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Med Humanit. 2006 Dec;32(2):82-7. doi: 10.1136/jmh.2006.000230.

The novel Arrowsmith, Paul de Kruif (1890-1971) and Jacques Loeb (1859-1924): a literary portrait of "medical science".

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Institute for the History of Medicine, Heinrich-Heine-University Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany.


Shortly after bacteriologist Paul de Kruif had been dismissed from a research position at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, he started contributing to a novel in collaboration with the future Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis. The novel, Arrowsmith, would become one of the most famous satires on medicine and science. Using de Kruif's correspondence with his idol Jacques Loeb, this paper describes the many ways in which medical science is depicted in Arrowsmith. This article compares the novel with de Kruif's and Loeb's biographies, and (1) focuses on the struggles of the main character, Martin Arrowsmith, as an allegory of the institutionalisation of medical research in the US, (2) shows that (influenced by de Kruif) Sinclair's purpose is to caricaturise scientific work in modern medical research institutions anywhere and (3) shows that the novel depicts a reductionist philosophy of research that seems to contradict the "messiness" of medical practice.

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