Do No Harm

Do No Harm

Winner of the PEN Ackerley Prize and the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature

Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award; Duff Cooper Prize; Wellcome Book Prize; Guardian First Book Award; and Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize

Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction


What is it like to be a brain surgeon?

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

How do you live with the consequences when it all goes wrong?

DO NO HARM offers an unforgettable insight into the highs and lows of a life dedicated to operating on the human brain, in all its exquisite complexity. With astonishing candour and compassion, Henry Marsh reveals the exhilarating drama of surgery, the chaos and confusion of a busy modern hospital, and above all the need for hope when faced with life’s most agonising decisions.
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Reviews

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 account of what it's really like to be a brain surgeon will have you on the edge of your sunlounger
DAILY MAIL
Do No Harm is a difficult book to read, not formally or technically but because of the sheer sense of exposure. Puns aside, neurosurgery is at the cutting edge of what it means to be, not only a doctor with limited power to cure or palliate, but to be human ... The simple idea that doctors themselves are of the same flesh and blood as their patients, a fact often forgotten on both sides of the relationship, is at the core of Do No Harm
TLS
A mesmerising, at times painful journey through a neurosurgeon's extraordinary career. As delicate as he can be brutal, Marsh's account of himself is always honest and moving. Human frailty at its strongest
A beautifully written, humane, moving and darkly funny memoir. I was fascinated by this frank view of life on the other side of the anaesthetic mist. It takes us deep into both the human brain and the entrails of the NHS, and it is sometimes hard to know which is the more alarming
THE SPECTATOR Books of the Year
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
THE SUNDAY TIMES
An elegant series of meditations at the closing of a long career. Many of the stories are moving enough to raise tears, but at the heart this is a book about wisdom and experience
DAILY TELEGRAPH
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
THE TIMES
Excellent . . . hugely compelling
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
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
MAIL ON SUNDAY
An enthralling read . . . a testimony of wonder . . . Marsh's style is admirably clear, concise and precise . . There is no forcing of a narrative arc or a happy ending, just the quotidian frustrations, sorrows, regrets and successes of neurosurgical life
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
NEW STATESMAN
[Do No Harm] simply tells the stories, with great tenderness, insight and self-doubt . . . Why haven't more surgeons written books, especially of this prosaic beauty? Well, thank God for Henry Marsh . . . What a bloody, splendid book: commas optional
OBSERVER
Offers an astonishing glimpse into this stressful career. 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
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
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
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
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
banburyguardian.co.uk
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
SUNDAY BUSINESS POST (Ireland)
Elegantly written and heart-searingly truthful
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 . . . 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
FINANCIAL TIMES
I really liked Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. It's a book about being a brain surgeon. But it's also one of the best books I've ever read about how obsession works. At the start Marsh says: 'I often cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing.' He hates doing it but feels compelled to do it. It hurts his marriage. It's like a book about a man having an affair - with brain surgery
THE SPECTATOR Books of the Year
A fascinating look inside the head of a man whose job it is to fiddle around in ours. He acknowledges that surgeons are arrogant, that they play God, but that they are also afflicted by despair, sorrow and doubt. He is scathing on NHS bureaucracy and his picture of doctors doing their best but basically flailing in the dark made me respect the profession more
EVENING STANDARD
Easily the most enthralling book of 2014, it is also scathing, searing and sensitive, proving that Marsh is as skilful with the written word as he is with the scalpel
THE SUNDAY TIMES 'Memoir of the Year'
Candid and elegantly written
FINANCIAL TIMES 'Books of the Year'
An honest, humble and occasionally dramatic account... [Marsh] comes across as a reflective and sensitive man, intensely involved in his work and clearly needing to think and write about the ethical aspects of what he does
CATHOLIC HERALD
Fascinating insight into what it's like to play God, and Marsh is unflinchingly honest, near uncomfortably so on occasion about the highs and low that unfurl when holding not just another human being's life, but their very consciousness, in his hands
THE INDEPENDENT 'Books of the Year'
What readers and critics have warmed to so much in Marsh's account of life as a neurosurgeon isn't just the details of crucial operations, but his disarming honesty about his "failures", ... simply because he is human
SUNDAY HERALD
A strikingly honest and humane account of what it means to hold the power of life and death in your hands . . . elegant, edifying and necessary
NEW STATESMAN 'Books of the Year'
An astonishing memoir, a searingly honest book from a senior doctor that offers intense insights into life and death. With candour and compassion, Marsh draws readers into agonising decisions over delicate, microscopic surgery that he compares with bomb disposal work, such are the catastrophic consequences of mistakes. A brilliant and unforgettable work, it fully deserves all the praise... an extraordinary work raises issues of profound political and societal importance that are the legacy of an aging society, twisted attitudes to disability and the skills of those such as the author. More politicians should follow the Prime Minister's lead by reading this book; some might even be spurred into challenging a debate suffering severe paralysis. "Do no harm" is a good mantra for politicians as well as physicians
THE INDEPENDENT
There can seldom have been a more candid account of a life's-worth of dangerous surgery... Henry Marsh spares us nothing of his experiences in the theatre... this unique and gripping story of a hero of the operating theater
DAILY MAIL 'Best Biographies and Memoirs 2014'
Marsh has nothing to hide...He tries not to extinguish hope when there is barely any, and not to be forced to operate when the outlook is futile. He does not always succeed and the astonishing openness of his confessions is moving.
THE TIMES
An enthralling, moving memoir about the massive pressures of a brain surgeon's life
OBSERVER
What he captures superbly is the obsessive nature of his job.
EVENING STANDARD
Henry Marsh has clearly enjoyed the satisfaction of the technical skill involved in removing the rumour, and restoring the sick.
GOOD BOOK GUIDE
Expert, humble and profoundly human
TELEGRAPH 'Books Review of 2014'
A nerve-jangling and scarily honest dissection of life as a neurosurgeon. Full of compassion for his patients, Marsh captures the catastrophic risk of the slightest slip of the scalpel
EXPRESS.CO.UK
A brilliantly told account of a career as a neurological consultant that illustrates the intricacies of surgery and the complexities of making life and death decisions on a daily basis. Marsh has a gift for storytelling as he vividly talks us through past operations and gives an animated account of cutting into heads and sucking away pieces of tumours. His appreciation of his human fallibility, along with the numerous scary moments when procedures go wrong and surgical instruments fail, make this an admirable, educational and thrilling read
DAILY MAIL
A vivid, impatient, rigorously detailed book about his life as a brain surgeon. He's candid about surgical catastrophe, outraged by the NHS's culture of managerialism, tender in the face of his patients' distress and stoicism
OBSERVER 'Best Books of 2014'
In this autopsy of an obsession, Henry Marsh seeks to explain how he hates cutting into the stuff that creates thought, feeling and music but just can't stop himself. So elegantly written it is little wonder some say that in Mr Marsh neurosurgery has found its Boswell
THE ECONOMIST 'Books of the Year'
Breathtaking. The title is ironic: Marsh, uncharacteristically for a medical man, reveals that the traditional and estimable doctors' oath to "do no harm" is an unachievable counsel of perfection - certainly in his field - and he writes accessibly for non-scientists
HERALD SCOTLAND 'Books of the Year'
No amount of squeamishness could dim the power of Henry Marsh's Do No Harm, a remarkable account of what it feels like to be a neurosurgeon. This wonderfully humane and unsentimental piece of writing reveals a writer who wields the pen as effectively as the scalpel
HERALD SCOTLAND 'Books of the Year'
A thrilling, often terrifying, strangely funny memoir by a neurosurgeon about the lives he has saved, and the lives he has irrevocably wrecked - a poignant, thoughtful exploration of the fragility of human life and intellect, and the frailty and miracles of medicine
HUFFINGTON POST 'Authors Pick the Best Books of 2014'
Marsh's descriptions of the practice of surgery (he likens its intricacy to bomb disposal) are poetic and addictive. He is pleasing if grouchy company, ultimately appearing superhuman even as he sets out to demystify the job
GUARDIAN 'Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2014'
Incredibly absorbing . . . an astonishingly candid insight
If someone is going to saw your head open, just hope it is the eminent neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, who writes powerfully here of his own experiences... he comes across as a man of deep insight and great compassion. Indeed, some of the most moving passages in the bookare when he comes face to face with his 'mistakes'. Quite brilliant
TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT
Brain surgeon Henry Marsh's memoir is an honest, sometimes alarming and always compelling account of his working life and the difficulties doctors face
WOMAN & HOME
Riveting . . . extraordinarily intimate, compassionate and sometimes frightening . . . [Marsh] writes with uncommon power and frankness
NEW YORK TIMES
One of the most compelling and life-affirming books to have been published all year. Taking us from what it's like to feel someone's brain in your hands to the experience of telling a loved one what is going on in a patient's psyche, it lets us in on both the physical mysteries and the emotional complexities of brain surgery. It reads like a thriller rather than a text book and it's an extraordinary look at what makes us human
THE DEBRIEF
An arrestingly candid memoir by a consultant surgeon that explores with bracing honesty the view from the other end of the knife
THE SUNDAY TIMES '100 Biographies to Love'
This book is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping read through the trials and tribulations of the author Henry Marsh's career as a brain surgeon ... It brought me to tears to think of how lonely the life of a brain surgeon can be... Students, nurses doctors, pick this book up and enjoy the ride!
NURSING TIMES
Beautifully written, recklessly honest and morally complex. Marsh writes superbly about the intricacies of the human body, about the sometimes conflicting impulses of professional ambition and human need, and about the difficulty of talking honestly to patients and their families in times of medical crisis. These 'Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery' present a compelling argument about the moral dimension of surgical intervention and build to a touching and rueful self-portrait
A compelling, refreshing and honest read about the certainties of youth taken over by the regrets and doubts of old age, NHS bureaucracy and a passion for brain surgery... Hope is what shines through in this book. That, and a man's compassion and continued love affair with brain surgery
NURSING STANDARD
This exhilarating and candid memoir of a neurosurgeon ... conveys the excitement and awful responsibility of operating on the centre of human thought, emotion and identity on a daily basis. If Marsh is even half as good a surgeon as he is a writer, the NHS should be very sorry indeed that he retired this year.
A LITTLE BIRD
Do No Harm elegantly describes the slow and perilous nature of the author's work - removing a brain tumour can be like defusing a bomb ... gripping reading
STRONG WORDS