Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (75 down 25 to go)

He did not think of dying. He thought only that he wished to find joy and reason and meaning in life - and that none had been offered to him anywhere. ~ minor character

He did not know that he had given someone the courage to face a lifetime. ~ narrative regarding Howard Roark after he spoke to the minor character

This is the first time I’ve read The Fountainhead, and the second work I’ve read by Ayn Rand [Atlas Shrugged]. The Fountainhead is the third-person narrative of Howard Roark, a talented young architect, and his struggle against the status-quo. The novel is set in America, New York City mostly, 1920s-30s.

My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars

This novel satisfied #3 of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016: a classic by a woman author.

And ***fanfare*** it completes The Classics Club Challenge (at least 50 classics in at most 5 years). I’m very relieved to complete this as The Classics Club rules are a bit vague about the penalty had I failed. Though, I’ll probably just renew my membership and commit myself to another 50 in 5.

My opinion of The Fountainhead may have suffered by comparison with Atlas Shrugged which I loved. The Fountainhead just didn’t measure up. I believe there were two primary reasons. The subject, architecture is a bit esoteric; it just didn’t resonate. More importantly however, I felt this was a thesis on Rand’s philosophy whereas Atlas Shrugged was more about Rand’s views of government and economics. I’m a big fan of the latter, the former – not so much.

Ayn Rand is one of the most extraordinary authors I’ve read so far. She was born in Russia in 1905, and therefore a child at the time of the revolutions. She earned a university education in the Soviet Union, but managed to emigrate, before that became too difficult. She is the sole creator of a school of philosophy known as objectivism. She was an atheist, staunchly opposed to collectivism, did not believe in altruism, and a self-professed egotist.

But I don’t intend to review the author, just the book.

The Fountainhead begins in 1922 when Howard Roark is expelled from a prestigious architecture school because he will not conform to classical norms. Roark is brilliant, but an uncompromising modernist. The novel is about his struggle against the “old school”. He is resisted, even black listed at every turn, but he never compromises. Meanwhile, Peter Keating, a less talented schoolmate, rises meteorically in the profession.

Howard has a love interest – and I just don’t even know what to say about that. I thought the female character in Atlas Shrugged had a ridiculous love life. This one, Dominique Francon, the daughter of a prestigious architect, is just…BIZARE, and really implausible in my opinion.

As I write this, and think about it, my opinion of The Fountainhead is not entirely about my dislike for Rand’s philosophy. I believe there are some weaknesses in the novel: the esoteric subject, the implausible female character, and then the ending.

The conflict of the entire novel comes to head in a high-publicity trial. The trial is the real thesis – the conflict the entire novel has been about – altruism vs egotism. The outcome was a bit like Dominique to me – rather implausible.

Still, I feel I need to point out that 3 ½ Stars = I liked it. I didn’t love it. It wasn’t as good at Atlas Shrugged, but good.

Have you read The Fountainhead? Ayn Rand? What did you think?


Then man must wish to see others suffer – in order that he may be virtuous. Such is the nature of altruism. The creator is not concerned with disease, but with life. Yet the work of the creators has eliminated one form of disease after another, in man’s body and spirit, and brought more relief from suffering than any altruist could ever conceive. ~ Howard Roark at his trial. 

Film rendition: 1949 starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal - this was pretty faithful to the book, but the plot - that is Howard Roark's uncompromising integrity - seemed rather silly and implausible in film. The film could not include enough of Roark's logic, via dialogue or inner thoughts, to make his stance at all tenable. Skip the film, read the book.



  1. Congrats on finishing your challenge! I've been terrible with mine last year, and this year I'll be focusing on a lit of nonfiction. So it'll be another "bad" Classics Club year. Maybe I'll give ut the old college try for 2018 and 2019 though.

    I've only read one book by Rand (Anthem) and wasn't too thrilled. But that's not considered one of her better books. Someday I'll read either Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead.

    Good review!

    1. Go with Atlas Shrugged...although it's a much bigger investment of time.

  2. I am hard on Ayn Rand. I strongly disagree with her philosophy. With that, I often like authors who I disagree with. I thought both this book as well well as The Fountainhead conveyed her ideas poorly. I find that Rand tends to create a lot of straw man arguments, demonizes those she disagrees with, lacks subtlety and constantly turns insight into dogma.

    I thought that in her book Anthem, she showed some restraint. I thought that was a worthy read.

    1. Thanks Brian...I'll get around to Anthem one of these days.

  3. Congratulations on completing the Classics Club challenge!

  4. Congrats on finishing the Classics Club! I just reenlisted myself last month.

    I loved The Fountainhead when I read it like 16 years ago. Wonder what I'd think of it now.

  5. I haven't read any of her books but Anthem sounded interesting & is succinct, apparently, so that's a plus for me. Have a great Christmas!

  6. Congratulations and fanfare for completing that challenge! I really want to read more classics in 2017- and while it sounds like The Fountainhead was a slight disappointment, I definitely want to give Atlas Shrugged another chance- I've tried reading it before but between the size and the tone, it was tough. But maybe 2017 is the year!

    1. Thanks Katie....maybe take Carol's advice and try Anthem by Rand (bit shorter than The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. I haven't read it myself though.


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