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Do No Harm

Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

Henry Marsh


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ISBN10: 125009013X
ISBN13: 9781250090133

Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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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 lifesaving operation when it all goes wrong?

With astonishing compassion and candor, leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets and the moments of black humor that characterize a brain surgeon’s life. Do No Harm provides 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.


Praise for Do No Harm

"Henry Marsh peels back the meninges to reveal the glistening, harrowing, and utterly compelling world of neurosurgery. Top-notch medical writing."—Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine

"The outstanding feature of Do No Harm is the author's completely candid description of the highs and lows of a neurosurgical career . . . For its unusual and admirable candor, wisdom and humor, Do No Harm is a smashing good read from which the most experienced and the most junior neurosurgeons have much to learn."—AANS Neurosurgeon

“This thoughtful doctor provides a highly personal and fascinating look inside the elite world of neurosurgery, appraising both its amazing successes as well as its sobering failures.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Like the work of his fellow physicians Jerome Groopman and Atul Gawande, Do No Harm offers insight into the life of doctors and the quandaries they face as we throw our outsize hopes into their fallible hands.”—The Washington Post

“Riveting . . . [Marsh] gives us an extraordinarily intimate, compassionate and sometimes frightening understanding of his vocation.”—The New York Times

“The Knausgaard of neurosurgery . . . Marsh writes like a novelist.”—The New Yorker

“A surprising page-turner, Do No Harm is British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh's mesmerizing memoir of his career highlights and low points, a fascinating blend of derring-do and humble pie . . . Marsh's prose is elegant and seasoned, with no false bravado . . . Marsh's gift for words helps him share his sense of wonder with his readers.”—The Seattle Times

“There's no denying the vicarious thrill of peeking over a neurosurgeon's shoulder in the operating theater, and Dr. Marsh delivers plenty of hospital drama. Yet what sticks with you are the moments when the lens flips and the field of view widens, and you realize that, in learning about the minutiae of neurosurgery, you're gaining insight into life itself.”—The Wall Street Journal

“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

“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? Brain surgery, that's the most remote thing for me, I don't know anything about it, and as it is with everything I'm ignorant of, I trust completely the skills of those who practice it, 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: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery 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—for instance, the mechanical, material side of being, that we also are wire and strings that can be fixed, not unlike cars and washing machines, really.”—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Financial Times

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Henry Marsh

HENRY MARSH studied medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London, became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1984 and was appointed Consultant Neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley's/St George's Hospital in London in 1987. He has been the subject of two documentary films, Your Life in Their Hands, which won the Royal Television Society Gold Medal, and The English Surgeon, which won an Emmy, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Do No Harm and NBCC finalist Admissions. He was made a CBE in 2010.

Henry Marsh

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