The Fountainhead

Ayn Rand

Published 1943


What is it about?

A brilliant young architect attempts to make his way in the world on his own terms.  

How long is it?

700+ pages.

Is it easy to read?

Although it is long, Rand’s style is clean and easy enough to follow.

Is it any good? 

Yes. It was a global best-seller, made the author famous and it’s themes of individualism, personal responsibility and integrity still resonate. The title character Howard Roark was the author’s personification of the ideal man.    

How will it inspire me?

The book is about maintaining your integrity and sticking to your principles regardless of the consequences. It is about the importance of self assurance, ignoring other people‘s opinions about you and not subscribing to group think. It is ultimately about what a single man is capable of if he merely persists.    

Although split into four sections that follow the lives of four different men, the main character is Howard Roark a young architect. The other characters are Peter Keating, a classmate of Roark who is a mediocre architect but good at networking, Gail Wynand a newspaper magnate and Ellsworth Toohey an intellectual and critic who writes for Wynand.

What makes Roark so compelling as a character is his stark difference to the other men in the book who all seek validation from external things. Wynand seeks to dominate other men by having them betray their principles in exchange for huge amounts of money. Peter Keating seeks the praise of others and of the stagnant architectural community without ever working on his craft. Ellsworth Toohey takes validation from manipulating public opinion; he raises people up and then takes pleasure in watching them fall. These are all weaknesses as each character is essentially living through other people. In a particularly brilliant exchange Roark refers to them as ‘second handers’.

Roark’s power however doesn’t come from external sources. What makes him a great character is his integrity; he answers only to himself and refuses to compromise in any way. The other men are therefore ultimately powerless at attempting to defeat him, as he is immune to what they derive their power from. Keating is powerless against him as Roark doesn’t envy his unmerited achievements. Wynand is powerless against him as Roark cannot be bought and Toohey is powerless against him as Roark doesn’t live for the approval of the public or critics.

Roark’s power lies in the fact that the only approval he seeks is his own. His goal, which is to create freely and honestly is within his own control, he defines his own success.   

The book is a great read as it espouses the core traits that I try to promote here:

-Having a well defined purpose will give your life meaning and clarity, it will sharpen you and allow you to figure out what is and isn’t important.  

-Self belief will be key in your life, assurance in your self will be a guard against those who try and dissuade your from your goals and doubt yourself.

-Constant self improvement will be vital if you want to get far in life, in the book Roark learns all aspects of architectural design as well as construction, plumbing, electrics and brick laying. He devotes himself completely to the mastery and understanding of his craft.

-Persistence in all things. You will face setbacks that will test your resolve, embrace them, the more you have to overcome the sweeter success will taste.

Choice lines:

-Both men disliked Roark. He was usually disliked, from the first sight of his face, anywhere he went. His face was closed like the door of a safety vault; things locked in safety are valuable; men did not care to feel that. He was a cold, disquieting presence in the room; his presence had a strange quality: it made itself felt and yet it made them feel that he was not there; or perhaps that he was and they weren’t.’

-It doesn’t say much. Only ‘Howard Roark – Architect.’ But it’s like those mottoes men carved over the entrance of a castle and died for. It’s a challenge in the face of something so vast and so dark, that the pain on earth – and do you know how much suffering there is on earth? – all the pain comes from that thing you are going to face. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why it should be unleashed against you. I know only that it will be. And I know that if you carry these words through to the end, it will be a victory, Howard, not just for you, but for something that should win, that moves the world-and never wins acknowledgement.’

-[Toohey] “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”

[Roark]”But I don’t think of you.”

-What was his aim in life? Greatness – in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy – all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others.’

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