Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 2000

Who’s Who in Hell, by Warren Allen Smith

reviewed by George Broadhead

This amazing tome is the result of 50 years’ research by its compiler Warren Allen Smith, a gay Humanist activist and journalist who lives in Greenwich Village, New York. Smith has written for US Humanist publications and G&LH.

With 1,238 pages and over 10,000 entries, the book is described in the promotional leaflet as “a Handbook and International Directory for Freethinkers, Humanists, Naturalists, Rationalists, and Non-Theists” and “the most complete A to Z listing of thousands of freethought subjects and non-believers from the past to the present”. However, the entries also include agnostics and Unitarians and, according to the section on Unitarianism, Unitarians comprise both theists and nontheists. There is a very useful index at the back of the book, in which those listed are grouped together according to their profession.

There are many people listed whom I have never heard of, although, given the huge overall number, this is hardly surprising. As well as towering freethought figures such as Charles Bradlaugh MP, the nineteenth-century founder of the UK National Secular Society, and Robert G Ingersoll, the American lawyer and orator – both of whom rate around a page – there are hundreds of much lesser figures (including me!) who, understandably, rate only a few lines.

I spotted a few omissions, including the American harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, who wrote the score for the film Genevieve, and Alan Turing, the UK gay atheist mathematician who broke the German Enigma code during World War Two and was the founder of the modern computer. Although the antithesis of Humanists, atheists such as Mussolini and Stalin, are rightly included.

Inevitably, perhaps, I was most intrigued by the gay entries, especially those that have a connection with GALHA – and there are quite a few. Smith has obviously made good use of G&LH to list a number of GALHA members both living and deceased – seventeen of the former (including one who has lapsed and one who has become a born-again Christian and resigned!) and six of the latter – including a founder member, Brian Parry. Another founder member, Jim Herrick, is given a substantial entry by virtue of his immense contribution to the UK and international Humanist movements.

Many other gays (mostly deceased) are listed, including Francis Bacon, Benjamin Britten, Paul Cadmus, Quentin Crisp, E. M. Forster, Sir John Gielgud, Langton Hughes, Larry Kramer, Christopher Marlowe, Somerset Maugham ... the list is – almost – endless.

Though undoubtedly a very serious tome, it is often lightened with humorous anecdotes such as the one quoted in the entry for Lytton Strachey: “When, as a conscientious objector in World War I, Strachey was asked what he would do if a foreign soldier tried to rape his sister, he replied dryly, ‘Do my best to get between them.’ ”

Altogether, this is a fascinating, well-researched book and an invaluable work of reference. It’s a pity the high price precludes its reaching a wider readership.

Cartoon: Warren Allen Smith heads on down
Warren Allen Smith heads on down

URI of this page :
Created : Sunday, 2000-10-29 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :