Monday, February 04, 2008

The FountainHead - Book review

If a question is ever posed to me on whether any author has so heavily influenced me as to drastically alter my life’s philosophy, I will answer, “ not one but two”. When I was in the budding twenties, I chanced upon The FountainHead by Ayn Rand in my university library. The book jolted me out of my several strong convictions and had turned me into a more logical, objective and individualistic person. I immersed myself immediately into devouring Ayn Rand’s books and once I read Atlas Shrugged my outlook was sealed. The other influential author was Richard Bach, introduced to me by one of my colleagues Prabhs, when I was in blossoming twenties. Bach made me turn more romantic and carefree about life. While the fictional Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged was my first love, the real Leslie Parrish, actress in 50’s to 60’s and soul mate of Bach immortalised through his novels, was my second and still going strong. Though both Bach and Leslie have broken my heart and a million others by calling it quits in 1999 after being soul mates for more than 20 years.

While I have re-read several books of Rand over the years, The FountainHead was one exception. The reason being that somewhere during the late 80’s, the book lost the first few pages. That has put me off from the book as I always read a book starting from the author’s foreword. I was also reluctant to buy the book again hoping that I will be able to retrieve the lost pages. Two-and-a-half decades later, when I realised Bach’s magic was not working in being able to retrieve the lost pages, I bought a freshly printed book a week back.

It is amazing that The FountainHead was published in 1943, weaving the main characters around the philosophy of objectivism, which even now several consider as a radical philosophy. The novel is about how individualism is a corner stone of human life and how the creator’s ego has to be taken care of. Howard Roark, an architect and the protagonist of objectivism is a creator par excellence. The heroine Dominique is his mirror ego. Roark lives his life on his own terms. Completely unpretentious by nature, he neither humbles nor gratifies himself. His work speaks for him. He is neither driven by compliments nor is flattered by a compliment. However, the world around him misinterprets the ego of this creator as arrogance. The world is sometimes too happy to celebrate the fall of a hero, who stands for what he believes. Even in the most extreme hardships, Roark doesn’t compromise on what he believes is right. This is the battle we all face every day of our lives and most of us all too soon cave in and hold on to self made justifications.

The main antagonists of objectivism are Ellsworth Toohey and Peter Keating. Ellsworth is the man who had identified the means to control and gain power by manipulating men. He uses the pretension of altruism to form a community of the weak minded second raters. He requires more and more power by breaking men. He instinctively senses and quashes the force of individuality in men. Individuality is something that he considers a threat to the society, a dark force that he detests. It is this force that he sees in large quantity being personified in the form of Howard Roark. Ellsworth personifies the society and Peter Keating the immoral second rater.


Peter Keating is that smart boy who is admired for being successful right from childhood. But he is never true to anybody, including himself. He needs somebody to help him make decisions as he is always unsure about what he wants. His insecurity leads him to committing sins, small ones at first, and as he moves on the ladder of success, he ruthlessly tramples on many people to reach his objective.

In the end Howard Roark triumphs.

The novel usually jolts people who feel the idea or philosophy behind the book, Objectivism, selfish. But as one thinks deeply and rationally it makes perfect sense. When we look at history, it is those people who defied authority, society and conventional thinking and who stood by their ideals and what they believed is right even at the prospect of death, it is those people who have charted the progress of humanity to a better future. Charles Darwin, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bill Gates, Gorbachev, are some of the examples who stood fast in what they believed and caused a revolution in the progress of humanity. While every person cannot become a Gandhi or Gates, if the philosophy of objectivism is embraced by all, it can make the world and the workplace a better place.

Being a second rater or follower is not a sin. Lack of originality is also not a sin. But lack of originality with lack of integrity and contempt for the creator is an unpardonable sin.

This novel can change your life—for the good, as it has changed mine.

5 comments:

Rajesh Kumar said...

I have seen this book on the shelves for several years, occasionally even flipped pages but found myself less than inspired to read it. Maybe, somewhere I was not prepared.At the same time, I have found one school of book lovers who are its ardent fans. Perhaps, time for me to pick up a copy.

suraj pradhan said...

I am reading the novel and enjoying it thoroughly.One of my friend had suggested to read the book but I had ignored it for a long time.The book has posed several questions about my value system.I liked the book for its glorifiaction of rational man as an ideal human being.A must read book for everyone....

S said...

I am reading the book curently.....It is a stupid stupid book.....quite crazy....Dominique is crazy....Tooley is crazy....what are they upto!!??
Howard is unreal....Peter is stupid....it is all so arbid....

Sadiya said...

dats a pretty concise review...am currently reading the book and was pretty keen to know more on the flow...thnx for helping me with dat!....do write more often...wud love to read ur stuff :-)

D Sethi said...

I've also read the book and was equally but differently influenced by it. I think the characters in the book are the extremes of the qualities present in each one of us in different ratios. But assuming 'happiness' is the goal, I think a harmonious mix of all these qualities is required depending on the person.Based on personal experience, I refuse to admit that 'ego' and the 'heroic powers of man',as mentioned in the book, are solely responsible for happiness! So, I don't agree with the philosophy of the book. As for great personalities and geniuses are concerned, many died,unhappy and unsatisfied.For example,Isaac Newton,Galileo and Martin Luther King were all known to be suffering from depression. Would you call this 'winning' in spite of all the same and success? What do you think? Ayn Rand's writing is pretty influencial but it's just like a rebellious teenager's writing in the end.