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Fountainhead

1943 novel by Ayn Rand

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A powerful artistic statement.

  • Aug 6, 2001
  • by
Rating:
+5
While I am by no means an objectivist, The Fountainhead is one of my favorite books. Why? Because its theme reflects and glorifies my deepest values of art.

This is the story about two architects. One, Howard Roark, is a brilliant yet radical artist who wishes to design buildings strictly to satisfy his own desire to create. His uncompromising and unusual designs get him kicked out of school, and he heads to New York to start a career. Roark is pensive man, impossibly confident, proud, and never sees himself or his work in relation to others. He judges himself strictly according to his own values. Truly an independent man. He endeavors to please no one but himself.

The other architect is Peter Keating. Keating is also a brilliant young man, but he lacks Roark's sense of assurance and individuality. Lacking self-confidence, he feeds on the flattery and can only exist on others' opinions. His designs are unoriginal menageries of past architectural conventions, and he must compromise artistic integrity for satisfying everyone else.

The book spends much of its time following these two men and their careers. Keating meets with easy success thanks to his mainstream designs that make everyone happy. Roark often struggles to find work with his atypical designs, and his refusal to accommodate the desires of the client makes things tricky. The Fountainhead's objective is to show why Roark is the hero and Keating is the "bad guy." (There's other "bad guys" that come into the plot later with their own complexities, but let's keep the review simple.)

One problem is already evident. Architecture is largely comparable to any other business...it's about serving the customer. If someone wants a "lame" Greek- or Renaissance-style home, an architect isn't necessarily inferior as a person because he's trying to do good business.

But this book is not about architecture. To me, it's about a heroic artist. Architecture is just the vehicle with which Roark's story is told (Rand could have made Roark a musician, or something). In any case, The Fountainhead makes Rand's case (that man's ego generates the desire to create) in a striking manner. I think the ideas in this novel have tremendous impact, especially today.

...

You see, The Fountainhead, despite the faults of Ayn Rand's philosophy (more completely explored in Atlas Shrugged, another good book), is a powerful story because of its credo on art and some other themes that can be extrapolated through Roark. And Roark is a fantastic hero. Yes, in standard terms he's a self-absorbed sociopath (although he does get friends later), but he has many great qualities. He's honest, he knows what he wants, he's a genius, he's individualistic, and perfectly happy with himself. Is he the perfect man (as Rand would have it)? Probably not, but in The Fountainhead he's the perfect hero.

Many have faulted The Fountainhead for being a naive projection of ideals, for its unrealistically black and white characters, and didactic writing. The didactic thing bothered me -- later in the book there's parts where Rand loses that narrative objectivity and gets a bit pushy instead of just letting the character convey the ideas and letting the reader see things himself. But as for the romantic and black & white elements, I think those are part of makes the book so much more powerful. The message would have been suffocated by characters possessing a mix of good and bad qualities. With Roark being "white" and Keating and Ellsworth Toohey being unambiguously "black," Rand makes her message remarkably powerful.

And I also think Rand's a great writer. She can get more out of a person's physical description than any author I've read, and the way she captures that lucid sense of greatness in Roark's buildings is pretty magnificent. As for Roark...I wouldn't want to be him, but he is a great hero. One that I'll never forget.

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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 . July 18, 2009
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.  …
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.
About the reviewer
Clayton Reeder ()
Ranked #442
Rogue capitalist in search of all that is interesting, weird, or beautiful.      Collected here are my hundreds of reviews from Amazon.com, covering mostly music that is offensive … more
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Wiki

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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