Authors: Homer W. Smith

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and physiologist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Kamongo, 1932 (revised paperback edition 1956)

The End of Illusion, 1935

Nonfiction:

The Kidney: Structure and Function in Health and Disease, 1951

Man and His Gods, 1952 (with foreword by Albert Einstein)

From Fish to Philosopher, 1953

Principles of Renal Physiology, 1956

Biography

For thirty-four years Homer W. Smith was associated with the New York University Medical School, both in teaching and administrative capacities, and he served as chairman of its Department of Physiology. He had an eminent career as a physiologist, and his major work on the kidney is regarded as an important contribution to the literature on that subject.{$I[AN]9810000033}{$I[A]Smith, Homer W.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Smith, Homer W.}{$I[tim]1895;Smith, Homer W.}

He wrote two novels. The second, The End of Illusion, which many critics considered rather contrived–even mechanical–in its formulations of plot and ideas, deals with a young man who goes to Malaya to enjoy complete freedom and discovers that the freedom he seeks is nothing but an illusion. The first novel, Kamongo, is more successful in its handling of theme. It has a slender story line; its chief interest lies in the detailed account by an American naturalist to an Anglican priest–as they journey homeward on a French steamer through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal–of his capture of the African lungfish, a relic of the Devonian Age when it unsuccessfully sought to sustain itself on land. The naturalist’s narrative, graphic and vivid in the telling, forms only a section of the novel; the remaining portion is the long debate between the two men on various issues of skepticism and faith, with Joel, the scientist, triumphantly demolishing the beliefs of the priest.

The novel, though without formal plot, contains excellent descriptive passages, and Smith’s style, even when it deals with scientific matters that generally are of interest only to the specialist, is always lively and colorful. Upon its initial publication, Kamongo attracted wide popular attention and was a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club in 1932. In 1935 Alexander Woollcott included it in one of his anthologies of current literary favorites, and in 1950, eighteen years after publication, it was a Natural History Book Club choice for its readers.

Two other works by Smith are worthy of notice. Man and His Gods is a vigorous discussion of religion, in which the author, after examining its origin in myth and superstition, decides that human beings’ sense of scientific truth cannot permit them to embrace a belief in supernatural authority. They must find within their own resources the will to bring about “fulfillment.” The book has been compared to Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890-1915) and has been praised as a suitable condensation of that multivolume study. From Fish to Philosopher is an original examination of human beings’ origin and physical development, told largely in terms of the kidney’s growing adaptability to varying qualities of environment. Both books are characterized by engaging, at times brilliant, prose; not the least of Smith’s virtues as a writer is his ability to maintain the interest of his readers.

BibliographyBing, Richard J. “Recollections of an Eyewitness.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 39, no. 2 (Winter, 1996). Discusses the signs of creativity in artists and scientists, among them Homer Smith, Charles Lindbergh, and the surgeon Alfred Blalock.Chasis, Herbert, and William Goldring, eds. Homer William Smith: His Scientific and Literary Achievements. New York: New York University Press, 1965.Pitts, R. F. “Homer William Smith.” National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs 39 (1967).
Categories: Authors