Customer Review

31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Taking one's self too seriously, 18 Mar 2005
This review is from: The Fountainhead (Paperback)
The successful philosophical or political novel is a rarity. Of the former, Sartre's "Nausea" is a modern masterpiece. Of the latter, I would nominate Zola's "Germinal" and Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle" as leading examples. Of course, "War and Peace" and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" present philosophical ideas, but neither is a novel in the traditional sense. The secret of success in these endeavours is to present the ideas through the media of sympathetic characters and a compelling narrative. "No sense in useless tub-thumping," said Zola. Ayn Rand should have heeded that advice. Her characters are mere types, employed repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) as mouthpieces for specific points of view.

There are three telling omissions in "The Fountainhead": the first is that, although this is an epic tale, covering several decades in the lives of many characters, there are no babies born, no children reared. I'm afraid a philosophy of selfishness has to go the way of dirty nappies when Baby arrives. The second omission is humour. There are no laughs here. Egoism is a serious business. The third omission, perhaps arising from the first two, is emotional warmth. Ironically, Rand's essentially Humanist (that is, atheistic and anthropocentric) view lacks humanity. Her heroine can only achieve sexual fulfilment through being forcibly raped, her hero's heart and soul are centered on bricks and mortar. This novel will oblige you to think, but will not move you to laugh or cry.

"The Fountainhead" is thought provoking, but in addition to the points I mentioned above, I was left wondering what the problems were supposed to be in relation to the architecture of the time. This was the age of Art Deco and of Frank Lloyd Wright, surely a golden age in American architecture. And is the era of the the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal really the best advertisement for laissez faire economics?
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Jan 2014 12:48:14 GMT
A. H. Ford says:
Thank you for an honest review. At my advanced age I long since worked out that nothing is ever all bad or all good. Not that you'd know that if you read some of the sickly, cloying, hero worshipping reviews you might find on here. The question for me is do the good points outweigh the bad?
It seems I will have the fun of deciding for myself.

Posted on 25 Feb 2014 21:03:00 GMT
Arnaud033 says:
An incredibly banal review of this work of genius - I have found more human emotion in this book than in virtually any other. For you, clearly principles have to go out the window because baby needs attention, but then the baby will grow up to be as hollow and bereft as its parents - you clearly haven't bothered attending Time Management 101 class. And as far as humour is concerned, the book had me laugh out loud on many occasions such was the incredible acuteness and sharpness of its character portrayal, the utterly wonderful vignettes of everyday society life, the remarkable starkness of contrasts of its characters, and the belly-aching hilarity of Toohey's altruistic prounouncements. But in the very words of Toohey himself "Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. It's simple. Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humor is an unlimited virtue. Don't let anything remain sacred in a man's soul--and his soul won't be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you've killed the hero in man. One doesn't reverence with a giggle." Wonderful, just wonderful. And indeed - this is YOUR kind of laughter, the kind that cheapens and devalues a work of genius, aimed to humiliate the thinker, the person who is truly human not a mere second-hander. The final sentence of this book moved me to tears. It is a beautiful poetic work.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Feb 2014 14:16:13 GMT
A. H. Ford says:
I'm not sure who you're having a pop at Arnaud but you really do need to chillax as the kids say these days. Peter has given an honest review from his perspective and I enjoyed his review. It doesn't stop me from buying the book and making my own mind up. It's called freedom of choice.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Feb 2014 18:38:58 GMT
Arnaud033 says:
Dear AH Ford, please don't adopt the lingo of the teenage fraternity - once a word or phrase of their's starts to be used by adults, it becomes seriously uncool - that meaning it will thus be dropped summarily - leaving you with an orphaned phrase, and red face ;-)

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Mar 2014 22:20:29 GMT
Peter Reeve says:
If you have "found more human emotion in this book than in virtually any other", more than in the novels of Tolstoy, Flaubert and Austen, for example, then we must simply accept that you and I have very different temperaments and taste. And I, for one, am glad of that. I found the book lacking in emotion and decidedly unfunny.

What for you is "the remarkable starkness of contrasts of its characters" is for me the extraordinary two-dimensional, everyman-in-his-humour banality of the characters. But I fully understand your delight in them - they feed your prejudices wonderfully. Reduce everyone to flat stereotypes and everything becomes very simple.

Perhaps the "utterly wonderful vignettes" you so much admired include the sneering descriptions of the children admitted to the "Hopton Stoddard Home for Subnormal Children":

"... a fifteen-year-old boy who had never learned to speak; a grinning child who could not be taught to read or write; a girl born without a nose, whose father was also her grandfather..." You can't help but chuckle, can you? No doubt you roared with laughter when "Jackie, the least promising one of the lot, achieved a completed work of imagination...the recognizable shape of a dog, brown, with blue spots and five legs". What fun the reader has laughing at silly Jackie and the teachers who stupidly tried to encourage her! What belly-aching hilarity!

Personally, I found that whole passage thoroughly distasteful. In fact, it's disgusting.

What would Rand have done with a girl born without a nose, or the ridiculous Jackie who thought a dog had blue spots? No doubt she would have treated them the same way she did her own husband, as he gradually deteriorated from Alzheimer's. She tormented him and shouted at him and told people not to "humour him". After all, compassion is the worst thing you can do for a person, according to Rand.

You say that for me, "clearly principles have to go out the window because baby needs attention". Of course, I said no such thing. I said that selfishness no longer has a place when Baby arrives. I simply think that good parenting involves compassion and sacrifice. If your parenting is based on the "principles" of selfishness and egoism, then good luck to you - and your children. Oh, and by the way, having cared for a seriously ill child, I don't think there's much I can learn from you about time management, thank you.

You call this "a work of genius". Rand was a great admirer of the novels of Mickey Spillane. So I recommend you try those as well; they are on a par with hers. But I confess that your insistence that this is a work of genius has had one effect: I have revisited the book and revised my review as a consequence. Finding it far worse than I remembered, I have reduced the rating to one star.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Mar 2014 15:42:35 GMT
A. H. Ford says:
Well said Peter.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Mar 2014 15:55:58 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Mar 2014 15:57:14 GMT
A. H. Ford says:
One of the things I love about England is that we are relatively free, free to express ourselves using any language and any style of speech. I had a lifetime of civil service speak and can happily fit into any social gathering. Sometimes I even choose to speak with a regional accent. I enjoy fine dining but also relish eating chips drenched in salt and vinegar while walking my dogs along the beach. My attitude to age is that it is merely a number and I welcome the expansion of our language to include new words. I feel sorry for people who seek to put others into boxes and who become uncomfortable when people dare to step out of their alloted age determined box. They miss out on so much and never realise.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2014 19:06:48 GMT
Last edited by the author on 10 Mar 2014 23:58:39 GMT
Arnaud033 says:
Yes you certainly are an adept case-builder, you take your aim and fire, the accomplished character assassin. Except that is for those inconvenient ones, unsusceptible to your ministrations, seeing the myriad holes in your arguments/manipulations. And just how entertaining it is to view one in action! You rate the book not according to its merit but for your own ulterior purpose, just as you make good 'use' of the sensitive subject of the disabled as a convenient mechanism to discredit Rand.

And as regards 'chuckling and roaring with laughter' so you go on with it, inventing complete fabrications. I scarcely even remember that passage in the book, and I certainly did not find anything in it to laugh at. Rand's writing is peppered with all manner of acute observations on everyday life, which she articulates in the most matter of fact style. There is nothing offensive in merely stating facts. Words like 'teachers who stupidly tried ...', are coming from you, not from Rand. Rand's tone is never offensive, otherwise I would not have dedicated so much of my time to listening to the book. Your protestations of 'distasteful' and 'disgusting' are shrill to the point of breaking a glass.

And as to your digging up the dirt on her problems coping with her husband's illness, you certainly know how to stoop low. I saw my own mother struggle at times looking after my dad who was wheelchair bound for the last 20 years of his life, I can easily see how anyone could crack up under that sort of pressure. Who are you to judge?

Indeed Rand's take on compassion and sympathy is very interesting. When Roark is disgusted at his own sense of pity for Keating, yet still tries to help him, we perhaps see something of Rand herself - 'This is pity, he thought, and then he lifted his head in wonder. He thought that there must be something terribly wrong with a world in which this monstrous feeling is called a virtue.' And if you think about it most people don't much enjoy being pitied.

And in fact disabled people don't much enjoy being pitied either, nor patronized. What they want is independence and help to overcome their daily challenges - and it is thanks to the science and technology created by the Howard Roark's of this world that this is becoming increasingly available to them. The things that Rand is writing about are perhaps the things that matter most to so many disabled people ie INDEPENDENCE : 'The choice is not self-sacrifice or domination. The choice is independence or dependence.' Obviously in your fervour that point is totally lost on you. Rand is a champion of what matters most to the disabled.

Rand goes further, we have succumbed to an 'orgy' of pity and altruism, but what really is it? Are we being softened, and discouraged from the hard granite of independent thought and feeling because that poses a threat to a ruling elite? Thus in Toohey's remarkable speech - 'Can you rule a thinking man? We don't want any thinking men'.

But thinking men are EXACTLY what we need, and in this Rand's logic is impeccable - '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.'

And Rand goes on to make her extraordinary claim - 'Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal--under the threat that sadism was his only alternative. This was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind.' And it could well be that this leaner and meaner approach of Rand has some real concrete value - an independent self-reliant resilient character. And it could call into question some fundamental things that we have been told are 'good' or 'right'.

Rand's psychological analysis is equally incisive, showing masterful understanding of the vulgarity of power dynamics, unveiling it for us, revealing the tormented souls that lie beneath. She appeals to reason in the face of this insanity - 'Let me see it made real.... Not servants nor those served; not altars and immolations; but the final, the fulfilled, innocent of pain. Don't help me or serve me, but let me see it once, because I need it. Don't work for my happiness, my brothers--show me yours--show me that it is possible--show me your achievement--and the knowledge will give me courage for mine.'

But instead, so often throughout history, humanity has appointed as its leaders men hollow to their very core, monsters writhing in a hidden agony, living through others, adept to the utmost possible degree in manipulation and coercion, ever-vigilant paranoid broken souls, whose primary interest is in 'people'.

Rand provides comfort for those of us who think and feel in the face of this oppression. Suffering can only 'go down to a certain point' she reminds us, until it hits that hard granite of truth which is unbreakable. Toohey's claim that we're all 'equal and interchangeable' is by contrast psychologically unsanitary.

You have cited the works of Tolstoy and Austin - but do you really truly enjoy these works, or are they simply the works on the reading list supplied to you by your professor? Are you are reading what you have been told to read, thinking what you have been told to think, and doing what you have been told to do? The notion of independence of thought and action is perhaps anathema to you. But it is those men (and women) of independent thought and mind that brought us innovation, scientific discovery, technological advance - key developments that will help not only the well but the sick also - EVERYONE. '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'. These are not produced by committees. 'No creator was prompted by a desire to serve his brothers, for his brothers rejected the gift he offered and that gift destroyed the slothful routine of their lives. His truth was his only motive.' Those characters may seem 2-dimensional to you but in Rand's skillful hands even 2 dimensions can hold great power, and pass deftly and weightlessly between the solid blocks of man's obstinacy, unreason, and spiritual barrenness.

If you have no appreciation nor knowledge of science and technology you perhaps need to round out that side of your education before commenting on or rating a Rand novel.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Mar 2014 23:39:22 GMT
Peter Reeve says:
That's a heartfelt, intemperate rant. Don't be too hasty in rejecting the advice to chillax. When defending an ideology that claims to be based on reason, you will build a better case if you are reasonable.

It's a pity that you "scarcely even remember" the passage that I found deeply offensive. Here's what stuck in my craw yet somehow sailed over your head:

"Sixty-five children, their ages ranging from three to fifteen, were picked out by zealous ladies who were full of kindness and so made a point of rejecting those who could be cured and selecting only the hopeless cases. There was a fifteen-year-old boy who had never learned to speak; a grinning child who could not be taught to read or write; a girl born without a nose, whose father was also her grandfather; a person called "Jackie" of whose age or sex nobody could be certain. They marched into their new home, their eyes staring vacantly, the stare of death before which no world existed...

Catherine Halsey was put in charge of the children's occupational therapy, and she moved into the Home as a permanent resident. She took up her work with a fierce zeal. She spoke about it insistently to anyone who would listen. Her voice was dry and arbitrary. When she spoke, the movements of her mouth hid the two lines that had appeared recently, cut from her nostrils to her chin; people preferred her not to remove her glasses; her eyes were not good to see. She spoke belligerently about her work not being charity, but "human reclamation."

The most important time of her day was the hour assigned to the children's art activities, known as the "Creative Period." There was a special room for the purpose - a room with a view of the distant city skyline - where the children were given materials and encouraged to create freely, under the guidance of Catherine who stood watch over them like an angel presiding at a birth.

She was elated on the day when Jackie, the least promising one of the lot, achieved a completed work of imagination. Jackie picked up fistfuls of colored felt scraps and a pot of glue, and carried them to a corner of the room. There was, in the corner, a slanting ledge projecting from the wall-plastered over and painted green - left from Roark's modeling of the Temple interior that had once controlled the recession of the light at sunset. Catherine walked over to Jackie and saw, spread out on the ledge, the recognizable shape of a dog, brown, with blue spots and five legs. Jackie wore an expression of pride. "Now you see, you see?" Catherine said to her colleagues. "Isn't it wonderful and moving! There's no telling how far the child will go with proper encouragement. Think of what happens to their little souls if they are frustrated in their creative instincts! It's so important not to deny them a chance for self-expression. Did you see Jackie's face?"

You don't see that as sneering? You really don't see that the therapist's efforts are being ridiculed? You really find nothing offensive in that? Very well, describe what you see as the philosophy and morality underlying that passage. But please base your analysis on what Rand has actually written, not what you want to believe she has written.

You accuse me of "digging up the dirt on her problems coping with her husband's illness". She had no problems. As soon as his dementia began, she gave him intellectual tasks to complete. She badgered him and shouted at him to do better, all to no avail. He steadily grew worse and she just shouted louder and more insistently. You suggest that she had cracked under the pressure of caring for him. She did no such thing. She was like that from the start and showed no remorse for it. Do you see nothing wrong with that? You ask, who am I to judge? Isn't that what we are doing here, judging Rand's philosophy, including its ethics? You certainly show no reluctance to pass judgement, in your comments.

All in all, "disgusting" is not too strong a word for Rand's moral code.

I share your dismal view of the leaders that "humanity has appointed" but I cannot agree that the problem is that their "primary interest is in 'people'". I think the opposite is true. Less emphasis on ideology and personal ambition and a little more interest in people is exactly what is needed. Give a few examples of leaders who have cared too much about people and not enough about ideology. Please. And on the whole, do you think that the leaders that "humanity has appointed" by collectivist activity such as democratic elections have been worse than those that have achieved power in true Randian fashion, without thought for what anyone else wants or thinks? You have a naive faith in an extreme form of trickle-down theory: let a few men of genius (and it's always men, I notice, never women, in both Rand's work and in your comments) loose, to do what they will, without regulation, and we'll all somehow reap the benefits. Rand recognized that some government spending is necessary (on anything involving force, such as the police and armed forces) but she disapproved of taxation. Her solution was that tax should be voluntary. Now, you may want to live in a society where the police are bankrolled by the donations of a few wealthy individuals, but I think I'll pass.

You say I have "cited the works of Tolstoy and Austin [sic]" and ask if I "really truly enjoy these works, or are they simply the works on the reading list supplied to you by your professor? Are you are reading what you have been told to read, thinking what you have been told to think, and doing what you have been told to do? The notion of independence of thought and action is perhaps anathema to you." Nothing could be further from the truth (although I'm sure you'll think of something). The only time I ever read a book specified by a professor of mine was this one:

A Comparative Study of Programming Languages, Revised and Enlarged Edition

and I have never forgiven him. I read Tolstoy and Austen because I thought such highly regarded authors might be worth reading. I loved what I read and have gone on to read most of their works. I read Rand to see what the fuss was about and was appalled. I should add that I read Mickey Spillane not because Rand admired him so much but because I wanted to sample the genre, and I was unimpressed.

No, it is you who need to learn to think independently. You swallow what Rand serves up and regurgitate it, undigested. Chew on it a bit more. The plans that this book's heroes had for New York's Hell's Kitchen for example, are food for thought. Raze it to the ground and build a huge corporate skyscraper in its place, displacing the current residents and leaving them to fend for themselves. Do you honestly believe that the New York of today would be a better place if that had really happened? If the Dundee housing scheme in which you grew up had suffered that same Randian fate and your family had been literally driven onto the streets, would you have gone on to get a maths degree? Remember that in Rand's Utopia all education is private. Think it through. Recall also that Roark designed a government housing project which, when it was not built exactly as he wished, he saw fit to bring down with dynamite. Now that's another thing New Yorkers must yearn for - an idealist using explosives to destroy a high-rise building.

You end with the bizarre comment that if I "have no appreciation nor [sic] knowledge of science and technology", then I need to "round out" that side of my education before commenting on a Rand novel. I took science courses at University, have a BSc (Hons) and have worked as a programmer in research laboratories in England and Holland. Does that count? Does that qualify me to review Rand's work? If you read my reviews, you'll see that I've reviewed a few science texts. Feel free to comment on them. Rand showed precious little appreciation of science. To criticize her work, all one needs is a reluctance to accept superficial arguments and simplistic solutions.

Anyway, thank you for your comment. Now go and read War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice, and My Gun is Quick, and get back to me.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Mar 2014 14:44:28 GMT
Last edited by the author on 27 Mar 2014 14:55:20 GMT
Arnaud033 says:
I do not agree that the passage you have quoted is sneering. Rand is focussing the lens on the practitioner of 'equality', the front line troop in the quest to make us all 'equal'. The point she is trying to make is that whilst we make such a fuss over the impaired individual and claim they are capable of great things, at the very same time we roundly reject the actual talented individual because they are 'different' or non-conformant.

But all is not so well with the character of occupational therapist Catherine Halsey - "But that's not all. There's something much worse. It's doing something horrible to me. I'm beginning to hate people, Uncle Ellsworth. I'm beginning to be cruel and mean and petty in a way I've never been before. I expect people to be grateful to me. I...I demand gratitude. I find myself pleased when slum people bow and scrape and fawn over me. I find myself liking only those who are servile." And "I'm unhappy. I'm unhappy in such a horrible, nasty, undignified way. In a way that seems...unclean". With this we contrast the sufferings of Steven Mallory and Roark "Those moments had been clean". There is a distinction. That distinction is, are you true to yourself?

And sadly her suitor Peter Keating has lost the most important things in life also - "Katie, I wanted to marry you. It was the only thing I ever really wanted." "Katie, why do they always teach us that it's easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves?" And Peter Keating is a tragic figure in the novel, having dedicated his whole life to something he comes to despise. Though it is notable that Roark proffers some sympathy towards him, alien to Roark though that may be.

In giving her husband intellectual tasks to do for his dementia Rand was not entirely out of place as current medical advice is that brain fitness helps conditions like dementia. I believe there is such a thing as a spirit of sickness, as well as actual sickness. And it is a very well established fact that people who defy their illness and refuse to succumb often make progress that baffles doctors. (A highly unscientific phenomenon which the system of conventional, ie $$$, medicine is distinctly uncomfortable with).

I can give a couple of BIG examples of world leaders preoccupied with controlling 'people' - one Joseph Stalin who hated the peasanthood of Russia, those simple rustic bucolic people who laboured honestly each day and were able to eat drink and be merry under the sun - when he got the chance he starved them by the million with state farming policies. Stalin was academically gifted, and also a very talented singer, but no those vocations held little interest for him, for us sadly. And his arch nemesis Hitler, showing promise in the field of architecture but unwilling to buckle down and do any work, eyeing suspiciously his uneducated co-workers and becoming enraged at the successes of the industrious Jews. To these tyrants, ideologies are only mechanisms to gain personal power, to make up for the vacuum inside. "He thought: I haven't mentioned to him the worst second-hander of all--the man who goes after power." And although its said in one of her foil's inane utterances, Rand does at least remind us that "it's international bankers and munitions makers who start wars".

And now you throw in there another spanner of political correctness - that great hobby horse of our age, gender equality, perhaps the most ludicrous form of equality of all. If you do a Ctrl-F you will see the word 'women' appearing in my post. And indeed the whole object of this discussion is the work of a woman, and it is perhaps owing to her woman's intuition that she so brilliantly captures the psychology and the humanity in her character portrayals - perhaps a man would be incapable of writing a novel like this. And don't forget the central pivotal role of Dominique in this novel, she is right there until the very last sentence, Dominique's character is a very strong woman. By contrast the weakness of some of the male characters in this novel is stark. This is not a mysogynistic writing.

Rand's complete lack of gender bias is equalled by her total non-partisanship. Both right and left wings of politics are equally brought to task and held up to the light for scrutiny. In Wynand's media empire we see wealth derived from an empty and hollow collective voice, a daily call to prayer of the formless mass to the lowest common denominator. And in Catherine's inner torment, confusion and disappointment, in Toohey's ascetic crusade against individual aspiration, and in Keating's sickening realisation of how he has been betrayed and used, are leftism's true dangerous colors revealed.

In regard to the education which I received, I just had the same opportunities as everybody else, I just worked at those opportunities a little bit harder than most people. If I was in Stalingrad or Orange County I would have had the same educational options - I do not accept there is any political reason that I have gained an education, I gained it because I worked hard for it. I have had help and encouragement in my career from influential people of both right and left wings.

Finally in respect of your notion of 'Randian power' this is almost oxymoronic given that Rand is greatly critical of the whole notion of power over others - "He thought: I haven't mentioned to him the worst second-hander of all--the man who goes after power", and Toohey - "I have no private purpose. I want power." But in this passage Rand gives a hint of the type of person we should trust, and what goes wrong - "But if ever you hear a man telling you that you must be happy, that it's your natural right, that your first duty is to yourself--that will be the man who's not after your soul. That will be the man who has nothing to gain from you. But let him come and you'll scream your empty heads off, howling that he's a selfish monster." Because, as Toohey reveals - "We've tied happiness to guilt".

In short you are not giving the book the depth of analysis that it deserves, but merely standing on a stool screaming at the mouse of Rand's matter of fact politically incorrect spade is a spade style. Try Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time podcast on Machievelli.

For science read John Hutchison Effect, Nikola Tesla, Giza Power Plant by Christopher Dunn.

For second-handers in medicine, probably exceeding the death toll even of Stalin plus all the world wars together -
When Healing Becomes a Crime: The Amazing Story of the Suppression of the Hoxsey Treatment and the Rise of Alternative Cancer Therapies
The Cancer Cure That Worked!: Fifty Years of Suppression
Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How big pharma has corrupted healthcare
Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer--And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place

It is only individuals going against the system that can make a dent in these problems.
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Peter Reeve
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Location: Thousand Oaks, CA USA

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