Henry Marsh’s previous book Do no harm: stories of life, death and brain surgery, published in 2014, was an account of his work as a brain surgeon. This second book finds the neurosurgeon retired from the NHS and working in a hospital in Nepal, again reflecting on his life and career. This is a kind of companion memoir to the first book, but is no less compelling.
Where Marsh’s first book focused primarily on neurosurgery cases and medical experiences, Admissions: a life in brain surgery delves a little deeper into his personal life, although plenty of fascinating medical cases are still discussed. It is not a straightforward biography, but rather a collection of musings and reflections that span from childhood to retirement, and stem from his experiences in the UK, Ukraine, Nepal and the United States.
The loose structure works well; it feels conversational and natural. The connecting thread that brings each chapter together seems to be the question of whether it is ethical to prolong life if suffering is prolonged; something that Marsh has dealt with on many occasions, and discusses with candour here.
Despite the difficult topic, Marsh injects a wry sense of humour to his writing, which makes his prose readable. Marsh is also extremely candid, recounting not only successful surgeries, but ones that have gone wrong, and mistakes he has made. As in his previous book, Marsh does not hold back in his criticism of healthcare systems in the countries he has worked in, including the UK. It is this honesty and openness, along with a glimpse into the life of a neurosurgeon and his patients, which make this book such a fascinating and thought-provoking read.
Admissions: a life in brain surgery, by Henry Marsh. Pp 248. Price £14.99. London: Orion Publishing Group; 2017. ISBN 978 1 474 60589 2