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Table of Contents    
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 1112-1113

Do no harm: Stories of life, death and brain surgery

Department of Neurosurgery, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India

Date of Web Publication12-Sep-2016

Correspondence Address:
Manjul Tripathi
Department of Neurosurgery, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.190245

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How to cite this article:
Tripathi M, Mukherjee KK. Do no harm: Stories of life, death and brain surgery. Neurol India 2016;64:1112-3

How to cite this URL:
Tripathi M, Mukherjee KK. Do no harm: Stories of life, death and brain surgery. Neurol India [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 May 24];64:1112-3. Available from:

Authors : Henry Marsh

Edition : 1st Edition

Publisher : St. Martin's Press

Pages : 288

“Do No Harm” is a reader's delight in which a neurosurgeon candidly acknowledges the fine bond between himself and his patients. The title is an obvious take on the Hippocratic adage “Primum non nocere.” This nonfictional work is a personal memoir pertaining to the patients of various neurosurgical ailments, mostly representating the ones that we often encounter in our practice. The author aptly accepts the fact that some of the surgeries are performed to satisfy a surgeon's ego rather than for other indications.

The book starts with a French saying that “Every surgeon carries within himself a small 'cemetery,' in which from time-to-time he goes to pray–a place of bitterness and regret, that he is compelled to explore while seeking an explanation for his failures.” The book brings a smile on the faces of the readers when statements like “neurosurgeons look at a brain scan showing a pineal tumour with both fear and excitement, like mountaineers looking up at a great peak that they hope to climb,” are read. This book is brutally honest about the emotions, behaviour, personality, and professional life of a neurosurgeon. Unlike most of the other memoirs, this book is a testament to the work done by one of the most successful and finest neurosurgeons of the United Kingdom, whose advice to his younger colleagues is a reiteration of an old saying, “Knowing when not to operate is just as important as knowing how to operate, and is a more difficult skill to acquire.”

This book is a pictorial and poetic depiction of the life of a neurosurgeon right from the time of his residency to his being the chairperson.

Fascinated by an aneurysm surgery in the early years of his medical training, Henry Marsh chose the tough and selfless life of a neurosurgeon. In the 25 chapters of the book, each named after a surgical ailment, the author takes the reader on a guided tour of Neurosurgery from the eyes of a failed lover, an egoistic yet careful person, a wise statesman, and an empathic young neurosurgeon. The wisdom gained from experience and introspection has guided the author to choose the idea of a “good death and equanimity over a life filled with sorrow.”

In the middle of the book, the author compares himself with the character of Jack Nicholson, in the movie “Five Easy Pieces,” when he joins a medical school as a hospital porter, after failing in love, to nurse his broken heart. He witnesses a pineal region surgery in sitting posture and describes it as being no less than a horror film. Neurosurgery, being strange and often brutal but also delicate, miraculous and full of surprises, seduced Marsh. This seduction culminated in transforming him into a wise but anxious neurosurgeon. In the final chapters of the book, he frankly admits his scepticism about the restricted working hours for residents, the growing tendency of consumerism among patients, and the rising bureaucratic influences in the medical system.

I recommend this book as a practical guide for young minds to remind them to remain 'cautiously courageous.' The book will also provide an introspective journey to most of the neurosurgeons who are nearing the end of their career. In fact, every neurosurgeon at any stage of his/her career will find his own story in this book but emnating from the pen of Henry Marsh.


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Online since 20th March '04
Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow