Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh - review by Jane O’Grady

Jane O’Grady

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Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 271pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Do No Harm, the painful reminiscences of the neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, was an unlikely bestseller in 2014. Admissions, written since he retired, offers more in the same vein. As the punning title suggests, the book is not only about the patients admitted to Atkinson Morley Hospital and St George’s Hospital (where Marsh worked for almost thirty years), and to hospitals in Ukraine and Nepal (where Marsh worked after retiring in the UK), but also a series of confessions. Rather than wanting to parade his professional success, including his pioneering of craniotomy (a specialised technique that involves operating on a patient’s exposed brain while they are awake), Marsh seems eager to come clean on his bad decisions, medical mistakes, failures of nerve, temper and luck, inadequacy as a son, cruelty to a childhood pet, and the patients who have died under his knife.

His whole career has zigzagged between life and death, triumphs and defeats, adulation and blame (he has been sued four times). He has had to develop dexterity not just in surgery itself but in the decision-making surrounding it too – weighing up the disability a patient might suffer if she

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