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.
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 accoutn of what it's really like to be a brain surgeon will have you on the edge of your sunlounger -- Sandra Parsons DAILY MAIL 'Summer Reading' 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 -- Seaumus Sweeney TLS 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. -- Ed Caesar THE SUNDAY TIMES DO NO HARM is an elegant series of meditations at the closing of a long career. Many of the stories are moving enough to raise tears ... At heart, this is a book about wisdom and experience. -- Nicholas Blincoe THE DAILY TELEGRAPH Neurosurgeon 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. We need his wisdom as a "roof" for future surgeons and a rein for public expectations. A good death, without surgery, is a very good outcome -- Phil Hammond THE TIMES excellent... hugely compelling -- William Leith 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. -- Peter Lewis 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 -- Ben Felsenburg THE MAIL ON SUNDAY Brain surgeons such as Henry Marsh, the author of this startling and moving memoir, have to live breathe, operate and make urgent decisions in full awareness of a terrible dilemma: if they open the skull they might save the patient's life, but a slip of the scalpel can cause appalling disability which, as Marsh puts it, can be much worse than death... It's this disarming candour that makes the book such an enthralling read... fascinating' -- Gavin Francis THE 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. -- Erica Wagner NEW STATESMAN Why has no one ever written a book like this before? It simply tells the stories, with great tenderness, insight and self doubt, of a phenomenal neurosurgeon who has been at the height of his specialism for decades and now has chosen with retirement looming to write an honest book. Why haven't more surgeons written books, especially of this prosaic beauty?... Well, thank God for Henry Marsh... One of the finest admissions to emerge in this phenomenal book is that of every surgeon's dilemma... what a bloody, splendid book: commas optional. -- Euan Ferguson THE OBSERVER Henry Marsh is a neurosurgical consultant in a London teaching hospital, and his memoir, Do No Harm, offers an astonishing glimpse into this stressful career... The case histories are fascinating, but more importantly they are full of humanity. Marsh is the most honest author I've ever come across with regard to his own failings... 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. -- Leyla Sanai THE 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. -- Dr Michael Mosley 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 -- Wendy Moore 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 -- Harold Ellis, Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Biomedical Sciences, London 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 -- Jaffe and Neale Bookshop & Cafe 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 -- Brendan Daly SUNDAY BUSINESS POST (Ireland) Elegantly written and heart-searingly truthful -- Jacqueline Wilson THE 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, but also the non-professional, everyday life that they have. 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. But there are plenty of others. -- Karl Ove Knausgaard FINANCIAL TIMES