Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery – Henry Marsh

Published September 27, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

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 griping, 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.

What did I think?:

I was recommended this book by a little app I use on my phone called 60sec Books which is a fantastic way of getting a quick snippet of what a book is about in, you guessed it, 60 seconds! I’m so glad I read it, it has to be my favourite non-fiction book this year and was my first read for “Real Book” August. The reader gets a glimpse into the world of prominent neurosurgeon Henry Marsh who works in what is for me, the scariest area of medicine, brain surgery. In this job, you have to be on the ball as you are working with the most complex organ in the human body. One little mistake can completely ruin the life of a patient forever or lead to the patient’s death. Each short chapter is superbly titled with a Latin terminology to describe a disease state or medical process, for example – Chapter 1 – Pineocytoma, and then there is a short definition underneath – n. an uncommon, slow-growing tumour of the pineal gland. Each chapter often mentions a case from the initial diagnosis, through to treatment and the outcome. Marsh describes each case with incredible compassion and real interest and is brutally honest about the mistakes that he has made as a surgeon. This could be something done by him directly such as a delayed diagnosis or letting a more junior surgeon take up the operating tools leading to disaster, but one he takes full responsibility for himself, as the lead surgeon.

Each case is so interesting to read about and I enjoyed the black humour and self-depreciating style that Marsh employed from time to time, an attitude he often takes which is important for him to be able to get through the dark times. Indeed, some of the cases were so heart-breaking or overwhelming that I often had to stop and take a break between chapters, just to absorb it all before I carried on. I did have a little laugh when he got on his soapbox about NHS management and the way hospitals are run. I salute you Mr Marsh! More people need to speak out about this issue and I admire him for doing so. Don’t be put off by this book being a bit too science-y, I think that it’s written in such a way that it’s easily accessible to everyone, no matter what your science knowledge is. For me, it’s a beautiful, honest and intriguing look at the world of brain surgery and I’d like to thank Henry Marsh for allowing us to have a little peep into his world.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


3 comments on “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery – Henry Marsh

Comments make me go to my happy place...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: