Dr. Max Gottlieb is a German Jew who has never been interested in practicing medicine but always in laboratory research. He had married the "patient and wordless daughter of a Gentile merchant." He is over-cautious about announcing results of his research, always waiting for definite proof and hating men who rush into publication unprepared. He has been on the faculty of Winnemac for twelve years. Teaching bores him, but he appreciates the excellent facilities for work and some of the brighter students. Poverty keeps him from travel and enjoyment of worldly pleasures.
Gottlieb's family consists of his wife, slow-moving and not well, and three children. Miriam, the youngest, is interested in classical music; her older sister is "nothing in particular"; and the son is wild, with no taste for study.
One of the few students to appreciate the true work of Gottlieb is Martin Arrowsmith. Gottlieb is willing, therefore, to go to great lengths to help Martin with his career. After the break between them, Gottlieb delays appointing a new assistant, hoping that Martin will come back, and is chagrined and grieved when he does not.
Shortly before Gottlieb meets Martin and Leora on the street, his fortune has taken a turn downward. He has offended the authorities at Winnemac by proposing to bring in a research man from Harvard to replace Silva. At a meeting of the Board of Regents, the aging scientist is asked to resign. His attempts to find a better position immediately are futile.
In the meantime, Mrs. Gottlieb becomes acutely ill, and Dr. Silva is summoned to treat her ailment, which he diagnoses as probably gastric ulcer. Gottlieb fears that it may be cancer. She is hospitalized for several weeks and improves. Things go from bad to worse for Gottlieb, who is by now reduced to applying for employment to a Chicago teachers' agency. He is insulted by being offered a position as high school teacher of physics and chemistry. A later offer, which he also rejects, is one to teach Practical Hygiene in Edtooth University, which has the biggest gymnasium in the world and a New York Giant for baseball coach.
This chapter and the next bring the reader up-to-date about the events surrounding Gottlieb from the time of his break with Arrowsmith until his employment by McGurk Institute. Both are full of irony. Scientists are valued almost as highly in Great Britain as "distillers, cigarette manufacturers, and owners of obscene newspapers," and "catching microbes" is "no work for a tall man at a time when heroes are building bridges, experimenting with Horseless Carriages, and selling miles of calico and cigars." Such are the values in Lewis' America of the early 1900s. Great benefactors of humanity and their works are overlooked.
Gottlieb's nondescript home and family are practically detached from his scientific career. The only satisfactory child is Miriam, the music student. Mrs. Gottlieb is a nonentity, of peasant extraction and tastes. Yet she contributes to her husband's welfare by providing him with a comfortable home background although she has no conception of the world of science in which he lives.