Book review: Fountainhead

I had been hearing a lot of negative comments about Fountainhead on Twitter. These comments seemed politically motivated, how the book is a dumb libertarian propaganda. I had to check the book out myself to see what the deal is. 

The book started out well. I was surprised to see that, first this is a novel, and second this is an easy read. I was waiting an impenetrable intellectual literary text. The book turned out to readable and initially charming, even though it was written in 1940. 

The book felt like "The Goal" novel, communicating a concept/idea in story form. The main guy is this guy, Howard Roark, he is the best architect ever. Rather, he is the God of Architecture. He is architecture in flesh. He is like the best architect ever. The book is not at all subtle about this. He is 1000% dedicated to his craft, and he is the best ever, and he brings out his uncompromised gift in every building he designs. He is uncorruptable and willing to suffer for his art. The first quarter of the book felt like competence porn. This Roark guy, he is really competent.

Look, I don't mind the self-help nature of the book or maybe passing some indoctrination through a novel. And I thought, this would be an OK book if the author is going to communicate a well-thought out manifesto/concept in the form of a novel. I am always game for learning something new.  

But that wasn't where the book is going. After many hours of listening (the book is 752 pages), I realized the book is not going anywhere. This is not a  book, it is a Turkish soap opera, the type which runs on TV for 3 years with a 2-hour weekly episode, where every episode contains a new implausible shocking tension or revelation. 

Implausible things kept happening that even contradicted the world the book created. This socially impaired character, Roark, who can't read humans at all, turned out to anticipate even the most subtle and inner desires (twistedness) of Dominique character. It was weird dude... I don't even want to waste words on this. 

I couldn't continue more, and I concluded the book does not have a manifesto/concept to communicate. The book is a Turkish soap opera, not meant to deliver any value, except to perpetuate its existence through sensationalism. I deserted the book around 40%. 

I liked some of the observations, some of the writing in the book. I actually liked the so-called weak characters more. Peter and Ellsworth's monologues and characters' were more interesting than Roark's and Dominique's. I tried to like the book, which made me angry about how it didn't go anywhere and became a sell-out. 

Was there a message?

Maybe if there was any message, it is about not being compromised about doing great work. But that is a baloney message. I like to say the spirit of it is correct but I am not even sure about that. What is this false dichotomy about not compromising even a single iota from your vision/ideals? It is  dumb. Of course you need to compromise.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

― Ira Glass

Why drop good deals for not compromising on stupid little stuff. If you actually believed in the message/cause (and not just your big f***ing ego), you would want to get as much of that goodness out into the world. What is this nonsense about the work being compromised by any little thing you would change about it? Provide the 99 percent of the benefit to the world. Don't forgo 100% of the benefit because of 1%. This is a no brainer.

Wait, was the message about glorifying human as God? That is even dumber. Anybody who has been human for sometime would know this. We are all work in progress. None of us is perfect. There is no point of making a God out of your ego. That is how we get Tyrants like Hitler. 

What about Steve Jobs, was he like Roark? No, I don't think Steve Jobs was into glorifying himself. He shipped stuff that provided value, and he had to make compromises to deliver. He couldn't have been 100% satisfied with the ipod or iphone, otherwise there wouldn't be next generation iPods or iPhones.


Why architecture?

I guess architecture was the hot shit in the 1940s, sort of like software developers working on deep learning now. It would be funny if someone did an adaptation of this for software or likely cryptocurrency developers. Ok, I take it back, it won't be funny. 


I'm curious about your experience with communism. I view all of Ayn Rand in that context.

I grew up in the shadow of communism. I can see how Fountainhead can feel very over the top if one did not participate in May Day parades. Ayn Rand writings read different to me in the context of being an antidote to communist propaganda, but for communists.

Rand's early years seem to be all about communism destroying her life. From wikipedia:

"She was twelve at the time of the February Revolution of 1917 (...) The subsequent October Revolution and the rule of the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin disrupted the life the family had enjoyed previously. Her father's business was confiscated, and the family fled to the Crimean Peninsula. (...) While in high school there, Rand concluded she was an atheist and valued reason above any other virtue. After graduating in June 1921, she returned with her family to Petrograd (as Saint Petersburg was then renamed), where they faced desperate conditions, occasionally nearly starving. (...) After the Russian Revolution, universities were opened to women, allowing her to be in the first group of women to enroll at Petrograd State University.(...) Along with many other bourgeois students, she was purged from the university shortly before graduating."

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