Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead: The Philosophy … or the People?
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand grabs you by the collar, shakes you, and leaves you wanting to re-read it the moment you turn the last page. Like many, I had a certain impression of Ayn Rand's books as being inaccessible and saturated with highbrow philosophies. At the urging of my sister, I suspended my preconceived notions, and just read the darn thing. I'm so glad I did, as The Fountainhead has ended up becoming one of my favorite books of all time.
The Fountainhead follows two architects, Howard Roark and Peter Keating, throughout their lives and careers. Roark is a brilliant, visionary artist, whose career keeps stalling as he refuses to compromise the way he designs to mimic other styles of architecture. His level of commitment to maintain originality in his work often leaves him ostracized from other professionals, and out of work. While this would frustrate most people, Roark is incapable of being affected by society's cold shoulder. He is a self-sufficient egoist in the most positive form.
Peter Keating is the complete antithesis. He is New York's golden boy of architecture: adept in schmoozing, and intent on climbing the corporate ladder. However, he does not have any real talent, and is well aware of this fact. To remedy this shortcoming, Keating cozies up to Roark despite the fact that he finds him uncomfortable and severe. Despite their personality clashes, Roark finds himself helping Keating with his design commissions, and to Keating's surprise, rejects any business connections he is offered. Roark decides to help a man he finds so reprehensible because his love for architecture and design trumps his distaste for Keating.
To shake up this boys' club, we are introduced to Dominique Francon, the only female character in the story. She is a strong-willed newspaper columnist, who calls things as she sees them. Obviously, both men become smitten with her. Dominique is a modern, independent woman (with a few screws loose), who becomes intent on using her seductive powers to destroy both men.
There are a few other major characters of note -- Ellsworth Toohey, who writes an influential cultural column for the salacious newspaper, The New York Banner, and Gail Wynand, a wealthy newspaper mogul who owns said periodical. Both men have a major impact on the fates of Keating and Roark, through their ability to manipulate the opinion of the masses.
Rand is truly brilliant when it comes to character development, descriptions, and dialogue. The Fountainhead introduces her philosophy, Objectivism, which is rather fascinating, and considerably more accessible than I first imagined. In a nutshell, it proclaims the importance of individual achievements over compromising such for the benefit of the common good. In the end, The Fountainhead focuses on the characters and uses them to tell one heck of a story.