Discipline: Literature

Lewis Browne

Discipline: Literature
MacDowell Fellowships: 1927, 1928
Lewis Browne (1897 –1949) was a writer, philosopher, lecturer, and world traveler. A rabbi, Browne turned to writing popular histories and biographies including This Believing World (1926), The Graphic Bible (1928, illustrations by Mark Rothko), and The Wisdom of Israel (1945). His 1943 novel See What I Mean? was regarded as a counterpart to It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, Browne's frequent debate partner on the 1940s lecture circuit. Browne was considered one of the foremost authorities on the problems of comparative religion. In 1912 his family immigrated to the U.S. from London and settled in Portland, OR. He received a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1919, and a bachelor of Hebrew degree from Hebrew Union College in 1920. He was ordained at Temple Israel in Waterbury, CT. Browne's first book, Stranger Than Fiction, was a one-volume history of the Jews published in 1925. His second book, This Believing World (1926), was a survey of world religions that received an honorable mention from AIGA for its design and became the most popular book on religions in American libraries. Its success made Browne one of the foremost humanists of the day, and an interesting speaker known for his philosophical turn of mind and warm sense of humor. Browne left the rabbinate in 1926 to concentrate on writing, and spent much of the year in Russia, studying the effect of Soviet rule on the practice of religion. In the U.S. he labored in lumber camps and steel mills, and travelled with migrant workers. His third book, The Graphic Bible (1928), was first serialized in newspapers throughout the U.S. before it was released as a limited-edition book. Browne commissioned Marcus Rothkowitz — who later shortened his name to Mark Rothko — to illustrate the book, intended for young readers. Rothko's bitter experience with The Graphic Bible led him to sue Browne and his publisher; the lawsuit was unsuccessful. As well as his many books, Browne wrote for The Nation, The New Republic and other magazines. In the 1940s he toured nationwide with author Sinclair Lewis, debating such questions as "Has the Modern Woman Made Good?", "The Country Versus the City" and "Can Fascism Happen Here?" before audiences of as many as 3,000 people. Because of their frequent appearances together, Browne's anti-fascist 1943 novel See What I Mean? drew comparison to Lewis's It Can't Happen Here (1935). Browne died January 3, 1949, at his home in Santa Monica at age 51. His death was ruled an apparent suicide by poison. Browne's papers were purchased by the Lilly Library in 1969.



Lewis Browne worked in the Sprague-Smith studio.

In January of 1976, the original Sprague-Smith Studio — built in 1915–1916 and funded by music students of Mrs. Charles Sprague-Smith of the Veltin School — was destroyed by fire. Redesigned by William Gnade, Sr., a Peterborough builder, the fieldstone structure was rebuilt the same year from the foundation up, reusing the original fieldstone. A few…

Learn more