Book Review: Do No Harm – Henry Marsh

by @edent | #

A boring book cover.

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? 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.

I disliked this book. It has a smugness born out of a total lack of self-awareness. The author happily flaunts his privileged (dropped out, flounced around, got into Oxford – of course) but bemoans the trendy new ways people get in to medicine.

He disparages forced empathy training – and yet seems bemused that he can’t empathise with his patients. He can write lyrically about every facet of brain tumours – but lacks the emotional vocabulary to cope with his pits of despair.

He sees no irony in screaming at his subordinates yet being unable to cope with a dressing-down from his superiors.

The passages describing the mechanics of brain surgery are sublime. He writes about the brain with a tenderness and affection which stands in contrast with his writing about people and institutions.

An undoubtedly brilliant surgeon who has saved more lives than I ever will. He knows everything about the brain – but almost nothing about the mind.

A thoroughly irritating book.

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