The Wellcome Book Prize celebrates works of fiction and non-fiction that illuminate the intersection between life, science and art. This year's judges, including Val McDermid and Simon Baron-Cohen, have selected the six-book shortlist from this year's 140 submissions. David France, Paul Kalanathi, Maylis de Kerangal, Sarah Moss, Siddhartha Mukherjee and Ed Yong are all in the running for the 2017 prize.
How to Survive a Plague by David France charts the history of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, highlighting the extraordinary journey from deadly epidemic to a treatable and manageable disease. Interwoven with human stories, this is a narrative about activists and everyday people working with scientists and researchers to bring about change.
Paul Kalanathi is a neurosurgeon, who reflects on his professional career in When Breath Becomes Air. At the time of writing, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and so this text becomes a reflection on his experience as a patient as well.
Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal is the first text in translation to be included in the Wellcome Book Prize; it was originally published in French and has been translated by Jessica Moore. One of two novels included in this year's shortlist, Mend the Living follows 24-hours in the life of a young man undergoing a heart transplant, from fatal accident to life-saving operation.
The second novel on this year's shortlist is The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, whose works have been shortlisted twice in previous years. The Tidal Zone focuses on the experience of a stay-at-home father dealing with the sudden illness of his teenage daughter. It addresses questions surrounding how we cope when our lives are torn apart, and how we can best put them back together in the face of huge uncertainty.
In The Gene, physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee provides a history of the field of genetics, from Gregor Mendel, to Charles Darwin, to Francis Galton and the eugenics movement. This work serves to remind us of the immense potential of genetic work, as well as the immense dangers. Interwoven throughout is the history of Mukherjee's own family, who have experienced recurring patterns of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong is an exploration of the role that bacteria and microbes play in our lives. Vilified as the bringers of germs and disease, Yong shows us that bacteria and microbes also play an important role in maintaining health, in all areas of life. Yong explains that we are hosts to many different organisms, making us individual ecosystems in our own right.
Welldoing.org will be writing about all the books in the shortlist in more detail over the following weeks.