The Fountainhead held the top spot in my “Favorite Books” list for a long time and I recently decided to read (listen) to it again. I’m not saying it fell out of the top spot, I just don’t know that I can say I have a definitive favorite book.
My first published book review here was Atlas Shrugged, also by Ayn Rand, so I figured we’ll add her second most famous novel to round out the Ayn Rand series.
The Fountainhead (1943) was published well before Atlas Shrugged (1957) and is fewer pages than Atlas Shrugged. Don’t let that fool you though. Atlas Shrugged is 1088 pages, The Fountainhead comes in at a measly 720 pages.
I have been told that whichever of her two novels you read first will be your favorite of the two. This review of The Fountainhead is coming second, but I actually read this book first and I do have a preference for this over Atlas Shrugged, although both are thought-provoking and impactful.
The Fountainhead highlights the difference between producers and second-handers. Instead of review, I thought I’d post some of the most meaningful quotes from the book and allow you to get a glimpse into some of the ideas that are within the book.
You will need a little context though so… here you go.
The genius. The shunned architect. The hero.
Howard Roark knows what he wants, and he builds it. He doesn’t rely on popular opinion, or really anyone’s opinion. He is an expert craftsman and architect.
Peter took the right classes, graduated top of his class from the right school, and rubs shoulders with the right people. He doesn’t ever really know what he wants and instead, relies on the opinions of others to determine whether his work is good or not. His reliance on others’ praise as a barometer of his own self-worth leads to negative consequences in his life.
… before we get to the quotes (all but one of which are from Howard Roark). Read this book. Self-resolve and self-respect are encouraged. Selflessness is considered evil (I’ll put up a post on this as well). I highly recommend reading this book in its entirety.
You can purchase The Fountainhead on Amazon here. If you buy through this link, I would make a few pennies so if you’re against that kind of thing, you can find this on Amazon by taking the 3-second-longer approach of typing it into your browser.
Now, onto the Howard Roark quotes:
“Every form has its own meaning. Every man creates his meaning and form and goal. Why is it so important—what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right—so long as it’s not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is truth made a mere matter of arithmetic—and only of addition at that? Why is everything twisted out of all sense to fit everything else? There must be some reason. I don’t know. I’ve never known it. I’d like to understand.”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean of the School of Architecture
“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean of the School of Architecture
“If you want my advice, Peter, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?”
Chapter II, p. 28 ; Howard Roark to Peter Keating
“A house can have integrity, just like a person,” said Roark, “and just as seldom…Your house is made by its own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive for your house is in the house. The determining motive for others is in the audience.”
Chapter XI, pp. 136 ; Howard Roark
“To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul – would you understand why that’s much harder?”
Chapter VIII, Part 4, pp. 576; Crony businessman
“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 743 ; Howard Roark
“No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body. But the second-hander has used altruism as a weapon of exploitation and reversed the base of mankind’s moral principles. Men have been taught every precept that destroys the creator. Men have been taught dependence as a virtue.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 738 ; Howard Roark
“It’s what I couldn’t understand about people for a long time. They have no self. They live within others. They live second-hand. Look at Peter Keating….He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness—in other peoples’ eyes. Fame, admiration, envy — all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego he’s betrayed and given up. But everyone calls him selfish. That’s the pattern of most people.”
Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 605; Howard Roark on Peter Keating
“Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion – prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me’. Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”
Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 607; Howard Roark
“I was thinking of people who say that happiness is impossible on earth. Look how hard they all try to find some joy in life. Look how they struggle for it. Why should any living creature exist in pain? By what conceivable right can anyone demand that a human being exist for anything but for his own joy? Every one of them wants it. Every part of him wants it. But they never find it. I wonder why. They whine and say they don’t understand the meaning of life. There’s a particular kind of people that I despise. Those who seek some sort of a higher purpose or ‘universal goal,’ who don’t know what to live for, who moan that they must ‘find themselves.’ You hear it all around us. That seems to be the official bromide of our century. Every book you open. Every drooling self-confession. It seems to be the noble thing to confess. I’d think it would be the most shameful one.”
Chapter IV, Part 4, pp. 551; Howard Roark
“Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet one cannot give that which has not been created. Creation comes before distribution—or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary. Yet we are taught to admire the second-hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible. We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement.”
Chapter XVIII, p. 739 ; Howard Roark
“The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men.”
Chapter XVIII, P. 738 ; Howard Roark
“Do you always have to have a purpose? Do you always have to be so damn serious? Can’t you ever do things without reason, just like everybody else? You’re so serious, so old. Everything’s important with you, everything’s great, significant in some way, every minute, even when you keep still. Can’t you ever be comfortable—and unimportant?”
Chapter VII, p. 88 ; Peter Keating and Howard Roark
“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The first airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, pp. 736-737 ; Howard Roark
“The creators were not selfless. It is the whole secret of their power—that it was self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated. A first cause, a fount of energy, a life force, a Prime Mover. The creator served nothing and no one. He had lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the
nature of achievement.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 737 ;Howard Roark
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