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

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  25,522 ratings  ·  2,229 reviews
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 bitt
Kindle Edition, 289 pages
Published May 26th 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published March 13th 2014)
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Diana It shows the emotional toll the outcomes of operations, but more difficult in his mind, the decision to operate. It is an insight to the humanity of o…moreIt shows the emotional toll the outcomes of operations, but more difficult in his mind, the decision to operate. It is an insight to the humanity of one surgeon, and the themes are shared among many doctors. It's not just a re-telling of multiple operations, but the lessons a surgeon has learned about himself and about how other people deal with death.(less)
Aisulu Sult When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is also very interesting book about surgery
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is also very interesting book about surgery
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Alison Anderson
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because Mr Marsh operated on a friend of mine who had a brain tumour - she sadly died, but 5 years after her surgery. Some throwaway lines such as "I like to wash my female patients' hair" rang true - she had wonderful long hair and she found it very moving that her surgeon made her hair beautiful again after the mess that accompanies brain surgery.
As a fellow doctor , I both liked his honesty but also realised he must be impossible to work with. Other asides which are very reve
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Petra-X by: Nancy
Shelves: 2015-read
This was a bit of a surprise after reading several of the late Oliver Sacks books on neurology (view spoiler), concentrating on the symptoms, psychology and behaviour of a person with a brain with a physical disorder. This book is on the nitty gritty scalpels in the brain, blood spurting out and deflating tumours from within. Not what I expected at all. But good, very good.

It's my bedtime book. What does that
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: The Guardian
An intensely readable book about Henry Marsh's experiences as a neurosurgeon, working for St George's Hospital, under the British National Health Service. It also describes the charity work he does at a hospital in the Ukraine, working in incredibly difficult conditions.

He's funny......and pompous yet humble..... and a brilliant yet vulnerable man, who is not above throwing the occasional wobbly when one of the ghastly NHS computers behaves badly. His other great bête noir is a hatred of admini
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars.

The Goodread’s description of Do No Harm talks about the books’ “astonishing compassion and candor” and says it’s “it is a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life's most difficult decisions.”

I’m thinking whoever wrote that only read half the book.

English neurosurgeon Henry Marsh does write beautifully about brain surgery. There certainly is great compassion and candor, and he’s fascinating on the topic of the human brain—how it works and what can go wrong with it. There are
“Terrible job, neurosurgery. Don’t do it.” Lucky for us, Henry Marsh reports back from the frontlines of brain surgery so we don’t have to. He’s nearing retirement age after a career divided between a London hospital and medical missions to Ukraine. The punchy chapters are named after conditions he has treated or observed. Rarely, he has been a patient himself (detached retinas, a broken leg), or observed a family member’s illness – his son’s brain tumor, his second wife’s epilepsy, and his moth ...more
Valliya Rennell
3.25 stars

“Life without hope is hopelessly difficult but at the end hope can so easily make fools of us all.”

In this book, Mr. Marsh tries to show the reader what it is like to be a neurosurgeon. Also serving as his memoir, this book shows the stress, the triumphs and failures of working in a hospital, specifically in neurosurgery. Personally, I thought it was very interesting and touching, but I had some problems just with the way it was written. If you are interested in medicine, give this
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you’re really squeamish about blood and body parts and squishy bits, this isn’t the book for you. Marsh talks a lot about the practicality of operating on the brain, as well as about interacting with patients, decision making, dealing with outcomes, training new surgeons, etc. He’s very frank about all of it. If, like me, you’re planning to become a doctor, you might want to read it just to get a frank, unvarnished view of what it’s like to work in the NHS, what it’s like to have people’s liv ...more
Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: four-star
Is there anything more frightening than the thought of being diagnosed with a brain tumour? In the vast world of illness and disease, it is perhaps the singular worst thing any patient can begin to comprehend. Dr Marsh has made a career out of performing complex surgical procedures on such patients, and not always with a positive result.

The brain is a fascinating yet often poorly understood organ. As a registered nurse, I have cared for patients afflicted by hundreds - if not thousands - of diff
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
In 25 chapters, each built around a neurosurgical operation (infections and strokes but mostly tumors), the author provides vivid accounts of patients before and after surgery as well as encounters with Britain’s National Health Service.

Far more than the average doctor-memoirist, Marsh does not conceal his feelings, whether dealing with patients, colleagues, assistants, or superiors, and he spares no one when matters turn out badly.

Beautifully written , candid, and honest about the advantages
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book should be compulsory reading for:

- Anyone who has ever been treated by the NHS
- Anyone who will ever conceivably be treated by the NHS
- Anyone who has, or ever will, undergo serious surgery of any kind

Henry Marsh is a world-renowned neurosurgeon who had been working as a consultant for the NHS for almost thirty years at the time that the book was written. It gives a fascinating insight into neurosurgery itself as well as the changes that have occurred in British healthcare over that ti
Jul 18, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Read this for a bookclub. Not my usual style which is why I'm always reluctant to joining bookclubs- I'm 30 years old now, I know what sort of books I enjoy. Life's too short to read books you're not interested in.

It started off okay but for me quickly descended into just an outlet for an angry, arrogant old man's egotistical musings. I still can't quite figure out what he was trying to achieve by writing this book, other than to rant about 'management', technology, and tell us 50 times that hos
Sara Dahabović
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks
Was supposed to be a buddy-read with Ammar but I put it on hold for almost two months because I was studying a lot of medical cases at the time and the last thing I needed was to read another "textbook" (yeah that's how it felt sometimes)

Honestly, it wasn't like what I expected, I was a bit disappointed and I almost rated it with two stars, some cases felt just okay (everyday cases, nothing major, nothing interesting). Was Marsh just trying to fill the pages of his book? I really don't know. I t
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you're a hypochondriac, steer clear. Otherwise, steel yourself and have a look-see at surgery from the other side (assuming you're not a neurosurgeon reading this). Henry Marsh is a British brain surgeon and a writer with a clear, straightforward style -- not only his diction, but his personality.

With each chapter named after a different (and terrible) thing that can go wrong with these miracle devices we call our brains and our bodies, he delivers anecdote after anecdote of actual cases he'
Oct 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm never sure about reading books that are related to my profession but Mr Marsh is highly regarded and I thought it would be very interesting to hear about his thoughts and experiences. It really is a lovely book. A good mixture of surgical, medical and personal experiences that's really wonderfully written. I think having a certain amount of medical knowledge made it a much more relaxing and easier read for me but am sure it would appeal to other non medical people too. I would warn people th ...more
Quite honestly, this book was really unlike anything I've ever read before. This book should be read by anybody that has ever received treatment on the NHS, is awaiting treatment, or is going in for any kind of major surgery at any point.
This book is written by an extremely well known neurosurgeon, called Henry Marsh. His writing gives an incredible insight into neurosurgery, and the many changes the health care system has gone through for the last thirty years. Many of these changes have been r
Kate~Bibliophile Book Club
I’ve had Do No Harm on my kindle for 3 years, yes, YEARS! After reading Fragile Lives earlier this year, I figured I’d give this one a go as instead of a cardiac surgery this book centres on neurosurgery. I have a morbid fascination with medical things like that so I was looking forward to it.

Henry Marsh has written a very interesting book. He’s no Derek Shepherd in terms of drama and excitement, but he is dealing with the everyday lives of his patients. Do No Harm gives the reader an interestin
Marsh is a complete breath of fresh air - full of compassion, knowledge, and empathy. This book was a profound look at life and death through the perspective of neurosurgery.
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray- a place of bitterness and regret, where he must look for an explanation for his failures."

-René Leriche, La philosophie de la chirurgie, 1951

I loved this book, and I can say with confidence that it's the best nonfiction book I have ever read. (Before you get too excited, bear in mind that I don't have extensive experience in the nonfic realm.) But, honestly, if you're even slightly interested in neur
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing life Dr Marsh has lived. From geriatric psych nurse to renown in neurosurgery, his authentic thoughts and revisitation of heartbreaking and interesting cases and patients reminds us all, life is most definitely precious. Marveling at the details of the various classes of tumors, benign and neoplastic, I was very intrigued to read it all. As well, his risk in undertaking a mentor role, taking Ukrainian neurosurgeons under his tutelage...bravo. A real, human, honest account from th ...more
Apr 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The idea that emotions and reason, that memories, dreams and reflections should consist of jelly is simply too strange to understand... Yet..if I stray into what neurosurgeons call eloquent brain, I will be faced with a damaged and disabled patient."

It is this kind of honesty that makes Henry Marsh's memoirs so compelling, overriding the initial concern that I might be reading the book solely out of a kind of ghoulish voyeurism. Henry Marsh was clearly drawn to this field by the challenge and e
It takes a particular kind of person to want to be a surgeon, especially a neurosurgeon. Reading this book has left me in awe of the work of Henry Marsh, and all other surgeons. I know I couldn't have done it.

He writes with extreme candour, not shying away from the times when he has operated on a patient and it has not been a success. He tells of many incidences of failure in his book. Neurosurgery is obviously, by its nature, one which is fraught with huge risk of failure - leaving a patient d
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The form of the book is not perfect, but Henry Marsh (he is called Mr. Marsh during his consults and NOT Dr.)is honest to an incredible degree. This is his personal story slanted toward full reveal for his career choice: how he got there, and what he does now and during decades working for the NHS in his role of neurosurgeon. His own personal history or detail of relationship is never in the forefront of the tale, just tangent to crux decisions and ultimate roles he has experienced.

It's exact i
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I purchased Henry Marsh's utterly splendid Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery from a Glasgow charity shop for the princely sum of £2. I was immediately beset by many, many people telling me how wonderful it was; needless to say it did not remain upon my TBR pile for too long.

Filled with honesty and compassion, Do No Harm... is a fantastic book, which takes one to the next level of illness narratives; rather than reading about a patient's experience, we are given the expertise a
Liz Barnsley
Fascinating insight into the world of neurosurgery from Dr Henry Marsh - a man who whilst obviously super talented and a true life saver also comes across as utterly human, torn when things go wrong and truly grateful when things go right. Highly Recommended. Full review to follow.
Although I was sorry there wasn't a chapter featuring deep brain stimulation, this is the brain surgery book I hoped for! The memoir isn't particularly well structured and the stories don't always have a well defined arc, but that doesn't matter. The author is a brain surgeon for god sake, not a Pulitzer winning author. What is revealed is the challenging world of high risk surgery carry high levels of risk and reward. Surgeons are notorious for having big egos, and Dr. Henry Marsh is no excepti ...more
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Plenty has been said about this already and I guess it is a classic of sorts. I certainly found it very readable. I guess my slight reservation is that it feels somewhat dated compared to other books by medical professionals that I've read that have been published more recently. I like Henry Marsh a lot and have been to see him speak as well as hearing him on the radio too. It seems to me as though he might be the beginning of the end of a generation. Minor irritations included his somewhat doub ...more
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just loved this. I have worked with a lot of surgeons and I just haven't understood what gives them the self-confidence/optimism/arrogance to do the surgery sometimes. This book really explores this along with some very profound and personal reflections on life, and some entertaining stories. I read it on the train commuting to work and was sometimes in tears, or having to stand on the platform at my destination to see how a chapter finished
Tanja Berg
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was quite an astonishing book, I never expected the author to reveal such vulnerability and human fallibility. Interesting, informative and heart warming. Highly recommended if the subject interests you.
L (Daytime Dreamer, Nighttime Reader)
An overall interesting book but towards the middle I started becoming less interested in the stories and couldn’t wait to finish. Could just be me...
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Henry Marsh read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University before studying medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London. He 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, where he still works full time.

He has been the subject of two major documentary films, YOUR LIFE IN

News & Interviews

Karen M. McManus, the bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying, Two Can Keep a Secret, and One of Us Is Next, doesn’t shy away from secrets and...
53 likes · 2 comments
“Life without hope is hopelessly difficult but at the end hope can so easily make fools of us all.” 46 likes
“Neuroscience tells us that it is highly improbable that we have souls, as everything we think and feel is no more or no less than the electrochemical chatter of our nerve cells. Our sense of self, our feelings and our thoughts, our love for others, our hopes and ambitions, our hates and fears all die when our brains die. Many people deeply resent this view of things, which not only deprives us of life after death but also seems to downgrade thought to mere electrochemistry and reduces us to mere automata, to machines. Such people are profoundly mistaken, since what it really does is upgrade matter into something infinitely mysterious that we do not understand. There are one hundred billion nerve cells in our brains. Does each one have a fragment of consciousness within it? How many nerve cells do we require to be conscious or to feel pain? Or does consciousness and thought reside in the electrochemical impulses that join these billions of cells together? Is a snail aware? Does it feel pain when you crush it underfoot? Nobody knows.” 28 likes
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