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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery [Hardcover]

Henry Marsh
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
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Book Description

13 Mar 2014

What is it like to be a brain surgeon?

How does it feel to hold someone's life in your hands, to cut into the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?

How do you live with the consequences of performing a potentially life-saving operation when it all goes wrong?

In neurosurgery, more than in any other branch of medicine, the doctor's oath to 'do no harm' holds a bitter irony. Operations on the brain carry grave risks. Every day, Henry Marsh must make agonising decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.

If you believe that brain surgery is a precise and exquisite craft, practised by calm and detached surgeons, this gripping, brutally honest account will make you think again. With astonishing compassion and candour, one of the country's leading neurosurgeons reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets and the moments of black humour that characterise a brain surgeon's life.

DO NO HARM is an unforgettable insight into the countless human dramas that take place in a busy modern hospital. Above all, it is a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life's most difficult decisions.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (13 Mar 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0297869876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297869870
  • Product Dimensions: 22.5 x 14.5 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


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 accoutn 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')

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

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 Knausgaard FINANCIAL TIMES)

Book Description

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

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Customer Reviews

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4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 73 people found the following review helpful
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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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't put it down! 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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars really fascinating read 16 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As a friend of someone going through a neurological diagnosis I found this book to be both harrowing and hopeful. It have me an insight into what goes on as we as friends and family patiently wait.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely fantastic ! 23 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What a book ! One of the best I've ever read. Like everyone, I tend to admire surgeons for their capacities. Henry Marsh is right when he says that we, simple patients, see them as Gods and beacons of hope. However, this book tells you the human part of the God. His doubts, his fears, his joys and his pains. Reading this book, I smiled, I cried, I cringed my teeth but it made feel good. I don't know Mr Marsh and I sincerely hope I won't have to arrange a meeting with him but I'm in awe of the man.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read. 10 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having met this wonderfully kind and understanding surgeon who decided not to operate on my brain back in 1991 (Yes I'm still here and fine!) I was v keen to read his book which confirms what an unusually diligent, kind and highly skilled surgeon Henry Marsh is. His book is an easy read with medical terms used and explained only where necessary.His genuine concern for his patients and their families is heartwarming. How I admire his staying within the NHS with all the frustrations and seemingly ridiculous hoops that have to be gone through with more and more layers of 'management'. He explains some of his excitement approaching a challenging situation within someones brain as he looks down the microscope preparing to go in with his specialist tools and he also does not shy away from writing about the terrible risks you sometimes have to take or the dreadful occasions where things do go horribly horribly wrong. Thank heaven there are men like Henry Marsh with the honesty, courage, humour understanding and knowledge to help the rest of us deal with those life changing dangerous moments and more often than not give us a brighter outlook. A fascinating, humbling read that will also have you chuckling along the way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful book, wonderful man 30 May 2014
By Eleanor
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Loved this book, what an amazing man. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. I can't add to all the praise it has already got.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do No Harm 27 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What a fantastic read for anybody interested in the work of such a talented man as Henry Marsh. An inspiring read from start to finish.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing account 27 May 2014
By foxmum
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a book! I stayed up nearly all night. I simply couldn't close it. An amazing, heartfelt account of an intelligent and compassionate surgeon. A view you won't get anywhere else. It made me completely reassess how I think about myself and my own mind. This is a must read. An absolute tour do force!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars No Thank You
I don’t know Henry Marsh and I don’t particularly want to. Henry Marsh comes across as difficult and committed, optimistic and utterly despondent. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Hamish Adam
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Should be compulsory reading for trainee doctors! Thought-provoking & a "page-turner" all at once.
Published 6 days ago by Isabelle Paterson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
well written holds your attention
Published 7 days ago by Roy Lowe
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
This is an excellent and informative account of the national health service and it's procedures told in a humane way.
Published 8 days ago by Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly 'must read', honest memoir.
Prof. Marsh comes across as a profoundly caring and modest, yet brilliant individual who is not afraid to describe the changes in the attitudes of a good surgeon as he/she gains... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Willliam, Oxford
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight
An fascinating insight into a very special world. Beautifully written in a matter of fact, almost self deprecating, style.
A joy to read.
Published 9 days ago by Iain C Grant
5.0 out of 5 stars You Must Read It!
Amazing...I would so love to meet this man! Haven't finished the book yet but so far have laughed and cried out loud. A must for anyone who works in the NHS. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Mrs H K Helm
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
This book is a brilliant insight into the reality of modern surgery and the highs and lows of the responsibility for others lives, delivered with truth by Henry Marsh, an... Read more
Published 11 days ago by YLF
4.0 out of 5 stars It gives a rather worrying insight into the state of the NHS but it...
Henry Marsh treated our son for a brain tumour and I ordered the book out of interest and to support his work. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Lizi Q
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Well worth reading, if you have any interest in medicine
Published 18 days ago by Louise Cooke
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