Sunday, November 27, 2011

Arrowsmith (1926)

This is the story of Martin Arrowsmith, who seems ordinary enough but is, in fact, that rare breed of man who thinks for himself and pursues his goals without regard for the people who want him to give up.

You could say the same about Sinclair Lewis, the author of Arrowsmith.  Nothing is holy: he tears apart countless traditions and habits that we take for granted.  With just a sentence or two he shows us the hypocrisy, inanity or even the evil in our many institutions and ways of life.

In Arrowsmith, Lewis is focused on the medical profession and science as a profession during the early 1900’s.  But much of the book feels applicable even now.  We see the flaws in a medical school that churns out doctors trained to treat illnesses without thinking about underlying causes and keyed to avoid prevention because it will take away business.  We see, as in his other books, the backwardness and suffocation of a small town for a free thinker.  We see how a scientist is compromised by working for a company that's only out to make money.  And we see that science can’t be run by committee and isn’t at the whim of “the good of society.”  Lewis shows us that science may be the most individualistic pursuit there is, and men who are willing to give it everything they have are the true heroes.

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