When attending an Anthony Robbins conference in London, Unleash the Power Within in 2016, someone highly recommended The Fountainhead as his favorite book, a 1943 novel by Russian- American author Ayn Rand that has since been adapted for other media several times. I read it as soon as I returned from London.
I recall 2016 quite vividly, feeling at the time that change in my life was imminent. It was then that I decided to change my world rather than the world. Almost three years later, I read The Fountainhead again. This is a book I highly recommend as it beautifully marries architecture with philosophy.
What is this book about?
The Fountainhead is the story of an architect, Howard Roark, a man with the highest levels of integrity. Dominique Francon, a woman who loves him passionately, nevertheless marries his enemy, a man who (in common with many elements of our society) loathes creativity but praises conformity. Despite her passion for Roark, Dominique chooses to destroy his career.
Why this title?
For Rand, a man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress. Her book sheds light on the suffering a human being can endure when standing up for their own beliefs, defying society and choosing to create rather than simply fit in. She defends egoism in principle whilst at the same time redefining the concept: we either live “second-hand”, conforming to how everyone else lives, or we live “first-hand”, thinking, acting, and creating according to our independent, personal judgement.
Individualism and objectivism – a key feature of The Fountainhead
Individualism is commonly defined as the stance that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual.
The author takes individualism to another level in her novel and also presents objectivism as the belief that moral truths exist over and above the human perception of them. One principle of objectivism is the idea that knowledge is acquired through logic and individual pursuit of happiness. Rand favors rational self-interest as she advocates individualism as the sole purpose of existence.
Why do I like this book?
The Fountainhead is one of the most enriching novels I have read, with a plot, style, and philosophy that are intriguing and captivating. The complexity and the design of its characters gives the book a very modern feel and the cultural and socio-political struggles that we face, feel very relevant many years after the book was published.
My favorite character in the book is Dominique, the hero’s lover. She is both an ardent idealist and a philosophical pessimist who believes in conformity as the path to success. Although she loves Roark, she also fights and undermines him with sickening ambivalence. “I can’t live a life torn between that which was exists—and you.” she declares.
Dominique is constantly in a bad mood since, for most of the novel, her actions are based on wrong ideas and thinking. She tries to protect herself by assuming that the world will harm her. It is only at the end of the novel that Dominique decides to live differently and accept that she can be happy.
My favorite analysis of Dominique comes from one scholar (Mimi Reisel Gladstein) who described Dominique as a pervert. Yet at its heart, the character of Dominique simply portrays conflicting beliefs and how these are acted out in her contradictory behaviors.
Why is critical opinion about The Fountainhead so divided?
It is easy to understand why this book is perceived as controversial by a world where everyone is asked to fit in. If a person wants to change things around him or her, fitting in does not help and is bound to be perceived as negative, especially in our current times when non-conformity is regarded with suspicion, to say the least.
Reading this book therefore requires the reader to be well armed with intellectual curiosity and emotional maturity, otherwise there is a danger that they will feel The Fountainhead lacks empathy and preaches cynicism. Neither of these traits is necessary for those who truly want to make a difference, however small.
It is difficult to change the world whilst fitting in at the same time – and it takes a lot of courage to stand alone against the world.
This is a blog post about managing one's career effectively. A post made possible by our favorite contributor Ken McKellar!
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