Henry Marsh (2022) And Finally. A Neurosurgeon’s Reflections on Life.

Henry Marsh was once part of an elite group of around 200 neurosurgeons in England. Not only that, he’s a Sunday Times Bestseller. His focus here is letting go. With the help of an editor, this is his diary written over a year from the Covid-19 epidemic. His fears and doubts as he moved from being part of the establishment to just another NHS patient. A fearful old man with cancer of the prostrate.

‘Although I was to come to terms fairly quickly with being castrated, it would have nice to have some discussion about it. It is not a minor thing to castrate a man, even if he is already seventy years old. I had no clear idea whatsoever lay ahead.’

Part 1 is ‘Denial’. Although he is, or was, a neurosurgeon, he claims not to be a scientist. And although he abandoned a philosophy degree to study medicine, he claims not to be a philosopher. What he means is he’s not an expert. But he’s well-read enough and has lived long enough to recognise the world that he’s leaving is heading for a disaster of its own making.

He dedicates his book to his granddaughters, Iris, Rosalind, and Lizzie. He spends parts of each day writing a story that he can tell them over Facetime during lockdown. He recognises the disastrous Private Finance Initiative that Labour under Gordon Brown imposed on the NHS, which continued (of course) with the Tory government. But these are relatively small matters. The bigger picture is global warming and an exponential rise in immigration is something his granddaughters will face. A world turning right-wing and increasingly in denial about the coming dystopia.

‘Sometimes when thinking about climate change and nuclear proliferation, I think the human race has a frontal lobectomy.’

He compares it to a frontal-lobe dementia and loss of self-control and consideration for others which comes with the maturation of frontal lobes.

‘Drill baby, drill,’ promises the moron’s moron and Presidential candidate Trump, which is the essence of short-termism. Sawing the branch you’re sitting on and burning it to keep warm.  

We won’t be here, of course, not me or Henry Marsh. He’s lived a rich and privileged life. He’d tried to share his expertise, ironically, teaching in Ukraine and still has friends in the war-torn county. There’s much to like about Marsh. His wisdom, honesty and his humility. He remains optimistic about his granddaughters’ fate and for humankind, generally. I do not. Read on.