Q&A with Henry Marsh on his longlisted memoir Do No Harm
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
Do No Harm is my first book so I feel very proud.
What research did you do for writing your book?
The book is autobiographical so the research was a matter of mining and rewriting the daily diary that I have kept for much of my life. There is a strange conflict in a doctor’s life, especially if you perform very dangerous surgery as I do: my patients and their families are going through the most profound and terrible experiences of their lives and yet for me, in a way, it is just another day at work. My book is an attempt to illustrate this odd dichotomy. But doctors cannot entirely escape the reality of what their patients are suffering – not unless you are a psychopath, and most doctors are not psychopaths. So the book is about the difficulties of the work as much as any success, though any distress I feel is trivial compared to what my patients must endure.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
We face a troubled and frightening future and the only hope is an educated and informed public, so the success of non-fiction books, and prizes such as The Samuel Johnson Prize, is of immense importance.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. The beginning of wisdom is to understand how fallible we are and how we benefit from other people's criticisms and comments. My book would never have been what it is without the help of my friends, family and editor.
What are you working on next?
I was planning a book on the end of life but Atul Gawande has got there first with his splendid Being Mortal. Perhaps I will write about my work in Ukraine and Kurdistan where I will continue to work after I have left the NHS next year.
Henry Marsh is the author of Do No Harm: Stories of life death and brain surgery (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)