Book Review: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

I received The Fountainhead as a Christmas gift several years ago from a close friend who thought I would enjoy the philosophical analyses of life illustrated by Ayn Rand. The book is written in 1943 and is 752 pages. As a disclaimer, I had some serious initial negative biases towards the book. I typically do not like books that are not set in the present or future. I attempted to read the book when I first received it two years ago and quickly gave up after one chapter of dense descriptions and a slow-paced plot. With that said, The Fountainhead became one of my favorite novels after I finished.

The story revolves around Howard Roark, a rebellious, but visionary architect who is ahead of his time in architectural ingenuity. He doesn’t care about school or prestige. He doesn’t care about money or status. All that he cares about is building his designs. Even when he is living in near poverty, Howard refuses to build a house that even slightly deviated from his original blueprints. Howard may have been spit out and dismissed by society, but he probably was the happiest character in the novel. Nothing could tear him down because he lived for himself, for his work. The story motivates readers to obliterate our material desires. We want to frame our approach to life like Howard and extinguish our infinite cravings for social acceptance.

The Fountainhead ignited a number of my emotions as I followed Howard through his accomplishments and conflicts. I was outraged every time Howard’s antagonist, a fame-seeking former classmate named Peter Keating, claimed Howard’s designs as his own. However, my anger subsided when I realized that Howard couldn’t have cared less whether someone stole his designs or not, as long as the buildings were constructed with his intended elegance. Howard might be initially characterized as stubborn, but his true nature is one of self-confidence. He knows exactly what he wants and doesn’t ever question it or let others manipulate his creativity.

The romantic sub-plot embedded in the novel is one of the most animated and at the same time, most excruciatingly annoying story lines. Dominique, an independent and spontaneous woman, is Howard’s love interest. I’m so used to today’s audience-pleasing plots that author Ayn Rand’s continuous denial for Dominique and Howard to have a “happy ending” led me in aggravated anticipation all the way to the very last page.

I wanted to study architecture after reading the novel. I was obsessed with designs of anything from clothing to buildings that amplified the beauty of efficient simplicity. I felt that the book was teaching us that life is more beautiful when we simplify it down to two things: doing what we love and being with the person we love. For Howard, that was designing buildings and being with Dominique. Nothing else like fame or money smeared the picture of his life.

When you read this novel, take your time. Indulge in Rand’s abundant details. Figure out which character you are most like and decide which character you’d rather be.

9 responses to “Book Review: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

  1. Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ll definitely check it out. May I ask what made you give the book a second chance and overcome the initial resistance you experienced a few years ago?

    • Emil,

      Thank you for the thought-provoking question. I think when I first received the book, I was at a point in my life where anything that I was doing, including reading, that wasn’t fast-paced and immediately exciting was dismissed. I didn’t have the patience to immerse myself into a book that requires some endurance at the beginning. The book sat on the shelf at my parents’ house for two years. I basically forgot about it. When I saw the book two years later in September 2011, a lot had changed in my life. I had just spent several months working 100+ hours a week in investment banking. Each day was a rush with no time to take a break. My mom got diagnosed with cancer and was entering her 20th month of fighting. I was starting my final year in college. I no longer wanted to do what I thought I would do after college (investment banking). So when I was at my parents’ house for a week-long break, I couldn’t wait to just breathe. I saw the book one day and decided that laying in bed and reading all day was exactly what I felt like doing. I loved that the book was suggesting an answer to question that had been in my mind for a while: how should I live my life?

      I’m not sure if I fully answered your question or not. It’s definitely making me think some more about why that book really impacted me when I read it the second time. Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to make me reflect.

      • Nanxi, thanks for the reply. You did answer my question fully. I completely understand how life can teach us to be patient and enduring. I, myself, have gone through events that have made me appreciate equally well fast-paced experiences and moments of complete relaxation and introspection.

        I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s diagnosis. I hope things will get better.

        Keep up the good work with your blog and all the greats projects you’ve been occupying your life with!


  2. Nice review. I am an avid reader but never read anything from Ayn Rand. I too have a hard time getting past the first few pages of slow moving dialogue no matter what era the book takes place. I found that happened when I read Robin Cooks Coma and not until I was finally able to get past the sleeper pages did I enjoy the book immensely. Now I am a Robin Cook fan and read his books knowing unfortunately they start off slow and gradually get exciting as you go along. Because of your review I will pick up a copy of The Fountain Head. Thanks!

  3. That’s a very good book! A few years ago when I read it I experienced the similar emotions like you did. In fact I was so fascinated that I also bought and read another novel by Ayn Rand, The Atlas Shrugged. Which was also very good.

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