“Do No Harm – Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery” by Henry Marsh (2014) – book review

“What a bloody, splendid book” (The Observer).

If K had not recommended this book, I probably couldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. Famous in the family for fainting and banging my head on radiators when children have picked their scab wounds, or passing out when they took a routine blood sample in my father-in-law’s clinic in Rome when pregnant with child number one, to everyone’s great amusement, I long ago joined the ranks of the overly squeamish and would definitely have missed this unflinchingly brilliant book as a result.

Be prepared for a spot of blood and gore from the outset : the revelatory first line “I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing” is but a taster of the barrel-load of what’s to come from Chapter 1: “with a pair of diathermy forceps…scalpel…jelly…drilling…venous blood, dark blue and glittering…tectal plate… dangerous… malignant…cerebro-spinal fluid” – you too start to feel the room darken and “as though you are crawling along a long tunnel”. Gird your loins.

Could not put this book down. Takes you through the whole gamut of emotions and is utterly compelling for its searing honesty and unique insider’s view. I read much of it through a mist of tears, and share Ian McEwan and a score of other reviewers’ unadulterated praise for this book as seen on the Amazon page – and couldn’t help but smile at an article in The Telegraph about the wearing of cycle helmets that you might enjoy post read and after feeling you know this man a little better through his writing.

Henry Marsh is vastly experienced, irritable, generous, irascible and controversial. He is not afraid to speak his mind and you wouldn’t like to get the wrong side of him : watch his first interview with Channel 4 when first publishing the book on Youtube, and follow his frustrations with the NHS earlier this year on BBC Newsnight.

It is hard to image him hanging up his surgical attire when he retires for new ventures any time now. But what a job – and what a forthright portrayal of a job well done. To do no harm, or indeed to inflict the least harm possible – these are the daily life-changing decisions of such a complex and challenging profession. Perilous, admirable stuff. And this is a book you don’t want to end.

Read in March 2015.

Rating – 10/10

Sunday Times bestseller, one of The Guardian Top Ten Reads of 2014 and First Book Award Nominee, Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Book Awards, Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2014

Images taken from here and here.
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14 Responses to “Do No Harm – Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery” by Henry Marsh (2014) – book review

  1. Pingback: ‘Reader’s Ten Best Books of 2014′ – book list from The Guardian | Literary ramblings etc

  2. Julie says:

    Ok you have convinced me! I’ve just bought it on Kindle….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mimi McCracken says:

    Okay, going to pick this up before Spring break!!! Love this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Mimi, it might not be the best ‘holiday read’ but it is absolutely brilliant! Let me know if you enjoy it…. Nicolax


  5. Just ordered this one. Will read it and possibly pass it on to Mannequin Suzanne? (Will it be too close to home for her?) Re: the blog: you are so amazingly prolific. So proud of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Nancy, it’s all thanks to you!!!! I think it’s exactly the same as “The Yellow Birds” – think you should read it first and then decide. It’s very honest at times about the uncertainties, so possibly a tad lacking in comfort… But a very brave and important work, I believe, and makes the old “carpe diem” philosophy ever more a consideration. Let me know what you think of it. Nxx


  7. Pingback: Wellcome Trust Book Prize – winner announced 28th April 2015, and “The Iceberg: A Memoir” by Marion Coutts (2014) – book review | Literary ramblings etc

  8. tomthesnail says:

    Hi, thank you for popping by and liking a couple of my reviews. I thought I’d drop in for a closer look at your blog – what a great site! I love the author A-Z for finding titles.
    I e-mailed a link to your blog to a couple of HM fans because my first response to reading this was that I wanted to know more about him as a person and you have very kindly included the links to Newsnight and Channel 4 – new to blogging my blog skills only aspire to such dizzy heights. With thanks TTS : )

    Liked by 1 person

  9. If I can do it you certainly can….the “link” button a revelation…
    Glad that the A-Z is useful, am a one for lists as you can see. Please let me know as and when you read HM and what you think of it. Nicolax


  10. Pingback: Reading Challenge from January 2015 | Literary ramblings etc

  11. Pingback: Book Group I – Paris Evening Group | Literary ramblings etc

  12. Julie says:

    Thank you again Nicola for featuring this book. I’m approaching the end of it and it has been a fascinating read and as you said, I, like you, probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near it. Very much appreciated the 2 links in your article to Channel 4 and Newsnight, allowing me to watch and listen to the man himself, Henry Marsh.
    I’m dipping back into the book for the final 20 pages and will be recommending it to friends.
    It certainly makes you appreciate being physically well and brain tumour free!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Julie, agree 100%. Very glad you enjoyed it and that the links were of interest – would love to meet H.M. but this a choice compromise! Have decided to try the “H is for Hawk” as the next non-fiction, as do tend to stick to books of the fictional variety and think this will be a good next step. Nicolax


  14. Pingback: Wish List 2016: New Year’s Resolutions, plus The BBC’s 100 Greatest British Novels | Literary ramblings etc

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