“A Truly Selfish Man Cannot Be Affected By The Approval of Others. He Doesn’t Need It.” – Howard Roark
A few months ago, I was at my office finishing up some last minute work before the weekend. Somehow, before leaving, I ended up on Amazon. One thing led to another and before you know it I purchased a book called The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
Now, I had already been recommended this book by various other business owners so the title wasn’t new to me. I didn’t expect this book to change my life in the way that it did.
“To say ‘I love you’ one must first be able to say the ‘I.’”
The book is broken up into 4 parts:
Part 1 – Peter Keating
Part 2 – Ellsworth M. Toohey
Part 3 – Gail Wynand
Part 4 – Howard Roark
**Warning: Spoilers Ahead**
Peter Keating is a, by the book, average architect. He graduated with honors, but the man who was responsible for all his work is Howard Roark, his classmate. Roarks ideas of architecture are very modern and foreign to the people at the architectural school. Because of his radical and new idea of how buildings should be designed, the dean of the Stanton Institute of Technology expelled him. He basically, in a few word, told him it would be a mistake to let anyone like him graduate.
Outside of Ayn Rands mind, we see this scenario a lot. Someone comes along with an insane new idea which everyone rejects. These types of individuals, especially if introverted, hit a lot of roadblocks – but remain with their views. Consider the case of Tesla and Edison. Most people don’t know that Tesla is responsible for many of Edison’s inventions. Tesla was the genius and was once quoted saying this about his former employer:
“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
Many people mooch off genius.
After graduating from the Stanton Institute of Technology, Peter Keating lands a job at a big architectural firm called Francon and Heyer in New York. He works his way up the ranks to a top level position. During this same period Howard Roark moves to New York as well to work for a worn down, beaten, modernistic architect: Henry Cameron.
When Roark arrives Cameron sees his genius, but is worried about him because of the stress the press caused him. Throughout this part of the book Keating visits Roark multiple times to check in with him. Keating is very envious of his work, and has Roark do the tough architectural work for all of his most famous buildings. Roark fixes the errors in the sketches, Keating collects the check and gets all the fame. Roark doesn’t mind this.
As the book goes on we meet key characters that work at the biggest newspaper in town, The Banner. On a distribution level, this can be compared to the New York Times at its prime. There is the shy Dominique Francon, the socialist Ellsworth Toohey, and the power-obsessed owner of the Banner – Gail Wynand. The Banner was a paper that could make or break anyone. It basically controlled the thoughts of everyone in New York, much like the modern media does to most people today.
Howard Roark didn’t read The Banner.
When Cameron dies, Roark starts his business. After a few projects, the Banner(Dominique and Ellsworth) is tearing him to pieces. They give him hell for his modern and weird looking buildings. The people who choose Roark as their architect swear by him. Even though he has a loyal few, he ends up going out of business.
The reason he goes out of business is an interesting one. He had opportunities, but he also had personal standards. His standards were: after the basics of a project were given (size, place, amount of money to work with) – that he would create the final design. If a client wanted to change the design a little bit after seeing the drawings, he would not work with them. He was an artist and would not accept anything but his own design.
This is the key idea of the book and the one that changed the way I think about everything – It is a choice to business with anyone. Many people feel they must cater to everyone, which even if they are trying to, will not work.
After Roark goes out of business he goes to work at the Francon granite quarry. During his time there he meets Dominique Francon, who is on vacation from her normal job at the Banner in New York. They fall in love instantly from first site. He knows who she is, but during his time here she never finds out who he is. One day he receives a letter from Roger Enright to design his new ‘Enright House’. Seeing this as a huge opportunity, he leaves without telling Dominique. Now, she doesn’t know his name or how to find him ever again.
As you learned earlier, Dominique works for the Banner, a paper that is hellbent on tearing down modern ideas of architecture. As with most great novels, the story and characters all tie together in a way more interesting than I could type here. I highly advise you get a copy of The Fountainhead yourself.
“I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything. I’m an utter egotist.” – Howard Roark
The book offers tremendous value to anyone, from any walk of life. Intertwined in a masterpiece is the important philosophical idea of individualism. If you want to sum up the brighter parts of Ayn Rands philosophy in 3 minutes, watch the video below.
Top 5 Things I Learned from this Book
- Don’t Deal with Parasites. Ayn Rand describes the character Peter Keating as someone who always is counting on the ideas and opinions of others instead of having his own. He uses Roark multiple time, and Roark struggles with his decision, but always helps him out free of charge (even though Keating offers to pay him). Many of us have encountered moochers like this in our life.
- Take Pride in your Work. When Howard Roark was drawing a sketch, it wasn’t work to him – it was love. It’s important to love our work, in the sense that it is not even work, but another form of romance.
- Make Sure Every Part of your Life is Consistent. The power-driven character Gail Wynand is torn when he admits to himself that key parts of his life are inconsistent with his values. It’s enough to make him do something shocking in the end.
- Have Standards. Many people in the world don’t think that their life is in their hands. Even if they think it, they don’t act like it. It is really shocking when you think about it. As a business owner, this book has re-assured me what I have already known. That is – to only do business with people who respect me enough to know that I take my work very seriously and it is my own. Make no mistake about it, your work is another form of art. Live up to what is on the canvas.
- Respect & Achieve Greatness.
A smaller, but still important, tidbit I learned from Gail Wynands character is to not be power hungry. When many people negatively portray Ayn Rands work they talk about how bad the ego is. If they read and understood Wynands character, they would know that only when you are power hungry can the ego work negatively. The way Rand describes Howard Roark during his work is similar to the idea of being in a State of Presence, from Eckart Tolles anti-ego book The Power of Now. It is interesting how an ideology and a spiritual book book can tie together so well with one character – Howard Roark.