Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

Books have always played a big part in my life. Before I discovered music I was an avid reader of science fiction. In fact, before deciding to major in business, I had focused my college studies on English and briefly considered becoming a writer. Obviously, that didn't pan out but I still try to read as much as possible. People often ask me what it is I'm reading and why, so I thought for those people a little book review might be of some interest.

While most of us have heard of Ayn Rand and are aware of what a polarizing figure she was, not many people (that I know, anyway) have actually sat down and read any of her work. I've grown up watching Liberals bash her for her "heartless" and "selfish" philosophy and Conservatives praise her for her support of laissez-faire capitalism and assertion that happiness is achieved only by pursuing individual goals. Apparently, through this pursuit of individual goals, we all become mutually beneficial to one another, thereby making the world a better and fairer place. The controversy alone was enough to pique my interest, but the strikingly beautiful art deco artwork pushed me over the edge and made me click "add to cart" on Amazon. 

This is fucking sexy.

First, let me say, this book is a beast. 754 pages is a lot. I like epic novels, (Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorites) they can be laborious but rewarding. As you begin reading this book, however, the task starts to feel insurmountable. The writing is contrived and pretentious, the structure feels foreign and many of the sentences have a quality about them that I could only describe as "off". Knowing that Rand had immigrated to US from Russia and that English was not her first language, I tried to give her a break and not let it influence my opinion of her ideas, but it does definitely affect the book's enjoyment factor. 

This is not fucking sexy.

The story centers around architect Howard Roark, who by Rand's standards, embodies all of what makes a man perfect. He lives his life as a lone wolf, concerned only with his work and his principles, fighting against a world that shuns individuality and praises mediocrity. In this world, selflessness is taught to be the highest virtue. Rand depicts the majority of the people as weak, foolish and compromised; unwilling or unable to be honest about want they want from life, living only to serve the will of others. Those who are intelligent enough to recognize the brilliance of Roark's work, see it as a threat to their power over others and seek to destroy him. Even fewer are those who share Roark's worldview and befriend him; fellow blue collar workers like the construction worker and the sculptor.

The world that Rand created in this book was really unique and interesting to me. In my mind, I saw it as a mixture of film noir and art deco, blended with the absurd decadence of characters from Zoolander. Much like Zoolander, where models are society's heroes, in this universe architects are the rock stars. Her parodied impressions of our society with hers were compelling, and I have to admit there were a number of times when I almost dropped the book because I thought "finally, someone who gets it!" Certain passages resonated so much with me that I wrote them down or took pictures of them on my phone so I could read them later. For all the book's flaws, there is no denying that there is something powerful in it's message. In the end, though, I felt as if Rand's story sputtered out and devolved into pure propaganda, only pushing her philosophy and leaving the characters by the wayside. What we're left with is a philosophy that's just too black and white for me. I agree that we, as individuals, should accept responsibility for own happiness, put ourselves first and fight to the death for what we believe in, but think her assertion that any sort of altruism is a lie, inherently inhuman and detrimental to society absolute horse shit. 



Is it just me or does Mugatu look like a resident of the Capitol in The Hunger Games?

You don't stop at a car accident and help the victims just because you want to prevent inconvenient traffic, you don't keep driving because you can't be bothered to help strangers. Not every human action is, or should, be motivated by practicality or mutual benefit. Sometimes you just help because you can help. Empathy is a part of what it is to be human and, from what I can see, what binds us as a society together, instead of living as loners.

I'm really glad that I finally sat down and took the time to read an Ayn Rand novel for myself. It allowed me to get a taste of her philosophy directly without it being distorted by some pundit, philosopher or book reviewer. It's a very interesting story that had the potential to be great had the author kept her arrogance in check, had an editor kept her weak grasp of the English language in check and had someone, anyone, forced Rand to focus on the story from beginning to end. After 754 pages it's clear that I won't be subscribing to Objectivism anytime soon. 

+5 stars for an epic tale.
-2 stars for whack-ass English and absurd philosophy.

3 stars. 

Also, this seemed relevant:






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