This week marks the 130th birthday of historic author with Michigan ties

Feb 5, 2015

Author Sinclair Lewis
Credit Wikimedia Commons

February 7th marks the 130th birthday of the American writer Sinclair Lewis, whose 1925 Pulitzer-prize winning novel Arrowsmith was the first novel to focus on the life of a medical scientist.

University of Michigan physician and medical historian Dr. Howard Markel says it's a wonderful historical analysis of everything that is great and problematic with American medicine.

"There's wonderful discussions of medical practice, of public health, of going to medical school, of the energy and focus you need to do research. But also the greed, the competitiveness, and the bad behavior many doctors do partake in, that many human beings partake in," Markel says.

The book takes place at the University of Winnemac, a fictional school based on the University of Michigan. This location choice came through Lewis' friendship with Paul De Kruif, a former doctor who had been a student of medicine in Ann Arbor. Ultimately, much of Lewis' insight for the book came from the stories told by De Kruif.

Markel says many of the stories are still relevant today, and he regularly assigns Arrowsmith as reading for his medical students, colleagues and even worried patients.

*Listen to our conversation with Markel above