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The Fountainhead – Book Review

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Objectivism is ”the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” So says Ayn Rand in the appendix to Atlas Shrugged, arguably her best work on the theme.

In “The Fountainhead”, we have Howard Roark, a spirited and assertive individual who loves making buildings, so much so that he considers what he builds a part of him. Vain and stubborn at times, he struggles because of society’s inability to recognize art. Expelled from school, brought down to the streets, and bombarded with all sorts of legal, moral, and ethical weaponry society can produce, this is the story of how much he takes in.

Common opinion has become the standard and those who give people what they want even though it’s not what they need (or deserve) are the ones that rule. Peter Keating, a perfect example of the most ‘brilliant’ in a herd, is an everyday sight in this age. Gail Wynad – somewhat of a realist in his occupational dealings – is an idealist in his philosophy who made his fortune by telling people exactly what they wanted to hear. As the story progresses the reader is given a whole new perspective of life, one that could lead him to questioning his very basic ethics. Enter Ellesworth Toohey, a masterpiece of a character whose intentions – malicious or selfless – are in a suspended state of ambiguity till what seems almost the end. Surely a treat.

The one main female character in the book, Dominique Francon, is probably the most interesting and complex character in the book. Each one of her actions connotes something different. She’s the one character you see as a new person every time you come across her.

The best villain is the one who does not think himself villainous. Nobody is right or wrong here. The book just has you stare hard at the face of the society; gives you a ringside ticket to the circus of life and tells you to decide what you want to be. Speaking about great acts of selflessness, the theme has been debated upon time and again ever since man started documenting his imagination. Here you find a different spin altogether. Selfishness isn’t such a bad thing Rand says. On the contrary, it is quite the opposite. According to her, absolute selflessness is a crime. This brand of a philosophical/logical debate is reason enough to pick up the book.

This book not only has an intricate storyline, but the feelings of the characters also perfectly resonate with our own. After every chapter, and sometimes even after a paragraph, one finds himself taking long breaks to ponder upon and think of all that it could have possibly meant. No wonder Rand’s manuscripts got rejected so many times for being ‘too good’! It’s philosophically demanding and you may need to spend some time on it, but every moment feels like it is worth it.

The beautiful yet diverse ways in which her characters think show us how she really gets into the skin of the character concerned. The reader is confused and awed not knowing which character he truly supports. My friend once joked that if Roark lived today, his passion for his craft would probably make him a hacker! There is no hint of partiality or influence of any other character when she builds up a solid support story for one. Reflecting upon the profundity of the parallel paths each of the two lead characters take, their adventures, and their rise and fall, the awesome climax looks like the recipe for a masterpiece or a disaster, or even a bit of both! This squarely makes this book a timeless classic.

I can’t tell you if you’ll like it or not. I’ve seen some people saying they loved it and others left stupefied. Mostly because the end leaves you wondering about what is the better of the two – the character’s architectural prowess or his passionate insanity. However I can say this, it’s definitely a must-read for all who love their craft, whatever it may be.

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