Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh

In his introductory Christian ethics courses, Stanley Hauerwas contrasts the formation needed to become a physician with that needed to become a minister. He claims that “no one believes that in our day an inadequately trained priest might damage their salvation; but people do believe an inadequately trained doctor can kill them.”

Henry Marsh’s memoir of his nearly three decades as a neurosurgeon shows vividly how even an adequately trained doctor who operates on the brain will kill some patients in the course of a career and “wreck” many others. Marsh’s de­tailed, suspenseful accounts of operations kept me briskly turning pages, wondering each time if this patient would become one of the wrecked. And the deeper story of Marsh’s transformation from a daring, brash surgeon to a wiser, more cautious one makes this memoir satisfying and instructive.

Readers may know Marsh from the award-winning documentary The English Surgeon, about his volunteer work as a surgeon in Ukraine. The film presents only a slice of his life as a doctor; Do No Harm is a meditation on his whole career.