His routine was the same every day for 38 years: up at 4:15, make a turkey-on-rye, drive the deserted Henry Hudson Parkway to the hospital, check the schedule, scrub, cut, reattach, save a life or two, repeat. Until March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic shut hospital surgeries all over the world.
Craig Smith, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, went from performing heart surgeries on patients both everyday and celebrated (he performed the quadruple bypass that saved Bill Clinton’s life in 2004) to sitting in his tomb-quiet office looking out at George Washington Bridge. And he started to write. His Covid emails were balm to the staffers and later became celebrated for Dr. Smith’s care and thought in his assessment of the work of the hospital–of any hospital.
Nobility in Small Things not only takes us into the mind and soul of a surgeon with the ability to “play God” but into the heart of a man who chose a lifesaving career. The book introduces us to patients and peers, and moves from family-building and heartbreak at home, to the tragic suicide of two fellow M.D.s. Dr. Smith also writes vulnerably about his debilitating social anxiety and how he overcame it.
Dr. Smith shows us not just the making of a surgeon in Nobility in Small Things, but the maintenance of one: the deep feeling and moral philosophy that anchor the daily miracles that define his profession.
“Cardiothoracic surgeon Smith … makes his book debut with a forthright memoir about his roundabout path to medicine and the commitment and accountability inherent in being a physician … A candid picture of a surgeon’s life.” - Kirkus Reviews
"[A] vivid, warts-and-all memoir." - Publishers Weekly
"Craig Smith is an extraordinary surgeon—I know that from personal experience. In Nobility in Small Things, he shows readers what a remarkable, ethical, thoughtful human being he is as well. This book is much more than a medical memoir; it’s an elegant work of literature, honoring where he comes from and revealing his inner life.” – President Bill Clinton
“A book of staggering reach. Smith is a legendary heart surgeon. His writing is powerful. Personal. And filled with lessons beyond words.” – Diane Sawyer
“There have been many dark and challenging times in our nation’s history when steadfast, unwavering voices brought light and hope. They were truth tellers, folks who didn’t candy coat the difficulties and yet still inspired the best of us to endure, to rise to the challenge, to beat the odds. Craig Smith is one of those voices. During the depth of a global pandemic his words helped lift so many of us. His story, his journey, is a compelling narrative of a servant leader who in times of trial emerged as a humble hero.” – Senator Cory Booker
"Would you choose a surgeon who has reached his pinnacle over one who is a work in progress? In this wonderful and courageous book, Craig Smith dares to reveal himself as both—and we like him for it. Precise, masterful, perfectionistic, but also poetic, self-searching, philosophical: a world-renowned surgeon who literally holds hearts in his hands during the day and stands at night in the cold wet grass searching the dark sky for hope. Immersed in Smith's extraordinary narrative, we realize: This is who I want operating on me. You may never see a surgeon the same way after reading this book. " - Amy Silverstein, author of Sick Girl
“Cardiothoracic surgeon Smith … makes his book debut with a forthright memoir about his roundabout path to medicine and the commitment and accountability inherent in being a physician … A candid picture of a surgeon’s life.” - Kirkus