Double Review: Henry Marsh

Hello my darlings!

I was lucky enough to hear Henry Marsh talk at the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival back in May of this year. He is such a humble and honest man for someone that has achieved such greatness in his life. He is also supposedly one of the first to give a true account of his work, including his ‘failures’, something which has seemed to become a bit of a trend in the past few years. I bought both books at the event and was lucky enough to get them both signed. We chatted for a little which and he did not seem to want to rush people along (despite there being a rather large line), he was incredibly personable which for me, makes these books even more brilliant.

I always find it difficult to review non-fiction books, for two reasons. The first being that I am definitely not an expert in the fields in which I read about, not by any stretch of the imagination. The second, because who am I to ‘review’ someones thoughts and experiences on their own life? So for the reviews today I am just going to give you a quick run down on what I thought and a star rating.

“Some of my operations are great triumphs and tremendous. But they’re only triumphs because there are also disasters”
― Henry Marsh, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Do No Harm
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.
Do No Harm was the first book I read following Henry Marsh’s talk at the festival, as it is the one that was published first. One of my favourite things about Do No Harm is the chapter titles, each named after an illness within the brain. For example, Neurotmesis, the complete severance of a peripheral nerve and Leucotomy, the surgical cutting of traces of white nerve fibres in the brain. How amazing is that? No only are you learning from the book by reading Henry’s experiences but you’re also gaining some factual knowledge about the brain too! 5/5 stars. You can get your copy of Do No Harm here*.

Following the publication of Do No Harm, Dr. Henry Marsh retired from his position at a hospital in London. But his career continued, taking him to remote hospitals in places such as Nepal and Pakistan, where he offers his services as surgeon and teacher to those in need. Now, Marsh considers the challenges of working in those difficult conditions, alongside the challenges of putting a career of fifty years behind you and finding further purpose in life and work. In Admissions, Marsh offers a thoughtful, perceptive consideration of medicine and the pursuit of a meaningful life that will appeal to readers of Atul Gawande, Jerome Groopman, and Oliver Sacks.
After reading Do No Harm I immediately dived into Admissions. I needed more. And while I didn’t love Admissions as much as Do No Harm, it is still a really great book. Admissions is set out differently from Marsh’s first book in the sense that the chapters follow his life and his travels, rather than particular brain conditions. My favourite chapter in this books is Ukraine, where he talks about the work that he undertook while in post-soviet Kiev. This for me was both heart-wrenching and inspiring. It inspires to do more, to be better. I gave Admissions 4/5 and suggested that you pick up your own copy now*.

Peace and pages



2 Replies to “Double Review: Henry Marsh”

  1. Lucybird says:

    I loved ‘Do No Harm’, in fact I like medical biographies in general. This one was so eye opening though, and all the others I’d read at the time were from an American perspective so I liked the NHS element too. I haven’t got ahold of Admissions yet, but I do want to read it

    Liked by 1 person

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