we reading a book of fiction or an incredibly long college lecture?

Ayn Rand was also no master of dialog.  As wooden as the characters are, the dialog can be even worse.  Certainly we're dealing with a lot of high class people, but we also get overly long speeches (per Ayn Rand's ego) that don't sound like anything human.  So you have dialog that can be just as wooden.  When the dialog gets philosophical, it is definitely interesting, but beyond that, not so much.  But there's something about the book that keeps it going.

The worst part of Ayn Rand's writing, however, besides her robotic characters, is that she goes on and on and on forever and ever and ever with descriptive prose.  Is her writing vivid and colorful?  Yes.  Sure it is.  The way Ayn Rand describes stuff is actually really good.  When dealing with scenery.  Yet she can go on for pages at a time just describing things... and not pushing forward her story OR philosophy.  In some instances we read through three or four pages of nothing but descriptive prose.  No dialog.  No internal thoughts from characters.  Combine this with robotic characters and some pretty wooden dialog and... well... the book can be a very slow read... and very boring.  Is it interesting?  Sure.  But the more interesting moments come in small sips.  Those overly long passages of decriptive prose come in long swallows.  In short, despite its 700 page length, it's not because every word is needed or anything.  Sometimes it's just that Ayn Rand go so caught up in describing a wall... or a chair... or food on the table.  In short, Ayn Rand will describe every leaf--individually--on every tree.  It makes what could've been a far more interesting book come as quite stilted and boring.  It's great, thought provoking philosophy, but a boring story. 

Is it worth reading?  Yes, most definitely.  But it requires a lot of patience an sifting through a lot of wooden characters and even more wooden and robotic characters.  There's great philosophy, but the story itself never really comes to life.  In the end, Ayn Rand uses 700 pages to tell a story that could've been much shorter.  When writing a book of fiction it takes more than just brains to make a fantastic read.  The brains are there in Ayn Rand's books... but where's the heart?  This isn't just a book of philosophy, this is also a work of fiction--a story. 

It's worth the read if you're willing to dive into if you want a throught provoking read.  But if you're looking for a good story, you're going to have to be patient.

Very patient.

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September 13, 2009
Excellent insight into Ayn Rand's books. You must have some interest in economic, politics, human nature, and philosophy to really enjoy her novels. She tries to make philosophy more accessible and relevant to the average citizen than the typical philosopher is capable of, but the reader still has to have a little more interest in philosophy than the average murder mystery reader.
September 13, 2009
For the most part, Ayn Rand writes some good books, but man oh man do you need to be patient to get through them. I've yet to read Atlas Shrugged, but I've got it.
 
July 19, 2009
When I was 15 I was working in Connecticut for the summer and wound up reading a lot. I read all 3 of Rands "important" books, She was the Gordon Gecko of her time. I'm one of those people who will never buy her line of thinking; greed and egoism are not good. But I guess she taught me patience because I got through all 3 of those damned books. On the plus side one was short.
July 20, 2009
I was never able to get through Atlas Shrugged.  The Fountainhead was so dull and drawn out in areas.  Atlas Shrugged was far worse.  After slugging through 700 pages, I didn't want to be in the long haul for that 1000 or so pages.  I don't have that much patience with Ayn Rand, unfortunately...  But I did read Anthem.  But as they say, you only really need The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged to really understand and open up a dialog on Ayn Rand's philosophy.  She's a fascinating woman, and I personally don't agree with her much either.
July 20, 2009
I'm glad to hear that you aren't buying what she was selling. So many people are today. I have no idea why I went through all 3 of those books, other than I was locked up at night with no tv, no radio, 51 other girls I didn't know, and only the library for diversion. lol I even read ULYSSES just because I'd heard it had been banned in Boston at one time. You can just imagine how much a 15 year old got out of THAT!
July 20, 2009
I've noticed a lot of people who agree with Ayn Rand tend to be... well... college students.  I'm a college student but I disagree.  But I think there are factors that make a difference.  When you don't have a family or anything to take of or worry about and you're still in this, "My world revolves around me," attitude... that seems to make a huge difference.  Because as everyone knows, once you have kids... your life needs to be about them and their well being as well as your own.  

There's an episode of The Simpsons where Maggie is put in this "Ayn Rand School for Tots."  The one in charge asks Marge if she knows what a baby is saying when she wants her bottle.  The woman tells Marge that the baby is saying "I am a leech."  It's a funny joke, but Ayn Rand was actually quite serious about all this.  I agree that living for yourself is important.  That if you want to do something you should be able to do it.  What I don't agree with, is that Altruism in and of itself is a very evil thing. 
July 20, 2009
I'm with you there. When I was in college it would have been heresy to go around spouting Ayn Rand, so I find it hard to believe that's where her primary support is now. But on the other hand it makes sense because they are the spawn of the "Me Generation".
 
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More Fountainhead reviews
review by . November 10, 2008
This novel predates Atlas Shrugged, and sometimes reads like a prequel telling the backstory of John Galt's life before he went on strike in Atlas. In its focus on individual characters, it sharpens the picture of pain and painful consequences to significant choices that drive the character's in Rand's objectivist world, so in some ways is more interesting and readable than Atlas Shrugged. It is more traditionally novelistic and less explicitly philosophical.
review by . June 11, 2010
What was your emotional reaction as you read? Why?   Inspiring, in that the ideas and characters were all so alive.     Who would you recommend this reading to and why?   Absolutely!  The Fountainhead is so inviting to read as well as it offers far developed ideas.     Consider the story/plot.   The Fountainhead follows a true artist-architect Howard Roark-through his brilliant creations, true love, and his reaction with the rest …
review by . July 15, 2010
   This book really made me think about things in ways I'd never considered.  It challenged all of my belief systems and went against everything I had been taught.  I have to say I enjoyed it.       The idea that a man should live for himself and not for anyone else.  That seeking anyone's approval is worthless, only your own opinion should matter.  That ego and selfishness are good things and should be encouraged.  That your own …
Quick Tip by . October 05, 2010
Frightening. For a somewhat more serious discussion of quality, check out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance. At least he's not a greed-head like Rand.
Quick Tip by . October 05, 2010
My most favorite book EVER. Do we want quality or do we want mediocrity?
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Great story of what it means to be a person of integrity. I would say as a story, this is better than Atlas Shrugged.
Quick Tip by . July 16, 2010
One of my personal favorites, "The Fountainhead," managed to drag up emotions that not many others could. Triumph and defeat, when described in the work, became personal successes and losses. It takes a special book to do that.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
the individuality/creativity theme is pretty overdone, and it's hard to relate to the main characters
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
One of my favorite books. Really eye opening, and makes you reconsider some things you take for granted.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
really makes you think about not "what" your goals are in life, but "why" your goals are
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand. It was Rand's first major literary success and its royalties and movie rights brought her fame and financial security. The book's title is a reference to Rand's statement that "man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress."

The Fountainhead's protagonist, Howard Roark, is an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. The book follows his battle to practice modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, despite an establishment centered on tradition-worship. How others in the novel relate to Roark demonstrates Rand's various archetypes of human character, all of which are variants between Roark, the author's ideal man of independent-mindedness and integrity, and what she described as the "second-handers." The complex relationships between Roark and the various kinds of individuals who assist or hinder his progress, or both, allows the novel to be at once a romantic drama and a philosophical work.

The manuscript was rejected by twelve publishers before a young editor, Archibald Ogden, at the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house wired to the head office, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you." Despite generally negative early reviews from the contemporary media, the book gained a following by word of mouth and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The...

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Details

ISBN-13: 978-0451191151
Author: Ayn Rand
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Signet
Date Published: August 01, 1996
Polls with this book
1984 (British first edition)

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