In January of 1925, Ellsworth M. Toohey publishes his history of architecture, Sermons in Stone. The book is an overnight success. A month later, Henry Cameron collapses in his office, overwhelmed by the loss of an important commission. Cameron’s sister takes him back to New Jersey. At Cameron’s request, Roark closes the office and burns every sketch. Meanwhile, Peter Keating, who still works at Francon & Heyer, has become very successful. He lives in a modest but stylish apartment off posh Park Avenue. Against his wishes, his controlling mother has come to live with him and help him on his way up. She suggests that Keating get close to Francon’s daughter, but Francon has no interest in introducing them. Keating goes to see Katie and suddenly asks her if they are engaged. Katie understands this question as a proposal and says that they are engaged. Keating asks that they keep their engagement a secret.
Keating asks Francon to hire Roark, and Francon does so. In need of money, Roark accepts Keating’s offer on the condition that he not do any designing work. Keating takes a certain sadistic pleasure in giving Roark orders, but Roark’s quiet obedience frustrates him. In secret, Keating continues to ask Roark for help with his designs. Roark is happiest on the days when he goes to inspect building sites. He surprises the workers with his familiarity with construction. On one job site, Roark befriends a worker named Mike, a tough electrician who appreciates skill of every kind.
One day Francon asks Roark to design a building based on the Dana building, one of Cameron’s most successful projects. Francon suggests a derivative of the Dana building done in Classical Greek style. Roark says it would be more true to Cameron’s spirit to do something innovative. Roark’s pleas offend Francon, who is unused to refusal from subordinates. He promptly fires Roark. Roark begins searching for a new job, but none of the firms he speaks to are interested in him.
Roark finds work at the firm of an architect named John Erik Snyte. Every designer at Snyte’s firm draws each project from a different historical perspective, and Snyte combines their plans for the final drawing. Snyte designates Roark Mr. Modernistic.
The building-trades unions of New York go on strike to demand higher wages. The most vocal antiunion papers are those owned by the media magnate Gail Wynand. Ellsworth Toohey is expected to address the strikers. He supports the striking workers, but has never publicly said so; he has a column in the Banner, one of Wynand’s papers, and to support the strikers would end his career in journalism.
Katie no longer pays exclusive attention to Keating, which upsets Keating. He shows up at the rally and has almost persuaded Katie to leave when Toohey begins to speak hypnotically and powerfully. Even Keating falls under Toohey’s spell as he speaks of unity and selflessness. Nonetheless, Keating still urges Katie to leave as she appears completely enraptured by her uncle’s voice. The day after the big meeting, Wynand gives Toohey a substantial raise, insisting it is not a bribe to keep Toohey quiet. The strike is settled. One day Keating finds Francon in a miserable mood. His daughter, Dominique, has written a biting indictment of one of Francon’s buildings in her column in the Banner.