The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

So it’s been a while since I posted last. I’ve been reading all 700 pages of The Fountainhead. Forgive me. 🙂

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Book Description (Amazon):

The Fountainhead has become an enduring piece of literature, more popular now than when published in 1943. On the surface, it is a story of one man, Howard Roark, and his struggles as an architect in the face of a successful rival, Peter Keating, and a newspaper columnist, Ellsworth Toohey. But the book addresses a number of universal themes: the strength of the individual, the tug between good and evil, the threat of fascism. The confrontation of those themes, along with the amazing stroke of Rand’s writing, combine to give this book its enduring influence.

My Review:

Executive Summary: Egotistical

So we had The Fountainhead in our library but neither my husband nor I had read it yet. I was waiting on my book club book for next month to come in from the library (which I am going to now have to read very consistently the next few days for our meeting on Monday!) so I decided to finally just read this in the meantime.

First things first, I really liked the writing style. For a book written in the early 40s, the sentences aren’t a full paragraph long full of flowery language. The book is certainly long and I think that there are some sections that could have been condensed more, but I never got to the end of a sentence/paragraph with no idea what was going on. I also felt like the book had a modern feel to it despite knowing that it wasn’t.

So we start the book meeting Peter Keating and Howard Roark in college at Stanton Institute of Technology. Roark is a boarder in the home that Peter lives in with his mother. Peter has just graduated on the day that Roark gets kicked out of school because of his “radical ideas”, aka not copying classical architecture but creating his own ideas. Peter seeks Roark’s opinion on whether to take the scholarship to go to Europe or to accept a job with Peter Francon in New York. (Also we learn that Peter is a mama’s boy and is easily influenced by her.) Roark admits that he is going to try to get a job in New York working for Henry Cameron–a “crazy” old architect who has fallen out of public favor. Keating is aghast that Roark would go so against the grain.

Peter moves up quickly in Francon’s office. He lies, cheats and steals (Roark’s ideas mostly) to move up the ladder, aligning himself to be a partner. He succeeds once he sort of accidentally causes the death of current partner Heyer. He has become engaged to Catherine however he treats her poorly and his mother thinks that he should marry someone better who will be able to help his career (trophy wife). Catherine lives with her uncle, Ellsworth Toohey who Peter refuses to meet for quite some time.

At the same time, Cameron’s office has gone bankrupt and Cameron is in the hospital. Roark goes to work for Francon but does not last long. He then moves to working for another architect which seems to be working ok, but Roark realizes that compromise is not something that he can do. He ends up leaving and working in a granite quarry in Connecticut where he meets Dominique Francon (Keating’s boss’s daughter). Dominique and Roark fall in lust (complete with a possible rape? I really am not sure whether this was or was not?) and then in love. And then Dominique can’t stand to be with him because she feels that she doesn’t deserve happiness (I think) so she leaves Connecticut and begins writing reports blasting Roark’s architecture.

Dominique and Ellsworth Toohey both work at The Banner, a tabloid style newspaper in New York. Toohey eventually meets and befriends Peter (ignoring mostly any connection to his niece) and writes many articles proclaiming Peter’s architecture prowess. Roark is never mentioned in Toohey’s column, and he is lambasted in Dominique’s (although she sees him frequently). I wasn’t exactly sure the point of this at the time. Roark designs the Enright House for Austen Heller and then is suggested by Ellsworth Toohey to design a “temple for the human spirit”. Roark designs the temple he imagines complete with a nude statue of Dominique. Ellsworth leads the crusade criticizing the temple and Roark is eventually sued for damages to “fix” the temple. He loses the court case and a lot of money despite Dominque defending him in court. As punishment (to herself) for this, she marries Peter Keating and is most subservient (almost to the point of hilarity). As punishment in general, she is fired from her job at The Banner as their ideas do not align.

We are introduced to Gail Wynand, the owner of The Banner. He started from nothing and now runs some of the biggest companies around. He is interested in finding an architect for a development called Stoneridge, having gone through many already. Toohey suggests to his buddy Peter that Dominique should talk to Wynand since Wynand loves beautiful women. Toohey delivers the nude statue of Dominique (that he had secretly purchased from the demolition of the temple) to Wynand to “seal the deal”. Dominique meets Wynand who falls in love with her and asks her to marry him. They make a deal with Peter that he will get the contract for Stoneridge if Wynand can marry Dominique. Peter agrees. (Idiot). Dominique seems to almost love Wynand but ultimately agrees because the idea of Wynand is everything she is against. (But before she marries Wynand, she meets Steven Mallory and finds that Roark is in Clayton, Ohio. So she stops to visit him one last time.)

Toohey starts pulling away from Peter (as Dominique marrying Wynand was not part of his plan). Toohey has been playing all sides of everything particularly through his article in The Banner. He sneaks in props for material that he deems helpful to his cause.

Meanwhile, Roark’s popularity starts to grow again. He designs a vacation spot in Monadnock Valley which turns out to be wildly successful much to the surprise of the owners and investors who had intended for it to be a write off failure (who are eventually taken to trial for their scam). He is then called to meet Wynand to design Wynand’s home. Dominique realizes immediately that Roark is the designer. Roark finds kinship with Wynand (the feeling is mutual).

Keating’s career is quickly dissolving when he hears about a housing project for the poor called Cortlandt which he knows will help prolong his business. He pressures Toohey into helping him get the bid which he does. Of course Keating asks Roark to help him because he can’t do anything by himself. Roark agrees with a contract that everything must be built EXACTLY as he designed. Not surprisingly, Keating is unable to keep the meddlers out and Toohey helps push a bunch of changes to the design.

When Roark finds out, he does the only natural thing. He explodes the housing development and then of course is taken to court. Dominique defends him diligently (as she was there to help him during the explosion), and Wynand tries his best to help Roark as well. This leads to a mass picket of The Banner (employees and readers) after Wynand fired Toohey. Eventually Wynand sells out, agrees to the union’s demands and hires everyone back (save Toohey).  In the end he hires Toohey back the night that he decides to quit printing the paper for good. Bazinga!

The trial of Roark for the destruction of the housing complex lasts about the last 20 pages or so of the book. And honestly, you could basically summarize the entire book by reading just those pages. I almost felt like I had wasted my time reading the rest of the book when the entire point was summed up so neatly in such a short time. Essentially Roark argues that mankind always destroys the people who are the masters of innovation, but they are quick to utilize the ideas of those people and make the ideas their own. (i.e. Peter is quick to criticize Roark’s designs and choices but every time he is in trouble, he calls on Roark to help him.) He discusses how often when individuals are forced to compromise, the best design never happens (similar to his time spent working for Snyte and the project that Peter worked on with the other architects that was a huge failure). In the end, Roark is acquitted and he and Dominique get married and live happily ever after (presumably even though neither one seems particularly happy).

For the most part, I agree with the book. The individual is always smarter than the masses. Masses can be led to believe in and do very stupid things and I think history has shown that time and time again. Power and greed are strong forces and many times they get the better of people. On the flip side though, can one single person actually accomplish anything? I’m not sure. Sure Roark did not use collaboration or compromise in his designs, but he didn’t build the structures himself. He had a team of drafters who helped him. He had a team of builders who helped him. Roark himself got to where he was by learning and studying building and material techniques. He just chose to apply those techniques differently.

Verdict: 4 stars

While I don’t 100% agree with the author’s point of view, I do agree with it in a theoretical sense. And I really enjoy “thought” books like this which make me question my own influence and decisions. (Am I going along with that because of something I have seen/read/heard?) Which leads me to wonder, was Ayn Rand the original hipster?

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2 Comments

Filed under 4 stars, Book Review

2 responses to “The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

  1. Nice review! It’s a bit of a spoiler for those who haven’t read the book, but want to. You might consider putting spoiler notices where appropriate.

    ‘I almost felt like I had wasted my time reading the rest of the book when the entire point was summed up so neatly in such a short time.’

    Who needs a plot when you could just read a philosophical speech, huh? 😉

    ‘On the flip side though, can one single person actually accomplish anything? I’m not sure. Sure Roark did not use collaboration or compromise in his designs, but he didn’t build the structures himself. He had a team of drafters who helped him. He had a team of builders who helped him. Roark himself got to where he was by learning and studying building and material techniques. He just chose to apply those techniques differently.’

    Anything that is accomplished in human life is the result of someone’s thought. Human beings can’t do anything productive without applying our minds at some level. What one person can accomplish is to think and innovate. Turning some thoughts into productive action can require teams, but the starting point: the act of thinking, is a profoundly individual act. You may find this post of interest: QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual.

    Also, I was wondering if you’re planning to review Atlas Shrugged.

    • Thank you for your comments. I essentially consider any book review to be a spoiler and personally don’t read any book reviews until I am finished with a book so maybe that’s me? (I will start putting a general “spoiler alert” note though on the review section.) I was actually quite annoyed that the book jacket of this book (which I didn’t even intentionally read, it just caught my eye one day when I was putting the book down) told me in advance that Dominique married Peter.

      I do agree with you (and the author) that new ideas start with one person. However, pragmatically speaking, you still need other people to make that idea function. For instance, I’ve read that Ayn Rand perhaps based Howard Roark on Frank Lloyd Wright. Falling Water of course is a gorgeous piece of architecture, unlike anything that had been seen before or perhaps after. However, it’s full of errors because Frank didn’t fully understand what he was doing. So in a context like that, perhaps it would have been smarter to have an engineer help with the failing cantilevers. This very well may have compromised his initial design, but it would have made the house less dangerous and more functional. I guess to me it’s theory vs. application. And being an engineer, application always wins.

      I have not yet read Atlas Shrugged. I do intend to but it will probably be a while. It’s hard to squeeze in books that long especially when you read one “mandatory” book a month already. And when your “to read” list is infinite. 🙂

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