Arrowsmith (1925) by Sinclair Lewis
Ok, so we all know that Sinclair Lewis novels are pretty great novels because Lewis writes like he means it amiright?
What struck me about Arrowsmith was how frankly Lewis exposed the culture of scientific research and education in early-20th century America, just as "professionalization" was becoming mainstream.
And I'm using "exposed" here in the sense of a scientist slicing something open to dissect it- exposing the innards, if you will; looking at everything with an objective eye, seeking knowledge, not jumping just yet to any conclusions.
Lewis follows Martin Arrowsmith as he grows up and becomes interested in science. We follow him to medical school, private practice in the midwest, and then subsequent jobs at hospitals and research institutions. Arrowsmith's run-ins with conmen, jealously ambitious colleagues, fellow scientists, and others helps him understand the place that he wishes to hold in the world. After all, one can hope to lead a pure life of the mind, but one will certainly be disappointed.
It's Lewis's attention to the details of Arrowsmith's daily life, including his marriage, his interactions with colleagues, and his insatiable curiosity, that makes the novel so fascinating and so uniquely Lewis. No wonder it won the 1926 Pulitzer.