This 1924 classic traces the less than satisfying career of a doctor from his college training through his small-town practice, participation in a city health agency, and work in a West Indian clinic, where he hopes to engage in pure science and escape the money-grubbing that has so frustrated him earlier. Sinclair Lewis won the Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith but refused it, out of pique, some critics suggest, because he felt he should have won it for his earlier novels. The novel still makes good listening today, in large measure because of the competence of narrator John McDonough. Though he could use a little more drama and more consistent differentiation among the many characters, his style eventually becomes as compelling as the novel itself.
The son of a country doctor, Sinclair Lewis turned to writing instead of medicine. He won the Nobel Prize in 1930. Arrowsmith was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. This is the story of a brilliant young man who dedicates his life to science, yet finds that corruption, not disease, is his greatest foe.
Martin Arrowsmith is fascinated by science and medicine. As a boy, he immerses himself in Gray’s Anatomy. In medical school, he soaks up knowledge from his mentor, a renowned bacteriologist. But soon he is urged to focus on politics and promotions rather than his research. Even as Martin progresses from doctor to public health official and noted pathologist, he still yearns to devote his time to pure science.
Published in 1924, this novel had a profound effect on the reading public. As an expose of professional greed and fraud, it was a call to scrutinize flawed medical practices. Now, through John McDonough’s vibrant narration, it is a truly notable audiobook.
Public Domain (P)2001 Recorded Books, LLC
Book: In general, I do not comment on classics. However, I found the story interesting since it draws from the history in the US from 100 years ago: Pre-WWI, midwest, industrialization of the economy, the movement of most of the population from the farm to the city, etc - all the changes - economic, political, social, etc. I liked it but if you were looking for fast moving book, this is not it. However, if want to see changes in personalities and slices of social groups, it is interesting with great wording and character development. I sure it won the Noble Prize for Literature for its social-political aspect, in part, but it is a very good piece of literature.
Performance: The reader was very good. In time, I forgot there was reader and toward the end of the book the reader acted some of the characters well out.
It's no coincidence that Ayn Rand read many of Sinclair Lewis's novels, especially Arrowsmith. The theme of Arrowsmith is staying true to oneself, to one's very soul. Unlike Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, Martin Arrowsmith has not achieved the certainty of Roark, yet he fights throughout the book to not be a second-hander (to use Rand's term). He succeeds, but it takes the length of the book to find out for sure.
So this kid from the hinterlands decides to become a doctor. He goes through the trials and tribs of youth, early love, rejection. He hitches his academic wagon to the wrong stars on occasion. He finds the right woman who supports him and his quest for a medical degree and a position to work in science. He fails miserably more than once. He capitulates to corporate greed, the woman's parents, the expectations of society all before he wakes up --too late-- and has to start all over again.
If this was a jab at the education of a medical professional, it seems weak today. The writing was strong, the characters well defined, their foibles and power well explored and delineated. Poor Martin Arrowsmith, however, was drawn without much spine, and less imagination than his costars.
Not sure why this is a "classic" except for its year, and the fact that Sinclair Lewis also wrote Elmer Gantry, but it is an adequate portrait of early 20th century, pre-WWII America. There are some attacks at militarism, at corporate medical practices, at academia, etc., but it's not a diatribe and it is also not a deep read.
I am taking on Elmer Gantry later, but I feel I've already seen into that book through Lewis' sweep of American immorality in this book. Elmer Gantry SHOULD be preachy; Arrowsmith was as well.
While this book touches on many issues faced by doctors today, this tale is very reflective of the early 20th century. The training, social standing and expectations of doctors have changed drastically. Imagine your physician attempting to remember the exact dosage to treat a contagious disease or having to stand and watch helplessly while a child dies of a fever. The research and other resources available to doctors today make many of the situations almost laughable, if they were not so frightening.
But each doctor still faces the pulls of income generation and cost-efficient care, of catering to the wishes of demanding patients and taking the familiar treatment route because the new ones put the reputation of the doctor at risk.
However, there are many reflection of the gender and race based assumptions predominant at the time. I try my best to read a book in the context of the time it was written, but when the only two girls in the "medic school" are dismissed as laughing or hysterical when faced with the rigors of dissection class and when the newest member of the President's cabinet is the Secretary of Health and Eugenics I can not help but cringe.
Martin Arrowsmith is not the least likeable. I admire his dedication, but even the purest scientist is more effective when he collaborates and communicates with others. He is hardheaded to the point of undermining his own work. Most men of his type sink quickly and toil away in bitter oblivion. Imagine how much more he could have achieved if he had kept his mouth shut on occasion and not quit so many positions in a snit. The Arrowsmith of the book would be lucky to hold a drudge job in a basic lab.
I found the section near the end where Arrowsmith had to deal with the plague outbreak while maintaining the control group of patients as expendable guinea pigs the most relevant. Researchers and drug companies both face the competing demands of making promising new treatments available to patients, exploiting new offerings for profits and ensuring those treatments are safe and effective. Sadly, the profit motive wins too often, both in our times and in Arrowsmith's.
Say something about yourself!
I am going to medical school next year and was told to read this book by several people. It was startling that so many of the issues that face the modern doctor had already been clearly outlined almost 90 years ago. This book was particularly interesting to me after reading several nonfiction books describing medical science in the same era like "The Demon under the Microscope" and "The Great Influenza". Although the moral dilemmas are complex and interesting, Lewis does not achieve that same complexity in his characters and their actions.
Tell us about yourself!
Although I am a big fan of Sinclair Lewis, this was my least favorite of his novels. His reaction to the death of his wife and his dalliance with the socialite seems inconsistent with Arrowsmith's character. I prefer Elmer Gantry, Main Street and Babbitt. The single-mindedness of Arrowsmith and Max Gottlieb are reminiscent of Ayn Rand's Howard Roark in "The Fountainhead." There is an ongoing struggle between the noble ideals of medical research vaunted by Arrowsmith and Gottlieb and what they considered to be "mere practitioners." A similar contrast exists between Rand's architect Roark and the "second-handers," the architects content with compromising their personal vision to gain fame and fortune. This connection is pointed out by Tore Boeckman in his essay, "The Fountainhead as a Romantic Novel." And Boeckman noted that at the time Rand was writing "The Fountainhead," she considered Sinclair Lewis to be her favorite writer.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.