“Howard Roark laughed.

He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. The water seemed immovable, the stone — flowing. The stone had a stillness of one brief moment in battle when thrust meets thrust and the currents are held in a pause more dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays.”

— The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand.

One of the first serious novels I read. The first sentence leaves absolutely no doubt about who the book was about, even though these opening paragraphs are identified in Part One – Peter Keating. This is Howard Roark’s story.

And so many questions raised by this beginning.

Who the heck is this crazy guy standing naked at the edge of a cliff?  Why did he laugh?  Will he jump?  Is he suicidal?

And Rand’s choice of words. Yes, maybe a little melodramatic, but they weigh heavily with importance. As it turns out, this Roark fellow was indeed very serious.

The book is not without controversy and many think the it’s over-rated.  When I first read the book in my twenties, the background philosophy espoused by Rand flew right over my head, as did the possibility that the story puts women in a subservient role to men. For me, it was about Roark’s belief in his work – architecture – and his unwillingness to compromise his principles for either money or fame.  But because his talent was so deep, and because the power of his personality was so great, Roark survived.  And in the end, he was the only one with his integrity in tact.

And it ends like this:

“She saw him standing above her, on the top platform of the Wynand Building. He waved to her.

The line of the ocean cut the sky. The ocean mounted as the city descended. She passed the pinnacles of bank buildings. She passed the crowns of the courthouses.  She rose above the spires of churches.

Then there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark.”