Guest post: LETHAL ELEMENTS by Joel Gomez-Dossi

ScienceThrillers welcomes Joel Gomez-Dossi, author of Lethal Elements. Enter to win a copy below!

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In the wilderness, man is the deadliest element.

Geologist Tom Burrell’s relationship with his husband, Roman, is on rocky ground. So when a mysterious company asks Tom to perform mineral studies in the Adirondack Mountains, he jumps at the chance. But before he can finish his tests, he finds himself lost in the wilderness and chased by a hired gun. And now it’s up to Roman to rescue his husband. But in order to succeed, Roman must first piece together the missing elements of Tom’s disappearance and discover the secret goals of the company that hired him. If he fails, Tom will die and one of the nation’s most unique ecosystems, the Adirondack Mountains, will be in danger.

Everything I learned about Science Thrillers I learned from TV
Guest post by Joel Gomez-Dossi

What causes acid rain?
Why is the sky blue?
How do arctic explorers get the energy they need?
The answers to these questions and more, on the next Newton’s Apple.

After working on the television show “Newton’s Apple” for ten seasons, I became tired of hearing that blurb and then seeing an animated opening of a cartoon apple hitting Isaac Newton on the head.

The show was a popular Emmy Award-winning PBS science show that ran during the 1980s and 90s, and it was very formulaic. A main segment was followed by a shorter one, with a couple of fillers stuck in for good measure. Each segment had to follow three tried-and-tested rules. While I often hated those rules, they provided a road map for presenting scientific information. And I put those rules to good use while writing my first science thriller, Lethal Elements, recently published by Bold Strokes Books. In fact, just about everything I learned about writing science thrillers I learned from working on that show.

Rule #1: What’s the question?

Perhaps obvious, but the plot of a science thriller has to revolve around a piece of science that will interest the audience. Usually a question longs to be answered. With LETHAL ELEMENTS, I held that question in my hand: my cell phone. What made it smaller? Smarter? Faster?

Rare earth elements (REEs), known for their special magnetic properties, are modern electronics’ most vital materials. Often called “the seeds of technology,” they’re found in everything from cell phones to electric cars. China supplies over 90 percent of the world’s rare earth, and much of it comes from rogue and illegal mines. Perfect fodder to wrap into a thriller.

Rule #2: The hero can’t be a know-it-all.

The protagonist can’t have all the answers. Yet, he can’t be clueless, either. The hero must ask the same questions the reader is asking.

The protagonist of LETHAL ELEMENTS is geologist Tom Burrell. When a mysterious company asks him to perform mineral studies in the Adirondack Mountains, he jumps at the chance. Before he can finish his tests, however, he finds himself lost in the wilderness and chased by a hired gun. Now it’s up to his husband, Roman, to rescue him. In order to succeed, Roman must first piece together the missing elements of Tom’s disappearance, which, you guessed it, revolve around REEs.

Rule #3: End with a bang

Every Segment of “Newton’s Apple” needed to end with a bang. Something that made the audience think their investment of time was not only fun, but worthwhile, too. The same principle holds true for thrillers. In addition to being entertaining, we want to believe in our hero’s cause, cheer his successes, mourn his losses, and learn a little science in the process.


jgdJoel Gomez-Dossi started his professional career as a theatrical stage manager, but he spent most of his working career on the Emmy-award winning PBS series, Newton’s Apple. In the nineties, he turned to freelance writing, working for regional publications across the country. He is the author of three novels published by Bold Strokes Books, PURSUED; DEADLY CULT; and LETHAL ELEMENTS, which was released on August 17. You can reach Joel on Facebook at, or on the web at

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Guest post: THE ETERNAL WORLD by Christopher Farnsworth

ScienceThrillers welcomes Christopher Farsnworth, author of The Eternal World. His new thriller, published in August by HarperCollins, takes science to the fountain of youth.

eternalworldIf you could live forever, what would you die for?

Five hundred years ago, a group of Spanish conquistadors searching for gold, led by a young and brilliant commander named Simon De Oliveras, land in the New World. What they find in the sunny and humid swamps of this uncharted land is a treasure far more valuable: the Fountain of Youth. The Spaniards slaughter the Uzita, the Native American tribe who guard the precious waters that will keep the conquistadors young for centuries. But one escapes: Shako, the chief’s fierce and beautiful daughter, who swears to avenge her people—a blood oath that spans more than five centuries. . .

When the source of the fountain is destroyed in our own time, the loss threatens Simon and his men, and the powerful, shadowy empire of wealth and influence they have built. For help, they turn to David Robinton, a scientific prodigy who believes he is on the verge of the greatest medical breakthrough of all time. But as the centuries-old war between Shako and Simon reaches its final stages, David makes a horrifying discovery about his employers and the mysterious and exotic woman he loves. Now, the scientist must decide: is he a pawn in a game of immortals. . . or will he be its only winner?

The Eternal Quest for the Fountain of Youth
Guest post by Christopher Farsnworth

For most of history, the promise of eternal youth has been a myth — or maybe a promise from a late-night infomercial.

But when I began The Eternal World, about the Fountain of Youth, I had to find a way to make that myth a plausible reality. In the book, Spanish conquistadors discover the legendary spring that delivers eternal youth. But when the source of the water is destroyed, they have to turn to science in an attempt to re-create the magic that keeps them alive.

All of this meant I had to find a way for my character, David Robinton, to figure out an answer to what’s waiting for all of us. He has to, in essence, find a cure for death.

Fortunately for me, there are people a lot smarter than I am working on that in the real world. A handful of scientists and billionaires are trying to create treatments that would reverse the onset of age and repair all the damage that accumulates in us over time. If they succeed, that means — aside from car accidents or a bad slip in the shower — our bodies would never give out or fail us.

And our lives would just keep going.

That probably sounds like mad-science territory to most people. That’s certainly how Aubrey de Grey was received when he started talking about it. I first encountered the idea of a biological cure for aging in Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality, Jonathan Weiner’s excellent non-fiction account of the efforts of de Grey and others to treat aging like a curable disease, rather than an inevitable fact of life.

De Grey’s argument is that the human body is a biological machine capable of repairing itself. If that repair process can be perfected, then he believes there’s no reason we cannot keep living in peak physical condition indefinitely.

He put together a list called The Seven Deadly Things, which outlines all of those factors that currently cause our bodies to break down — and has proposed solutions to them as well.

De Grey believes that we are on the cusp of actually realizing those solutions. He’s said that the first person to live 1,000 years has probably already been born.

For most of his career, de Grey has been seen as a crank and an eccentric. Maybe it’s the infomercial factor, but when you talk about things like the Fountain of Youth, people tend to think you’re a con man or crazy.

But people are listening to de Grey now. Tech billionaires and hedge-fund managers — possibly realizing they cannot take it with them — have begun putting money into efforts to find a way to increase human lifespans. Google has started a new biotech firm called Calico — short for California Life Company — dedicated to undoing the aging process. Craig Venter, who pioneered the Human Genome Project, and Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X Prize, have created a new company called Human Longevity Inc., which aims to examine human DNA in an effort to find out why some people live longer and healthier lives than others. And hedge fund manager Joon Yun has established the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, which is offering a million dollars to scientists who can increase longevity.

Despite their best efforts, we’re probably still a long way from having to deal with immortality in the real world. In fiction, you can cheat and bend the rules of real science. David Robinton succeeds (spoiler alert) and is forced to grapple with the question of what his discovery will do to the world — while he also has to deal with the centuries-old crimes of the people who hired him.

Maybe the Fountain of Youth will always stay in the realm of legends. Maybe it should.

But I’m glad someone is still searching for it, even in the 21st Century. It gives me hope. For all of our fears about the end of the world, there are still people out there who want an endless supply of tomorrows.

Buy The Eternal Worldamazon / Barnes and Noble / iTunes / Kobo

Connect with the Author:

Christopher Farnsworth: Website / FacebookTwitter / GoodreadsChristopher Farnsworth ap1

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Book review (before the movie): THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir book review of The Martian by Andy Weir.


(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)

Tech rating (out of 5):


Publication date: Print version, February 2014; Movie, October 2, 2015
Category: science thriller / hard SF

Summary (from the publisher):

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

ScienceThrillers review:

The geeks win, and I can hardly believe this story’s success.

The Martian is a rare book: a true science-based thriller in which mathematics and physics play a central role in the actual plot. Pages and pages are devoted to (superficial) summaries of complex calculations, whether Watney’s trying to figure his calorie consumption over a two-year period or for reaching an orbit. The math and physics are presumably accurate, as this book originally appeared as an Internet serial and was subjected to the wisdom of the crowd: actual rocket scientists are rumored to have critiqued the author’s efforts.

Lest you be put off by the thought of a math story, I can assure you that the heart of this book isn’t math, it’s ingenuity and creativity. I think what I like best about The Martian is how it celebrates the inherently creative nature of science and math. So few people recognize this!

Our hero, Mark Watney, is the epitome of cool under pressure (or zero pressure, as is the case in the absence of an atmosphere on Mars). Always clever, usually with just the right amount of self-deprecating snark, and always ready to raise a finger at authority when it interferes with what’s right, Watney is a perfect hero for the Google age. His voice, as expressed in the log entry format of much of the book, is definitely a big part of what makes this narrative a winner.

Overall the story is a retelling of Apollo 13 set on Mars. It’s a tribute to smart. While there definitely is tension, the calmness of the hero and somewhat odd pacing make it a remarkably relaxing read for a thriller. I didn’t feel a gradual ramping up of tension to the climax at the end, which is the norm for thrillers. Rather the reader experiences a series of smaller crises and resolutions along the way.

My only criticism is compared to the attention paid to the other sciences in this story, psychology is given short shrift. Watney is indeed remarkable for his emotional stamina under absurdly difficult conditions. But hey, who doesn’t love a strong hero?

I expect the movie version of The Martian will closely follow the book. Much of the limited dialog in the book will probably be taken word for word into the script, as the author did a great job of imitating movie speech. Hollywood will probably change things enough to make the buildup to the final climax a steeper, steadier climb.

But read the book before you go to the theater!

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Guest post: THE RIPPER GENE by Michael Ransom

ScienceThrillers welcomes Michael Ransom, author of The Ripper Gene. Published by the fiction powerhouse Tor/Forge Books, Enter to win a copy below!

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A neuroscientist-turned-FBI-profiler discovers a genetic signature that produces psychopaths in The Ripper Gene, a thrilling debut novel from Michael Ransom.

Dr. Lucas Madden is a neuroscientist-turned-FBI profiler who first gained global recognition for cloning the ripper gene and showing its dysfunction in the brains of psychopaths. Later, as an FBI profiler, Madden achieved further notoriety by sequencing the DNA of the world’s most notorious serial killers and proposing a controversial “damnation algorithm” that could predict serial killer behavior using DNA alone.

Now, a new murderer-the Snow White Killer-is terrorizing women in the Mississippi Delta. When Mara Bliss, Madden’s former fiancée, is kidnapped, he must track down a killer who is always two steps ahead of him. Only by entering the killer’s mind will Madden ultimately understand the twisted and terrifying rationale behind the murders-and have a chance at ending the psychopath’s reign of terror.

Science Inspired The Ripper Gene
Guest post by Michael Ransom

People often ask me, “What was the inspiration for your novel?” I’ve already mentioned in other interviews that the genesis of Lucas’s backstory-his mother’s untimely death one Halloween night- was based on a real Halloween night from my childhood that I later fictionalized. Here, I’ll discuss the inspiration for the scientific premise of The Ripper Gene.

As a young researcher, I happened to browse an article in Science magazine which described a gene with variants associated with increased aggression. The gene was monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) or the so-called “warrior gene”… a gene responsible for the synthesis of several different neurotransmitter precursors in the brain. When it’s inactivated (due to rare DNA variants found sporadically in the general population), individuals have trouble controlling their aggression and in some cases exhibit higher propensity for anti-social behavior and violent crime.

I wondered at the time whether other such genes would eventually turn up. At the time of that article’s publication, the so-called next-generation sequencing (NGS) methodologies- instruments that can sequence all 3.2 billion nucleotides of an individual’s human genome once every 30 minutes or so- had not yet even come into existence. In fact, the very first cobbled-together human genome, requiring more than a decade of effort across thousands of scientists and hundreds of millions of dollars… had still not yet been sequenced.

But as a pharmacogeneticist I knew that day was eventually coming, and when it did, I wondered whether we (the scientific community) would ever get to the point of understanding the complete set of genetic variants that predispose individuals to violence. In fact, I wondered whether we’d ever identify an optimal set of genes that, when altered in just the right pattern within an individual, would constitute a “perfect genetic storm”, and predispose that unfortunate individual to become a psychopath, or even a serial killer.

Indeed, other genes with variants linked to aggression and psychopathy have turned up since. There are now close to two thousand research articles reporting links between genetic polymorphisms and violence. Some of the better characterized (and more likely to be ‘real’) associations include genes involved in dopamine signaling, serotonin signaling, dopamine transport, serotonin reuptake and other types of brain-specific molecules. Interestingly, these variants are also implicated in other conditions as well, ranging from schizophrenia to suicide, from depression to substance abuse… in addition to being linked to anti-social and criminal behavior.

So it does indeed seem extremely likely that a set of DNA variants will one day be identified that predispose individuals to criminal behavior. In fact, defense attorneys have already used the DNA sequence of a certain gene in a violent offender client to successfully reduce the severity of the sentencing phase in a cold-blooded murder tried in 2013. Accordingly, the field is awash in controversy and ethical dilemmas from both a legal and culpability standpoint alone. And while it is likely that a set of DNA variants will be discovered that predispose to violence, it is even more likely to be present in a far greater proportion of the population than the tiny percentage of people who will ultimately go on to commit any crimes.

In other words, DNA won’t be the only answer, but rather will only be part of it. And it will likely be insufficient on its own to help identify individuals at risk for criminal behavior.

In fact, if future generations want to try and screen individuals for risk to commit these violent crimes such as mass murder or spree killing or serial murder… then they will most likely need to couple genetic information with many other measures. For instance, perhaps the best predictor of violent behavior will be a combination of DNA tests, brain scan images, psychological tests, interviews, metabolic profiles and who knows what other factors will almost undoubtedly be required before we can hope to identify individuals truly at risk for these especially tragic violent crimes impacting society at all levels.

However for me, as a writer, I was fascinated by a different aspect than the legal conundrum. I was far more concerned with the question of what this all means for classical notions of good versus evil. In other words, if DNA variation “matters” with respect to defining our baseline ability to choose between right and wrong… then what does that mean for such a fundamental concept as “Free Will?” Are we all really born and created equal, or are some of us hindered out of the gate, as soon as we’re born, hampered by a genetic Achille’s heel when it comes to aggression, impulse control, and empathy?

It’s an interesting question, and one that is posed within the pages of The Ripper Gene, as the FBI agents Woodson and Madden pursue a newly emerged serial killer who is hell-bent on constructing a terrifying tableau across the counties of southern Mississippi and the parishes of southern Louisiana. The Ripper Gene doesn’t attempt to provide a definitive answer on this controversial topic… but rather only illuminate it as a question that needs to be asked, and considered… before technology and science carry us as a society so swiftly forward that we’re at the precipice of understanding the link between genetics and violence long before we’ve considered what in the world it really means for us…as citizens, as individuals, as human beings ourselves.

Author Bio

Author Michael Ransom

MICHAEL RANSOM is a molecular pharmacologist and a recognized expert in the fields of toxicogenomics and pharmacogenetics. He is widely published in scientific journals and has edited multiple textbooks in biomedical research. He is currently a pharmaceutical executive and an adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Raised in rural Mississippi, he now makes his home in northern New Jersey. The Ripper Gene is his first novel.

Author’s Website

If you like The Ripper Gene, you might like: The Cure by Douglas Richards, another science thriller novel about the genetic basis for psychopathy.

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Guest post: TIME’S ALIBI by Husky Harlequin

ScienceThrillers welcomes Husky Harlequin, author of Time’s Alibi: The Quantum of Jazz Between the Sun and the Grave.
The author is giving away 20 copies of the book–click here to enter.

Cancer. Undetected, it relentlessly devours its host until there is nothing left. Andrew Acheson’s grandfather has been searching for a cure since a rare blood born pathogen claimed the life of his beloved wife.

Family. If damaged, it can be the breeding ground for social disease. Greed infected the Acheson clan long ago. David Acheson, the patriarch, has been missing for over a year and is presumed to be dead. Murdered? Kidnapped? The FBI has no leads. David’s heirs can’t wait to get their filthy fingers on his pharmaceutical empire.

Discovery. If misunderstood, it has the power to destroy. Andrew desires the success and love that have painfully eluded him. Without his grandfather’s guidance, he may never find it. Suddenly thrust into the center of a conflict with historic consequences, Andrew might be able to survive if he can overcome his flaws, both inherited and self-inflicted. But first, he must find his grandfather and deal with David’s most dangerous invention yet: time travel.

Guest post by Husky Harlequin

I am a chemist. I was drawn to this discipline because everything can be described in terms of chemistry. The sun, climate change, life, happiness, rock music, even love. You can’t say that about many things.

In Time’s Alibi or The Quantum of Jazz Between the Sun and the Grave, David Acheson owns a biotech company. Motivated by love to find a cure for an obscure blood cancer, he heads to the lab and puts his tremendous mental faculties to work. He searches for drug candidates, initiators, catalysts, and effective targeted drug delivery systems. But like most scientific breakthroughs, he needs more than hard work. He needs luck. Just like the discovery of antibiotic properties of penicillin required a messy lab or the discovery of TNT required the accidental spilling of nitroglycerin onto sawdust, David Acheson makes an unexpected and exciting discovery in his lab, one that brings more questions than answers, one that raises moral and ethical issues. Have I created something useful? Just because I have the power to do something, should I first pause and consider the consequences? Who should decide? These questions are touchstones of both modern laboratory science and science fiction.

David Acheson finds himself in a world of trouble when he invents time travel. He hadn’t planned for it. It wasn’t his objective. But it becomes his burden, sucking his grandson Andrew into a dangerous world filled with science, politics, and death. It’s too late for David. He’s been missing for a year without a trace. Andrew might survive if he can adapt and solve the mystery left behind by his grandfather. Only time will tell, but time is a vengeful specter.

If you love the node where science meets fiction, if you cherish stories that make you think long after you’ve put the book down, give Time’s Alibi a try. You may find that it stays with you, buzzing in your mind like a jazz standard or a classic rock anthem.

Author Bio

Husky is a lawyer, poet, musician, chemist, and writer from the Philadelphia area. His high school literature class blew up his brain, exposing a love for story telling. He’s circling back now. He can’t argue in court like Mitch McDeer, drop rhymes like Mother Goose, rock like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or leverage his skills in the lab like Walter White, but he can write better than Kilgore Trout. Husky is a lover of ideas, progressive thoughts, and mankind.

Twitter: @HuskyHarlequin

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Guest post: THE UNYIELDING FUTURE by Dr. Brian O’Grady

ScienceThrillers welcomes Brian O’Grady, neurosurgeon, triathlete, and author of Hybrid and a new thriller The Unyielding Future.

There are forces at play.Forces that can prevent massacres…or cause them. Stop murderers in their tracks…or inspire them. Save the world…or destroy it.

A doctor and his family are about to discover these forces. They are going to play a role in a future that needs changing but seems unyielding. And they are going to learn more about our world than they ever imagined – or ever wished to know.

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Guest post by Brian O’Grady

The Unyielding Future is my third novel and my personal favorite, in part because it was the easiest to write. Instead of creating an entire cast of characters from my imagination I cheated and populated the story with members of my family, friends and colleagues. Whenever I got stuck I could nonchalantly stroll up to one of my real life avatars and ask them a purely hypothetical question that usually started with the phrase: ‘have you ever thought what you would do if…’. Now that’s my kind of research.

Using the people that make up my life had the unintended consequence of pulling me emotionally into the story. Initially I had intended upon a short story with a limited scope, but like all living things the novel had its own ideas and soon I found myself struggling with questions that have no good answers.

In the real world I am a neurosurgeon. I am the person you see when bad things, often times very bad things have happened or are happening. After almost thirty years of practicing medicine I have some baggage and unintentionally I tapped into that when I started The Unyielding Future.  As a physician I have cloaked myself in the robes of science, but more times than I care to remember I have felt naked standing in front of a patient or a family explaining that for them things will never be the same. Which has led me to ask myself more times than I care to remember the simplest and most difficult question: why?

My experience is not unique, and I have over the years watched as colleagues try to find solace in the science of medicine taking the position that we are all simply intelligent, self-aware biologic machines that will in time break and require replacing. Or watched as others turn to God, silently whispering or proclaiming loudly that everything happens as God wills it. The Unyielding Future charts a different path. I believe that given enough time we will answer all the great scientific questions and in the end know the mind of God (I’m purposely bastardizing Stephen Hawking’s take on Albert Einstein’s quote). However without God those answers are rather empty and somewhat meaningless. Still I have great difficulty with the belief that all things occur at the behest of God, for if that is the case He can be one cruel bastard and the concept of free will is mere illusion.

The Unyielding Future is not a religious or a scientific book. It’s a novel that can be read as superficially as the reader desires, or as deep as the reader is compelled.

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New release book review: DO NO HARM by Henry Marsh book review of Do No Harm by Dr. Henry Marsh.

Enter raffle below to win a hardcover copy of this new release!


Tech rating (out of 5):


Publication date: May 26, 2015
Category: medical memoir

Summary (from the publisher):

What is it like to be a brain surgeon? How does it feel to hold someone’s life in your hands, to cut into the stuff that creates thought, feeling, and reason? How do you live with the consequences of performing a potentially lifesaving operation when it all goes wrong?

In neurosurgery, more than in any other branch of medicine, the doctor’s oath to “do no harm” holds a bitter irony. Operations on the brain carry grave risks. Every day, leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh must make agonizing decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.

If you believe that brain surgery is a precise and exquisite craft, practiced by calm and detached doctors, this gripping, brutally honest account will make you think again. With astonishing compassion and candor, Marsh reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets, and the moments of black humor that characterize a brain surgeon’s life.

Do No Harm provides unforgettable insight into the countless human dramas that take place in a busy modern hospital. Above all, it is a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life’s most difficult decisions.

“Riveting. … [Marsh] gives us an extraordinarily intimate, compassionate and sometimes frightening understanding of his vocation.” – The New York Times

Winner of the PEN Ackerley Prize
Shortlisted for both the Guardian First Book Prize and the Costa Book Award
Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction
A Finalist for the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize
A Finalist for the Wellcome Book Prize
A Financial Times Best Book of the Year
An Economist Best Book of the Year

ScienceThrillers review:

That’s a lot of hype. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery
made the top 5 of the NYTimes bestseller list in Science this summer. People are loving this book.

Me, not as much.

Granted, I read the whole book and enjoyed doing so–evidence that this is good stuff, well written, intellectually engaging, even page-turning with suspense at times. The reason I didn’t fall in love, I think, is my personal reaction to the voice of the author, who represents a certain type of older male surgeon that I find less than endearing.

Henry Marsh is a British neurosurgeon who has been in the business for a long time. (Apparently he’s a bit of a media star in England.) In this memoir-ish book, Marsh tells eye-opening stories about patients he’s had, and cases he’s performed, including some that did not end well. A blurb on the book’s back cover praises Marsh for “rare and unflinching honesty,” and I agree. This book’s strength is Marsh’s confessional approach to telling his stories, revealing his inner frustrations, worries, and insecurities.

That a man who cuts open other people’s heads and mucks around with the insides suffers from doubts and insecurity should be no surprise, but in the psychologically strange world of surgery, it is shocking, in a way. For most of us, a mistake at work requires a broom or perhaps a delete key. For a neurosurgeon, even the tiniest lapse of judgment or concentration can mean lifelong paralysis, loss of speech, or death for the patient. No wonder that doubt creeps in. Yet on the outside, the surgeon must appear absolutely confident for the good of the patient, who can only cope with their situation by ascribing godlike properties to their doctor.

This odd mental arrangement is laid bare in Marsh’s book. He admits that to operate when you know that you are fallible requires extraordinary courage, coupled with some unhealthy defense mechanisms: a tendency to forget your mistakes, and to blame others.

Thus the arrogance of surgeons is legendary, and here we get into why I was put off by this narrator. While I give Marsh credit for his barefaced sincerity, and his desire to put the patient first, an arrogance runs through his stories that is not always sympathetic. Marsh has a particular disrespect for administration. Granted, his misadventures with the British National Health Service justify much of his scorn, but at the same time he represents an older generation of doctors who do not understand that medicine has changed. Surgeons are no longer boss of the world, not even in the OR. They can’t do whatever they want.

This spills over into their relationships with coworkers, in particular, I think, women in medicine. The good old days of male trainees being chained to the hospital for days on end, and then lingering to share a drink with the boys, are gone. Marsh relates an episode of frustration with scheduling a case because an anesthesiologist had to leave the hospital to pick up her child. While Marsh puts most of the blame on the bureaucracy and its newfangled rules restricting physicians’ working hours, I sensed a total lack of appreciation for why younger doctors, especially women, might have lives outside the hospital. (Marsh, like most older surgeons, is no longer married to his first wife.)

Do No Harm is primarily a loosely connected series of anecdotes, not a sustained narrative. Each chapter is named after a neurosurgical condition (Pineocytoma; Aneurysm) and includes a story about a patient with that. Many chapters have detailed descriptions of surgery, so they’re not for readers who are squeamish.

Marsh also touches a little on end of life issues, on the wisdom of doing nothing in some cases, and the tension between hope and futility. This is a theme I find fascinating but is far better explored in another physician’s book, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande which I highly recommend. (Click here for my review.)

If you like Do No Harm, you’ll love: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande; The Afflictions by Vikram Paralkar; Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and TJ Mitchell. (Click titles to read my reviews.)

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FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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THE EINSTEIN PROPHECY: guest post by author Robert Masello

ScienceThrillers welcomes Robert Masello, author of a new history of science-themed thriller novel, The Einstein Prophecy. Masello is not new to readers. Read his guest post about his 2013 release or the ScienceThrillers review of The Romanov Cross here.

Scroll down to enter to win his new book!

Guest post by Robert Masello

In 1948, three years after the deployment of the atomic bomb had brought the Second World War to a close at last, Albert Einstein was asked in an interview, “If a Third World War breaks out one day, what weapons will be used to fight it?”

“I don’t know what weapons they will use to fight the Third World War,” Einstein replied, “but I do know what they will use in the Fourth. Rocks.”

Although Einstein’s groundbreaking work from earlier in the century had laid the foundations for the atomic age (there’s a famous Time Magazine cover showing a wooly-haired Einstein with a mushroom cloud, emblazoned with E=mc squared, billowing up behind his head), he was tormented his whole life by, among other things, the 1939 letter he had signed (and in part composed) to FDR, warning him that the Nazis were working to perfect the bomb and that the United States had better beat them to it. Later, it was learned that the Nazis had pretty much abandoned the quest; Hitler was not only leery of physics that had been devised by Jewish scientists, but convinced that he could win the war the old-fashioned way – with tanks and planes and U-boats. Still, Einstein always felt that he was in some sense responsible for the devastation of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the ushering in of an era of unprecedented danger.

A lifelong pacifist, who once admitted that even the vaguely martial air of a marching band gave him qualms, Einstein spent the war years in Princeton, New Jersey, attached to the Institute for Advanced Study. And though there is no evidence that he had a hand in the actual creation of the atom bomb (he did not have the proper security clearances, for one thing), I have taken the liberty in my new novel, The Einstein Prophecy, of giving him a role in it, as a means of exploring the ethical dilemmas he faced, along with the terror that gripped the world at that time. It’s easy for us now to look back on the war and assess its outcome and its aftermath, but much harder to place ourselves back in that time when it was not at all clear who would emerge victorious. The prospect of Hitler and his murderous legions ruling much of the world was not so impossible to believe, and the work performed by J. Robert Oppenheimer (who makes several appearances in the book) and the Manhattan Project proved to be in the end essential.

The Einstein Prophecy, like much of my work, mixes fact with fancy, real science and history with purely speculative elements (some of them supernatural to boot). We know who won the war, but my novel asks how we did it . . . and with what possibly other-worldly assistance?

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