Summary and book reviews of Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Do No Harm

Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

by Henry Marsh

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2015, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

An unforgettable insight into the countless human dramas that take place in a busy modern hospital, and a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life's most difficult decisions.

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?

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, leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh must make agonizing decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.

If you believe that brain surgery is a precise and exquisite craft, practiced by calm and detached doctors, this gripping, brutally honest account will make you think again. With astonishing compassion and candor, 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.

Shortlisted for both the Guardian First Book Prize and the Costa Book Award.
Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
A Finalist for the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize.
A Finalist for the Wellcome Book Prize
A Financial Times Best Book of the Year
An Economist Best Book of the Year

18
CARCINOMA
n. a cancer, esp. one arising in epithelial tissue.

I went to see my mother in hospital one Saturday. The cancer ward to which she had been admitted was on the tenth floor and her bed was beside a huge panoramic window. The view was of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge across the river, seen from above yet very close. The spring weather was exceptionally clear. The River Thames below us reflected the sunlight like polished steel and hurt my eyes. The city beyond was almost oppressive in its clarity – an unrelenting view of buildings, inhuman in scale and size – an inappropriate view, I thought, for somebody who was dying.

My mother said that the staff were very friendly but hopelessly overworked and disorganized compared to when she had been a patient in the same hospital many years earlier, gesturing to her bed which had been left unmade for two days as she said this. She hated complaining but admitted she had been kept starved for two consecutive days...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The author manages to strike just the right balance between the use of technical language and vernacular so that the prose conveys his medical expertise without losing readers in the jargon. His writing is also beautifully descriptive and clearly articulates his excitement for — and love of — the act of brain surgery even after decades of practice, and his first-person perspective adds a sense of immediacy to the narrative. Marsh's incredible honesty is what makes this book truly stand out. Do No Harm is a revealing look at the inner world of neuroscience and the doctors who perform this complicated surgery, as well as a fascinating self-portrait of an expert in this field.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (753 words).

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Media Reviews

The New Yorker

The Knausgaard of neurosurgery. ... Marsh writes like a novelist.

The Washington Post

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 New York Times

Riveting. ... [Marsh] gives us an extraordinarily intimate, compassionate and sometimes frightening understanding of his vocation.

The Seattle Times

A surprising page-turner...[a] 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 Wall Street Journal

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Booklist

Starred Review. One of the best books ever about a life in medicine, Do No Harm boldly and gracefully exposes the vulnerability and painful privilege of being a physician.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Beautifully written and deeply moving: one of the best physician memoirs in recent memory.

The Financial Times (UK)

True honesty in an unexpected place.

The Times (UK)

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.

Author Blurb Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, author of The Organized Mind and This Is Your Brain On Music
Marsh, one of our leading neurosurgeons, is an eloquent and poetic writer. Do No Harm offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the most mysterious part of human life. His descriptions of neurosurgery are at once fascinating and illuminating; a gripping memoir of an extraordinary career.

Author Blurb Michael J. Collins, author of Hot Lights, Cold Steel
Do No Harm is a penetrating, in-the-trenches look at the life of a modern day neurosurgeon. With rare and unflinching honesty, Henry Marsh describes not only the soaring triumphs but the shattering tragedies that are so much a part of every surgeon's life. A remarkable achievement.

Author Blurb Katrina Firlik, author of Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside
A soul-baring account of a practical-minded neurosurgeon who does not suffer fools or believe in souls, who favors 'statistical outlier' over 'miracle,' and who admits that a surgeon's ultimate achievement is marked by patients who 'recover completely and forget us completely.' Readers, however, will not soon forget Dr. Marsh.

Author Blurb Paul Ruggieri M.D., surgeon and author of Confessions of a Surgeon and The Cost of Cutting
The personal patient stories are gripping, providing the public with an incredibly candid look into the imperfections and perfections of a dedicated neurosurgeon...You will not be able to put this book down.

Author Blurb Michael Paul Mason, author of Head Cases
Do No Harm dares to reveal the raw and tender humanity behind brain surgery. Each story invites readers into the private thoughts of a neurosurgeon and astonishes them with the counterintuitive compassion required in the operating room.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Human Brain

British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, the author of Do No Harm, operates on the brain.

The Mayfield Clinic provides this succinct description of the organ: "Nothing in the world can compare with the human brain. This mysterious three-pound organ controls all necessary functions of the body, receives and interprets information from the outside world, and embodies the essence of the mind and soul. Intelligence, creativity, emotion, and memories are a few of the many things governed by the brain."

Parts of the Brain The brain, as we all know, is housed in a person's skull, specifically in the cranium - a bony enclosure formed by eight separate bones that fuse together during childhood. The inside of the cranium is divided into three separate areas: The ...

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