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Music in mind

Music in MindThe celebrated neurosurgeon Henry Marsh CBE FRCS (1969, PPE) appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on 23 September. Marsh pioneered techniques in operating on the brain under local anaesthetic. His musical selections included B.B. King, Beethoven, Joan Armatrading and Bach.

Mr Marsh’s choices were almost exclusively classical. He picked pieces from Schubert (String Quintet in C major, Adagio [2nd movement), Bach (Matthäuspassion. Aria: “Erbarme dich”) and Scarlatti (Sonata k95 in C). However, his favourite song was B.B. King’s Better Not Look Down.

Marsh also chose a book on the Ukrainian language, and his garden shed, complete with tools, as his luxury item. He has been working in Ukraine since 1992 and his work there was the subject of the BBC Storyville film The English Surgeon. His acclaimed memoir Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery was published in 2014 followed by Admissions: A life in brain surgery in 2017.

The addictive nature of surgery and the reputation of surgeons as “psychopaths” were also topics of discussion. Marsh said that surgeons only appear uncaring because of “ego-defence, as psychiatrists call it”. He commented “the nicer you are to patients the more it hurts you if things go badly”.

The episode of Desert Island Discs is available on the BBC website.

Henry Marsh is our guest speaker at the next Univ in the Arts event on 24 January at the Medical Society of London.

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