I must say, I enjoyed The Fountainhead much more than Atlas Shrugged. The latter is a laborious slog to get through. It’s a good book, no doubt, but it’s also quite pompous.

The Fountainhead is more direct. The characters are fewer in number and wider in depth. Howard Roarke, Dominique Francon, and Ellsworth Toohey, in particular, are phenomenal.

And you need not have any interest in architecture to become enthralled in the plot. That was my biggest stumbling block to picking it up: what do I care about architecture? Worry no more, young sapling! Right from the first chapter you stumble into a whirlwind of action.

“Can you spell cat?”

“Can you spell anthropomorphology?”

“It’s abnormal to feel strongly about anything.”

“That’s the only way I can feel. Or not at all.”

“Is that what I am?

“Don’t you know what you are?”

“No. Not as far as you’re seeing me, or anyone else.”

“Men differ in their virtues, if any. But they are alike in their vices.”

I often think that he’s the only one of us who’s achieved immortality. I don’t mean in the sense of fame and I don’t mean that he won’t die some day. But he’s living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they’re not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict–and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unreversed or unbetrayed; as if there had never been an entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out or an unformed. How do they expect permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard–one can imagine him existing forever.

She thought that they had not greeted each other and that it was right. This was not a reunion, but just one moment out of something that had never been interrupted. She thought how strange it would be if she ever said “Hello” to him; one did not greet oneself each morning.

The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.

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.

It takes two to make every great career: the man who is great, and the man–almost rarer–who is great enough to see greatness and say so.

We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form. … If [man] doesn’t build, when he has the means, it’s because his life has not been what he wanted.

“I’m going to change my mind and ask you a personal question. You said you’d answer anything.”

“I will.”

“Have you always liked being Howard Roark?”

Roark smiled. The smile was amused, astonished, involuntarily contemptuous.

“You’ve answered,” said Wynand.

You’re very wise or I’ve been very obvious. Either is your achievement.

Roark knew that Wynand seldom spoke of his childhood, by the quality of his words; they were bright and hesitant, untarnished by usage, like coins that had not passed through many hands.

“Now,” he said, “talk. Talk about the things you really want said. Don’t tell me about your family, your childhood, your friends or your feelings. Tell me about the things you think.”

Mallory looked at him incredulously and whispered:

“How did you know that?”

Roark smiled and said nothing.

“How did you know what’s been killing me? Slowly, for years, driving me to hate people when I don’t want to hate. . . . Have you felt it, too? Have you seen how your best friends love everything about you–except the things that count? And your most important is nothing to them, nothing, not even a sound they can recognize. You mean, you want to hear? You want to know what I do and why I do it, you want to know what I think? It’s not boring to you? It’s important?”

“Go ahead,” said Roark.

Then he sat for hours, listening, while Mallory spoke of his work, of the thoughts behind his work, of the thoughts that shaped his life, spoke gluttonously, like a drowning man flung out to shore, getting drunk on huge, clean snatches of air.

Wynand and Dominque sat in the center of the fourth row, not looking at each other, listening to the play. The things being done on the stage were merely trite and crass; but the undercurrent made them frightening. There was an air about the ponderous inanities spoken, which the actors had absorbed like an infection; it was in their smirking faces, in the slyness of their voices, in their untidy gestures. It was an air of inanities uttered as revelations and insolently demanding acceptance as such; an air, not of innocent presumption, but of conscious effrontery; as if the author knew the nature of his work and boasted of his power to make it appear sublime in the minds of his audience and thus destroy the capacity for the sublime within them. The work justified the verdict of its sponsors: it brought laughs, it was amusing; it was an indecent joke, acted out not on the stage but in the audience. It was a pedastal from which a god had been torn, and in his place there stood, not Satan with a sword, but a corner lout sipping a bottle of Coca-Cola.

For many weeks, when left alone together, they spoke little and never about each other. But it was not a silence of resentment; it was the silence of an understanding too delicate to limit by words. They would be in a room together in the evening, saying nothing, content to feel each other’s presence. They would look at each other suddenly–and both would smile, the smile like hands clasped.

Then, one evening, she knew he would speak. She sat at her dressing-table. He came in and stood leaning against the wall beside her. He looked at her hands, at her naked shoulders, but she felt as if he did not see her; he was looking at something greater than the beauty of her body, greater than his love for her; he was looking at himself–and this, she knew, was the one incomparable tribute.

“I breathe for my own necessity, for the fuel of my body, for my survival . . . I’ve given you, not my sacrifice or my pity, but my ego and my naked need . . .” She heard Roark’s words, Roark’s voice speaking for Gail Wynand–and she felt no sense of treason to Roark in using the words of his love for the love of another man.

Toohey lifted his head and looked at him, the faint contraction of boredom in the corners of his eyes letting Scarret understand that this moment of attention was a favor; he drawled in a tone of emphasized patience:

“There’s so much nonsense about human inconstancy and the transience of all emotions,” said Wynand. “I’ve always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place. There are books I liked at the age of sixteen. I still like them.”

If it were true, that old legend about appearing before a supreme judge and naming one’s record, I would offer, with all my pride, not any act I committed, but one thing I have never done on this earth: that I never sought an outside sanction. I would stand and say: I am Gail Wynand, the man who has committed every crime except the foremost one: that of ascribing futility to the wonderful fact of existence and seeking justification beyond myself. This is my pride: that now, thinking of the end, I do not cry like all the men of my age: but what was the use and the meaning? I was the use and meaning, I, Gail Wynand. That I lived and that I acted.

I was  thinking of people who say that happiness is impossible on earth. Look how hard they all try to find some joy in life. Look how they struggle for it. Why should any living creature exist in pain? By what conceivable right can anyone demand that a human being exist for anything but for his own joy? Every one of them wants it. Every part of him wants it. But they never find it. I wonder why. They whine and say they don’t understand the meaning of life. There’s a particular kind of people that I despise. Those who seek some sort of a higher purpose or ‘universal goal,’ who don’t know what to live for, who moan that they must ‘find themselves.’ You hear it all around us. That seems to be the official bromide of our century. Every book you open. Every drooling self-confession. It seems to be the noble thing to confess. I’d think it would be the most shameful one.

“The basic trouble with the modern world,” said Ellsworth Toohey, “is the intellectual fallacy that freedom and compulsion are opposites. To solve the gigantic problems crushing the world today, we must clarify our mental confusion. We must acquire a philosophical perspective. In essence, freedom and compulsion are one. Let me give you a simple illustration. Traffic lights restrain your freedom to cross a street whenever you wish. But this restraint gives you the freedom from being run over by a truck. If you were assigned to a job and prohibited from leaving it, it would restrain the freedom of your career. But it would give you freedom from the fear of unemployment. Whenever a new compulsion is imposed upon us, we automatically gain a new freedom. The two are inseparable. Only by accepting total compulsion can we achieve total freedom.”

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? It’s the hardest thing in the world–to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage, I mean, what we really want. As I wanted to marry you. Not as I want to sleep with some woman or get drunk or get my name in the papers. Those things–they’re not even desires–they’re things people do to escape from desires–because it’s such a big responsibility, really to want something.

“You’re not conceited enough.”

“Why, no. I’m too conceited. If you want to call it that. 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.”

“Yes. You are. But egotists are not kind. And you are. You’re the most egotistical and the kindest man I know. And that doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe the concepts don’t make sense. Maybe they don’t mean what people have been taught to think they mean.”

. . .

When Keating was gone, Roark leaned against the door, closing his eyes. He was sick with pity.

He had never felt this before–not when Henry Cameron collapsed in the office at his feet, not when he saw Steven Mallory sobbing on a bed before him. Those moments had been clean. But this was pity–this complete awareness of a man without worth or hope, this sense of finality, of the not to be redeemed. There was shame in this feeling–his own shame that he should have to pronounce such judgment upon a man, that he should know an emotion which contained no shred of respect.

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.

It’s simple to seek substitutes for competence–such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.

That, precisely, is the deadlines of second-handers. They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: ‘Is this true?’ They ask: ‘Is this what others think is true?’ Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egotists. You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life. Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation–anchored to nothing. That’s what stopped me whenever I faced a committee. Men without an ego. Opinion without a rational process. Motion without brakes or motor. Power without responsibility. The second-hander acts, but the source of his actions is scattered in every other living person. It’s everywhere and nowhere and you can’t reason with him. He’s not open to reason. You can’t speak to him–he can’t hear. You’re tried by an empty bench. A blind mass running amuck, to crush you without sense of purpose.

“We have never made an effort to understand what is greatness in man and how to recognize it,” said another Wynand editorial. “We have come to hold, in a kind of mawkish stupor, that greatness is to be gauged by self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice, we drool, is the ultimate virtue. Let’s stop and think for a moment. Is sacrifice a virtue? Can a man sacrifice his integrity? His honor? His freedom? His ideal? His convictions? The honesty of his feelings? The independence of his thought? But these are a man’s supreme possessions. Anything he gives up for them is not a sacrifice but an easy bargain. They, however, are above sacrificing to any cause or consideration whatsoever. Should we not, then, stop preaching dangerous and vicious nonsense? Self-sacrifice? But it is precisely the self that cannot and must not be sacrificed. It is the unsacrificed self that we must respect in man above all.”

“I said I intended to rule. Like all my spiritual predecessors. But I’m luckier than they were. I inherited the fruit of their efforts and I shall be the one who’ll see the great dream made real. I see it all around me today. I recognize it. I don’t like it. I didn’t expect to like it. Enjoyment is not my destiny. I shall find such satisfaction as my capacity permits. I shall rule.”

“Whom . . . ?”

“You. The world. It’s only a matter of discovering the level. If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it–and the man is yours. You won’t need a whip–he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse–and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself. Want to know how it’s done? See if I ever lied to you. See if you haven’t heard all this for years, but didn’t want to hear it, and the fault is yours, not mine. There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it toward a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that he must live for others. Tell men that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue–and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness. Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideal,s all aspiration, all sense of his personal value. He feels himself obliged to preach what he can’t practice. But one can’t be good halfway or honest approximately. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self-respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey–because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean. That’s one way. Here’s another. Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny the conception of greatness. Destroy it from within. The great is the rar,e the difficult, the exceptional. Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept–and you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection. Don’t set out toraze all shrines–you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity–and the shrines are razed.”

The pressure disappeared with the first word he put on paper. He thought–while his hand moved rapidly–what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought, perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

But all learning is only the exchange of material.

The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be curbed, sacrificed or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever. It demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary.

Wynand’s face was more than the face of a stranger: a stranger’s face is an unapproached potentiality, to be opened if one makes the choice and effort; this was a face known, closed and never to be reached again. A face that held no pain of renunciation, but the stamp of the next step, when even paid is renounced. A face remote and quiet, with a dignity of its own, not a living attribute, but the dignity of a figure on a medieval tomb that speaks of past greatness and forbids a hand to reach out for the remains.