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'Incredibly absorbing ... astonishingly candid' Bill Bryson
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.
In this memoir of a long career, English neurosurgeon Marsh reveals both a "weary and knowing skepticism" and a striking determination to help the desperately ill despite the uncertainties. "The operating is the easy part, you know," he writes of one neurosurgeon's advice to him; "the difficulties are all to do with the decision-making." Marsh's remarkable, unblinking honesty shines through in each of the starkly different cases he describes, including a little boy with a progressive cancer whose family came to believe he could "go on being treated forever"; the death "without regret" of his own mother from metastasized breast cancer; and the devastating outcome of a difficult operation on an 11-year-old Ukrainian girl with a large but benign brain tumor that was slowly killing her. Surprisingly humble and introspective, Marsh can be hard on himself: "It's not the successes I remember, or so I like to think, but the failures." The stubborn bureaucracy of Britain's healthcare system merits its own harsh meditation, though Marsh tempers his deep distrust of the system with compassion. 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.