The shortlist for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize is announced today, celebrating the best new books that illuminate our encounters with health, medicine and illness. Of the six titles on the list, five are written by women and four are debuts.
Chaired by artist and writer Edmund de Waal, this year’s judging panel have selected a rich and varied shortlist – one novel, one memoir and four non-fiction books – connected by our complex relationship with mortality. The titles explore bereavement, loss and the fragility of life, consider medical innovations developed to escape death, and reflect on why we should talk more about dying.
· Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Nigeria) Canongate Books
· The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris (USA) Allen Lane, Penguin Press
· With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix (UK) William Collins, HarperCollins
· To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell (Ireland) Granta Books
· Mayhem: A memoir by Sigrid Rausing (UK/Sweden) Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books
· The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman (USA/Canada) Doubleday, Transworld
Edmund de Waal commented on behalf of the judging panel: “The demand of judging the Wellcome Book Prize is to find books that have to be read, books to press into people’s hands, books that start debates or deepen them, that move us profoundly, surprise and delight and perplex us, that bring the worlds of medicine and health into urgent public conversation: books that show us what it is to be human. These are six powerful books to read and share.”
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s heart-breaking debut Stay with Me is the only novel shortlisted for the prize. It offers an insight into fertility, family and the devastating effects of sickle-cell disease in 1980s Nigeria. The shortlisted memoir, Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing, uses the author’s own experience to explore the power of addiction and the impact this has on loved ones.
This year’s non-fiction titles chart the past, present and future of scientific progress. Lindsey Fitzharris evokes the grisly world of Victorian surgery, as Joseph Lister brings centuries of savagery, sawing and gangrene to an end in The Butchering Art. Meredith Wadman takes us into the 20th century in The Vaccine Race, presenting the game-changing story of the rubella vaccine breakthrough that has since protected hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Mark O’Connell looks to the future in To Be a Machine, investigating and questioning the transhumanism movement and the aim of using technology to extend life and push the human body beyond its current limitations.
The final title on the shortlist is a tender and insightful exploration of one of society’s major taboos. Palliative care consultant Kathryn Mannix makes a compelling case for approaching death not with trepidation but with openness, clarity and understanding in With the End in Mind.
The list celebrates new voices with four debuts: Stay With Me (Adébáyọ̀), The Butchering Art (Fitzharris), With the End in Mind (Mannix) and To Be a Machine (O’Connell). Authors from the UK, Ireland, USA, Nigeria and Canada are in the running alongside the first Swede to make a Wellcome Book Prize shortlist (Sigrid Rausing). Two titles are from independent publishers: Canongate and Granta Books.
The winner will be revealed at an evening ceremony on Monday 30 April at Wellcome Collection.