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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery Hardcover – 13 Mar 2014


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (13 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297869876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297869870
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.6 x 22.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (278 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Neurosurgery has met its Boswell in Henry Marsh. Painfully honest about the mistakes that can 'wreck' a brain, exquisitely attuned to the tense and transient bond between doctor and patient, and hilariously impatient of hospital management, Marsh draws us deep into medicine's most difficult art and lifts our spirits. It's a superb achievement (Ian McEwan)

As gripping and engrossing as the best medical drama, only with the added piquancy of being entirely true, this compelling account of what it's really like to be a brain surgeon will have you on the edge of your sunlounger (Sandra Parsons DAILY MAIL 'Summer Reading')

Do No Harm is a difficult book to read, not formally or technically - Marsh has a fluid, informal style - but because of the sheer sense of exposure. Puns aside, neurosurgery is at the cutting edge of what it means to be, not only a doctor with limited power to cure or palliate, but to be human ... The simple idea that doctors themselves are of the same flesh and blood as their patients, a fact often forgotten on both sides of the relationship, is at the core of ... Do No Harm (Seamus Sweeney TLS)

A mesmerising, at times painful journey through a neurosurgeon's extraordinary career. As delicate as he can be brutal, Marsh's account of himself if always honest and moving. Human frailty at its strongest. (Jessie Burton, author of THE MINIATURIST)

This is a beautifully written, humane, moving and darkly funny memoir by a senior consultant neuro-surgeon at St George's Hospital, Tooting... I was fascinated by this frank view of life on the other side of the anaesthetic mist. It takes us deep into both the human brain and the entrails of the NHS, and it is sometimes hard to know which is the more alarming (Patrick Marnham THE SPECTATOR Books of the Year)

Marsh has written a book about a love affair, and one cannot help feeling similarly smitten ... 'Elegant, delicate, dangerous and full of profound meaning'. All four of those epithets might describe this book (Ed Caesar THE SUNDAY TIMES)

Do No Harm is an elegant series of meditations at the closing of a long career. Many of the stories are moving enough to raise tears ... At heart, this is a book about wisdom and experience (Nicholas Blincoe THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh... sets a new standard for telling it like it is... His love for brain surgery and his patients shines through, but the specialty - shrouded in secrecy and mystique when he entered it - has now firmly had the rug pulled out from under it. We should thank Henry Marsh for that. We need his wisdom as a "roof" for future surgeons and a rein for public expectations. A good death, without surgery, is a very good outcome (Phil Hammond THE TIMES)

excellent... hugely compelling (William Leith THE SPECTATOR)

[Henry Marsh] has you on the edge of your seat... Henry Marsh's patients are living, individual people - he makes us feel we know them... Doctors seldom talk to us as frankly and freely as Mr Marsh. In the select band of those who take on this daily dance with high anxiety he must, I think, be a great man (Peter Lewis DAILY MAIL)

Marsh offers us a memoir of startling honesty... Marsh's frankness speaks of a reflective character who found an unconventional route to his career... Thirty years on he remains invigorated by the job - part Sherlock Holmes in diagnosis, part Action Man in theatre. At times he's positively gleeful, and we share his excitement as he puts us in his surgeon's shoes and guides us through the hidden topography of the brain (Ben Felsenburg THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

Brain surgeons such as Henry Marsh, the author of this startling and moving memoir, have to live breathe, operate and make urgent decisions in full awareness of a terrible dilemma: if they open the skull they might save the patient's life, but a slip of the scalpel can cause appalling disability which, as Marsh puts it, can be much worse than death... It's this disarming candour that makes the book such an enthralling read... fascinating (Gavin Francis THE GUARDIAN)

Do No Harm is in many respects a self-lacerating document: by and large, it contains stories not of triumph, or the author's skill and expertise, but of the emotional and psychological toll exacted when things go horribly wrong... His understanding of the nature of suffering is deep and personal (Erica Wagner NEW STATESMAN)

Why has no one ever written a book like this before? It simply tells the stories, with great tenderness, insight and self doubt, of a phenomenal neurosurgeon who has been at the height of his specialism for decades and now has chosen with retirement looming to write an honest book. Why haven't more surgeons written books, especially of this prosaic beauty?... Well, thank God for Henry Marsh... One of the finest admissions to emerge in this phenomenal book is that of every surgeon's dilemma... what a bloody, splendid book: commas optional (Euan Ferguson THE OBSERVER)

Henry Marsh is a neurosurgical consultant in a London teaching hospital, and his memoir, Do No Harm, offers an astonishing glimpse into this stressful career... The case histories are fascinating, but more importantly they are full of humanity. Marsh is the most honest author I've ever come across with regard to his own failings... This is a wonderful book, passionate and frank. If Marsh is even a tenth as good a neurosurgeon as he is a writer, I'd let him open my skull any time (Leyla Sanai THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

This is a deeply compassionate account of a professional life spent on the edge, a job which has huge highs and appalling lows... Henry Marsh is a world-class neurosurgeon but he is also a great storyteller... This is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary man (Dr Michael Mosley FOCUS)

Henry Marsh's unflinchingly honest and profoundly moving memoir... illuminates the life-and-death decisions neurosurgeons wrestle with daily, the intricate marvels of the brain's anatomy, the joys and scourges of technological advances, the frustrations of working in a cash-starved NHS and all the conflicting emotions these struggles evoke... Marsh conveys his awe of the human body with literary flair... courageous and inspirational (Wendy Moore LITERARY REVIEW)

I found this book a fascinating read and commend it. As far as I can discover, this is the first account of life by a surgeon working in today's health service (Harold Ellis, Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Biomedical Sciences, London BRITISH JOURNAL OF HOSPITAL MEDICINE)

An excellent book... Marsh is clearly an extraordinarily nice individual... It is a wonderful read, essential for anyone curious about what it's really like to be a surgeon (Jaffe and Neale Bookshop & Cafe banburyguardian.co.uk)

Do No Harm is [Marsh's] restless, unflinching memoir on the pain and exhilaration of his profession. It's told with searing candour... The lean, unadorned prose Marsh deploys to describe these every day details matches his soul-baring honesty... The book's daunting tenor is frequently punctuated by Marsh's scathingly black humour... It is unprecedented for a neurosurgeon to prise open their profession with such uncompromising frankness. Marsh's achievement is to humanise the complexities of neurosurgery by fearlessly exposing his own frailties (Brendan Daly SUNDAY BUSINESS POST (Ireland))

Elegantly written and heart-searingly truthful (Jacqueline Wilson THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

[Marsh] does brain and spinal cord surgery and a daily basis, and this account of his working life gives an extraordinary insight into his own thought processes as well as into the world of neurosurgical briefing meetings and hospital politics. Each chapter's starting point is a real-life case study, and the book conveys both an explorer's fascination with the human brain and the contradictory emotional demands of dispassionate observation and compassion required of a brain surgeon (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

When a book opens like this: "I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing" - you can't let it go, you have to read on, don't you? ... I trust completely the skills of those who practise [brain surgery], and tend to forget the human element, which is failures, misunderstandings, mistakes, luck and bad luck, but also the non-professional, everyday life that they have. Do No Harm by Henry Marsh reveals all of this, in the midst of life-threatening situations, and that's one reason to read it; true honesty in an unexpected place. But there are plenty of others (Karl Ove Knaussgard FINANCIAL TIMES)

I really liked Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. It's a book about being a brain surgeon. But it's also one of the best books I've ever read about how obsession works. At the start Marsh says: 'I often cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing.' He hates doing it but feels compelled to do it. It hurts his marriage. It's like a book about a man having an affair - with brain surgery (William Leith THE SPECTATOR Books of the Year)

An elegant series of meditations at the closing of a long career. Many of the stories are moving enough to raise tears, but at the heart this is a book about wisdom and experience (THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

A fascinating look inside the head of a man whose job it is to fiddle around in ours. He acknowledges that surgeons are arrogant, that they play God, but that they are also afflicted by despair, sorrow and doubt. He is scathing on NHS bureaucracy and his picture of doctors doing their best but basically flailing in the dark made me respect the profession more (Nick Curtis EVENING STANDARD)

Easily the most enthralling book of 2014, it is also scathing, searing and sensitive, proving that Marsh is as skilful with the written word as he is with the scalpel (Helen Davies THE SUNDAY TIMES 'Memoir of the Year')

Candid and elegantly written (Carl Wilkinson FINANCIAL TIMES 'Books of the Year')

An honest, humble and occasionally dramatic account... [Marsh] comes across as a reflective and sensitive man, intensely involved in his work and clearly needing to think and write about the ethical aspects of what he does (Francis Phillips CATHOLIC HERALD)

Fascinating insight into what it's like to play God, and Marsh is unflinchingly honest, near uncomfortably so on occasion about the highs and low that unfurl when holding not just another human being's life, but their very consciousness, in his hands (Lucy Scholes THE INDEPENDENT 'Books of the Year')

This is a beautifully written, humane, moving and darkly funny memoir... it takes us deep into both the human brain and the entrails of the NHS, and it is sometimes hard to know which is the more alarming (THE SPECTATOR (Books of the Year))

Book Description

An astonishingly candid insight into the life and work of a modern neurosurgeon - its triumphs and disasters.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

159 of 161 people found the following review helpful By David W. Berger on 17 Mar 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I graduated from St. George’s Hospital Medical School in 1991 and well remember doing a neurosurgical attachment at Atkinson Morley’s Hospital in Wimbledon, where Mr. Marsh was a consultant before the hospital moved to the St. George’s site. I found the experience horrifying and the visions of people lying in rows of beds on the old Nightingale wards, shattered psychologically, physically and neurologically, reminiscent of a field hospital at Sevastopol, has stayed with me. This outstanding book is somehow reassuring to me because it shows that the existential awfulness of neurosurgical illnesses and treatments is not lost on all neurosurgeons and Mr. Marsh gives us a page-turning series of vignettes which get to the heart of what it is to be a neurosurgeon (and by extension a doctor of any kind) dealing with these kinds of conditions.

Although they are experienced in sharpest relief day in and day out in neurosurgery, this book teases out the dilemmas facing all doctors who deal with life and death illnesses. It is clear that the author’s experience prior to medical school as a geriatric nurse, teacher in Africa and Oxford student of PPE has furnished him with the literary tools and perspective to be able to portray these impossible situations in an eloquent fashion and he brings us uncomfortably close to the anxiety, doubt and equivocation which must affect anyone doing this job who has an ounce of sensitivity.

Lest this sound too much like a hagiography, it must be stated that although he comes across as a man of great compassion and sensitivity, the book reveals Mr. Marsh to have more than a few elements of the old school, irascible, patrician consultant surgeon about him.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Bali Babe on 15 Mar 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having worked as a theatre nurse with several neurosugeons I always found brains, brain surgeons and their work fascinating. Mr Marsh manages to paint a picture in the readers mind of the patients, the hospital staff and his reasons for choosing his line of work, I wont go into more detail in case of spoilers. I read an extract in The Times and couldn't wait to get my hands on the book. It arrived yesterday and by the evening I'd finished it. I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next to Henry and his patients. He's an excellent storyteller with a fascinating and varied CV and obviously cares deeply for his patients. By the end of the book I was Googling about a career in neurosurgery and wanting to work with him!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Damaskcat HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 Nov 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have put off reading this book for several months because just after I bought it someone close to me died of a brain injury. Having steeled myself to read it, I found it a harrowing but ultimately reassuring read. It seems that any sort of brain surgery has a relatively large failure rate and that medical science still doesn't know as much about the brain and how to treat its problems as everyone would wish.

I liked the author's style and even though he does not spare himself when it comes to cataloguing his failures I felt if I was being treated by him I would trust him implicitly. It must be hugely difficult not to be able to offer patients and their families hope when someone has an injury or a tumour on their brain but sometimes it is kinder to do nothing and let nature take its course. Hardly anyone would think that being in a persistent vegetative state is preferable to death. The skill of any medical professional lies as much in knowing when to do nothing as it does in when to intervene.

Even when surgery goes well there are always dangers of possible complications afterwards. Strokes are a very really possibility after any sort of brain surgery. This book is far from being all doom and gloom. There is plenty of black humour, some marvellously touching moments and a fascinating insight into the problems of operating on the brain. There are some success stories as well which to the patients concerned appear miraculous.

If you like reading about things medical then I recommend this book whole heartedly. It isn't an easy read and you may well need plenty of tissues to hand at times but it is a worthwhile read.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Brian R. Martin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 25 Mar 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Henry Marsh is one of the UK’s leading neurosurgeons, and has been the subject of two award-winning TV programmes. His background is unconventional, having done a series of rather menial jobs, and taken a degree in PPE at Oxford, before starting medical training and eventually deciding to specialise in neurosurgery. Now nearing retirement, he has written this superb, compelling book about what it means to be a surgeon working in a field where every day one is required to make agonizing decisions, and where even a minor error can have catastrophic life-changing consequences for the patient.

Many of the short chapters describe specific cases, from the initial consultation, through to the diagnosis, then the operation, and finally the outcome. The descriptions of the operations are given in ‘real time’ and are riveting. One can almost see the surgeon cutting his way through the brain to reach the offending material and share his elation when the operation is successful; but also his anxiety when he encounters something unexpected, and his dismay when things go wrong. Marsh does not prevaricate when this happens and honestly admits that he has made many mistakes over his long career that have ruined the lives of his patients. One such error eventually cost the insurers £6M. This openness is rare in the culture of today’s NHS. These accounts are interwoven with personal details about his own life: for example, the fears he experienced when other members of own family have become ill, the moving description of the final days of his mother, and his long-term charity work in Ukraine.

Marsh is obviously ‘old school’, irascible and hierarchical, having little sympathy with NHS managers and other apparatchiks, and their political masters. Doubtless he has made enemies.
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