The Fountainhead Part 1: Book Review

This is the first of two blog articles on “The Fountainhead”. This one is a review of the book itself, while in the second article I want to dive into some of the concepts. “The Fountainhead” is one of Ayn Rand’s most famous pieces of work and is widely considered a classic piece of literature. The book revolves around architecture and one architect, Howard Rourke’s uncompromising approach to his career. Rourke will not compromise even an inch of himself on his designs. So, for example, if a customer wants to hire him but will restrict even one small detail, Rourke will abandon the contract. This leads to circumstances where he becomes bankrupt and lives in abject poverty for a time.

The story plays out like a reverse of “A Christmas Carol”. The book is written in a format that has an introduction followed by three sections where three different men challenge Rourke, ending in Rourke’s own segment and triump. However, unlike Scrooge’s story, The Fountainhead involves three “visitors” that attempt to defeat Rourke with various schemes and are in turn themselves defeated by his virtue. It’s Scrooge as the virtuous soul fending off the ghosts. It’s a novel twist and one I quite enjoyed. The book’s strengths lie in its characters. Rourke himself is attractive, if unrealistic, in the way that he will not compromise himself. As a right-wing individualist myself, the way that Rourke lives his life comes off like a champion – even if I believe his uncompromising vision is impractical in real life.

**Some spoilers follow past this point**

For me the “stars of the show” are the three men that rise to challenge Rourke. The first, and most relatable, is Peter Keating. Keating is a fellow architect who grew up with Rourke but is his polar opposite foil. Where Rourke is strong and individualistic Keating is insecure and a people-pleaser. He’s also downright manipulative to the point of actually purposefully stressing out a supporting character to the point that he has a stroke and dies – which was Keating’s goal. The second challenger is Ellsworth Toohey, an architecture critic with a prodigious talent for persuasion and an ardent socialist. Toohey initiates an elaborate and devious plan to discredit Rourke in court (I’ll expand on these character’s motivations more in my in-depth blog on the book). Finally, there is Gail Wynand who is a former child gang leader who ends up taking control of a newspaper because it will have the most influence on people. Wynand is awesome, think Darth Vader as a newspaper baron. He is pure evil, taking delight in getting good people to compromise their virtues. As a game, he spends huge sums of money to attract news-writers that he can force to go against their own morals and ethical codes. Same goes for his taste in women where he will only sleep with women he buys – and only buys women that “cannot be bought”. There’s an elegance to his evil that’s intoxicating if not downright scary at times because he’s a very intelligent man. At one point Wynand and Rourke become friends but something occurs that changes their relationship.

Alas the book is not perfect and I have two main criticisms.

1.)

From a narrative point of view, my first criticism is how Rourke is handled. For the first 150 pages or so of the book he speaks only in questions or short phrases. His character is established as a very strong and silent type. But around 150 pages in Rourke has his first large monologue where out of nowhere he spews long and articulately about his individualistic philosophy. Howard Rourke is the hero and represents Ayn Rand’s own philosophy, what I read as what happened is that she could not find a way to let Rourke’s virtues just stand for themselves: she had to interject her monologue onto the character to get it to the reader. By doing this, she shocks you with how much Rourke suddenly changes, it doesn’t make sense or jive with how his character was established, and just comes off as giving in to temptation so she can get her politics out there.

2.)

For defenders of the book…This one is going to earn me much scorn as I’m going to join the masses. I’ll just get it out there: The Fountainhead involves a scene of explicit and violent rape. Now, I prefer non-fiction books so I haven’t read a ton of fiction, but I’d never read anything like the first sexual encounter between Dominique Francon and Rourke. There’s an internal battle in Dominique’s mind where her mind is battling if she enjoys it or not. But Rourke doesn’t know this. The book implies that they have some sort of super intense connection that Rourke might ‘know’ she somehow secretly wants the sex – but overtly she doesn’t. The book clearly describes Dominique as physically trying to fight off Rourke while he throws her around the room and into walls. I’m going to weigh in on why I agree with the ‘mainstream’ critiques in part 2 of my analysis.

However, those two criticisms should not detract from the fact that I think the book is brilliant. It encapsulates the virtue, allure, challenges, and triumphs of being true to oneself. We live in a world that pressures us to conformity. That conformity is always changing but The Fountainhead has a hero striking back against the tide. Making a stand for true humanity in the face of the masses. And it’s damn good!

Rating: A

 

 

 

 

Battle of Jutland (Skagerrak) ABCs

This is a unique blog in that I have a set of a few book reviews planned but I can’t reasonably expect people to follow them without some background: which is this. My goal is to provide the basics, a nutshell, of the great World War I sea battle “The Battle of Jutland” or as it’s known in Germany, “Skagerrak”. Jutland is one of my favorite moments in history, it was a moment where had the British lost the battle, in a few short hours they would have lost World War I completely. Likewise, a crushing German defeat would remove the threat of Germany outside of the continent of Europe and deal a devastating blow to morale.

What was it:

The battle involved a sortie (mission) by the vast majority of the German fleet. The idea was to separate, and trap, part of the British fleet as the main British force, “The Grand Fleet” was deemed too big and powerful to meet in open battle. Yet, the German fleet and British fleet mirrored each other in overall disposition.

German High Seas Fleet – 22 battleships

German 1st Scouting Group – 5 battlecruisers

British Grand Fleet – 24 battleships + 3 battlecruisers temporarily attached to the fleet.

British Battlecruiser Fleet – 6 battlecruisers + 4 battleships temporarily attached to the fleet.

What happened – Run To The South:

On the 31st of May, the German 1st Scouting Group of battlecruisers (think battleships with less armour and therefore faster) met the British Battlecruiser Fleet off the coast of Denmark, known as Jutland. At first Vice Admiral David Beatty of the British Battlecruiser Fleet thinks he has the German 1st Scouting Group cornered. He does not know nor believe the entire German fleet is sailing towards him. The 1st Scouting Group engages the British Battlecruiser Fleet and lures them in a running battle to the south, towards the main German fleet as was planned.

This first stage, the Run to The South, sees the British Battlecruiser Fleet badly mauled. First, shots from the oldest German battlecruiser “Von Der Tann” strike the HMS Indefatiguable and she blows up due to a magazine explosion. Next, the much more modern Queen Mary, often considered one of the best ships in the world with one of the best crews, is hit almost simultaneously with shells from two German battlecruisers and also blows up. When a later salvo heavily damages the ship behind him, thinking it also blew up, Beatty makes one of the most famous quotes in naval history “There’s something wrong with our bloody ships today.”

If you’re wondering why this was going so good for the outnumbered Germans the answer is fourfold.

1.) The British through communication error left the 5th Battle Squadron (the 4 battleships attached to the Battlecruiser Fleet, which were the top 4 strongest battleships in the world at the time) behind and out of the battle for around 45 minutes.

2.) The British had terrible aim.

3.) The British were accidentally doubling up on which German ship they were firing at.

4.) The British had very bad safety procedures to protect their gun magazines from fires. This permitted the two ships to explode.

 

Run To The North:

At this point the British Battlecruisers run right into the German High Seas fleet, so they turn around 180 degrees and hightail it towards their own Grand Fleet that is behind but sailing south. The Germans don’t know the Grand Fleet is out there so they pursue. There is some frantic action as the 5th Battle Squadron known as “The Goods” – the four super powerful battleships likewise need to turn 180 degrees, but they’re turning at the exact same point and the Germans have them zeroed in for gunnery. Two of the four almost explode – Warspite and Malaya – with Warspite’s rudder taken out doing circles as it gets abandoned and hammered by shells (it later limps home alone).

At this point the Admiral of the British Grand Fleet, John Jellicoe, is steaming with all his battleships in small columns, side-by-side, he needs to get them into one solid battle line but he only has once chance…To form them on his west or east side. The right decision will lead the Germans right into all his guns, the wrong decision would lead them away and let the battlecruisers eventually get eviscerated. If he delayed too long, he could be caught out of position and the Germans would hammer him. He chooses eastern deployment, this ended up being correct because it let him cross Admiral Scheer’s “T”. This is the most important move in naval combat.

Crossing the T allows a turreted battleship to fire all guns on a target, while that target can only fire forward guns at it. Therefore it has a roughly 2-1 shot advantage. Such as this:

_  _ _ _   _   _    _    _    (ships have front and rear guns able to fire)

I

I         (ships only have frontal guns able to fire)

I

I

During this time crazed Scotsman Robert Arbuthnot and his armoured cruisers (one step below a battlecruiser) charged the German line, almost ramming his own ships on the way. His ship, HMS Defence, and her partner HMS Warrior, were annihilated with Defence blowing up visible to all and Warrior slowly sinking. This was the stupidest move of the battle, with Arbuthnot being called according to Wikipedia “A bulldog with it’s teeth in his prey…If only he and they existed”. Many British captains stated the moment they saw Arbuthnot sail in they knew he was doomed before a shot was fired. It was the German flagship battlecruiser SMS Lutzow which saw HMS Defence emerge full in her gunsights providing one of the easiest targets of the battle. The other German ships couldn’t even move their turrets in time towards Defence before Lutzow eviscerated it at close range, alone.

The two fleets meet and while you’d think the Germans would take catastrophic damage from their “T” being crossed, they don’t. They take hits, but they escape. Scheer actually turns back towards the British ships – twice – but then retreats again. Soon it’s nightfall and unfortunately for the British, the Germans sneak past them at night. Many British ships saw, but never reported the Germans leaving which was a terrible and mysterious mistake. I’m skipping a lot of details here as a lot of cool stuff happened, including an old German battleship being torpedoed at night and another British battlecruiser (attached to the Grand Fleet, not Beatty’s fleet) accidentally charging out of smoke right into the Germans and is obliterated, exploding as well.

The most important German ship lost is the big, new, battlecruiser Lutzow. It’s actually scuttled late in the battle after it takes horrific damage but it doesn’t explode or sink solely due to enemy damage. The battle ended up with the British taking way more casualties but the strategic situation in the sea didn’t change – so historians often call it a ‘tactical’ victory for the Germans but a draw overall. Even a strategic victory for John Jellicoe simply because he didn’t lose the battle.

A lot of details are missing but as I delve into the various books I’ve read over the next few months this post will be referred to as background reading. If you have any questions about the battle, I’m always happy to talk about it!

The Fountainhead: A Preview

A confession to start: I don’t recall ever reviewing a book anywhere, anytime. Not sure why, I don’t read many books per year but I’m always working my way through something interesting. Currently, I’m working through one of the most unique books I’ve read. It’s called “The Fountainhead” and is by a pretty notorious author called Ayn Rand. Rand had some very controversial ideas, essentially she promoted selfishness as a virtue. She was an athiest and felt it was ridiculous for people to live their lives for anyone except themselves. She tempered that – slightly- by saying that your promotion of yourself shouldn’t come at the cost of another, but altruism or sticking yourself out for someone else or their happiness would be opposed by Rand.

The Fountainhead is about two dueling architects. One, Peter Keating, is a manipulative, effervescant, people-pleaser. He does what the world would say to bring success, he charms the boss, does what “he ought to” and completes that with some backdoor Machiavellian manipulations. His foil is Howard Roark, a monolithic, almost primal, force of “self”. Roark usually speaks in simple phrases or short phrases and is willing to compromise nothing of himself: no matter the cost. Roark would sooner kill himself then please a single other soul in a way that would be inauthentic to himself.

I’m only 1/3rd done because I am taking so many notes. The book will need to be distilled into a long-form essay, then a short-form essay, and finally a blog posting here. There’s simply no other way to address this book except to “distill” it like a fine spirit. Distill really is an accurate verb for what I’m doing, but I wanted to get you excited because frankly, the book is a rush and I can’t wait to put my thoughts into a coherant form and share it with you here!

-Matt