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Shortlist revealed for Wellcome Book Prize 2018

20 March 2018

The shortlist for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize is announced, 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 five are debuts.

  • 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

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.

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 five debuts: Stay With Me (Adébáyọ̀), The Butchering Art (Fitzharris), With the End in Mind (Mannix), To Be a Machine (O’Connell) and The Vaccine Race (Wadman). 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.

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.”

Kirty Topiwala, Publisher at Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Book Prize Manager, said: “Year on year this genre continues to excel. These six exceptional books brilliantly demonstrate the variety, style and power of contemporary writing engaged with health and the human experience.”

Quotes from the judging panel on the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize shortlist:

Edmund de Waal on Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀: “Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ is a remarkable and turbulent novel that sweeps the reader into the heartbreak of infertility and societal expectation. It is funny and heartbreaking in turn, and I loved it.”

Hannah Critchlow on The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris: “A gruesome yet spellbinding account of how Joseph Lister transformed medicine. A fantastically evocative book guiding the reader through this revolutionary time for medicine.”

Edmund de Waal on With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix: “Kathryn Mannix writes with an unparalleled knowledge of palliative care, with compassion and with an urgency to make dying part of our lives. She tells their stories with an utter conviction that ‘it’s time to talk about dying’.”

Sumit Paul-Choudhury on To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell: “Mark O’Connell goes from the sublime to the ridiculous in To Be a Machine – deftly skewering those who think the answer to humanity’s frailty is to leave it behind, in a book which itself manages to be simultaneously hilarious, touching and utterly humane.”

Bryony Gordon on Mayhem: A memoir by Sigrid Rausing: “A breathtaking account of addiction and its effects on families. Sigrid Rausing’s book is powerful and searing without ever feeling exploitative; her writing is spare and honest, asking questions that many would be too frightened to.”

Sophie Ratcliffe on The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman: “A book with an unlikely hero – a humble collection of cells, derived from an aborted fetus, without the mother’s consent. Wadman’s brilliantly researched book unfolds like a thriller, but asks some tough ethical questions along the way.”

Find out more about the shortlist on the Wellcome Book Prize website and for all press enquiries, including interview requests, please contact Midas Public Relations:

Hannah McMillan: hannah.mcmillan@midaspr.co.uk / 020 7361 7860 / 07971 086649

Alice Geary: alice.geary@midaspr.co.uk / 020 7361 7860

About the Wellcome Book Prize

Worth £30,000, the Wellcome Book Prize celebrates the best new books that engage with an aspect of medicine, health or illness, showcasing the breadth and depth of our encounters with medicine through exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction. Previous winners include Maylis de Kerangal (author) and Jessica Moore (translator) for Mend the Living in 2017, Suzanne O’Sullivan for It’s All in Your Head in 2016, Marion Coutts for The Iceberg in 2015, Andrew Solomon for Far from the Tree in 2014, Thomas Wright for Circulation in 2012, Alice LaPlante for Turn of Mind in 2011, Rebecca Skloot for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in 2010 and Andrea Gillies for Keeper: Living with Nancy – a journey into Alzheimer’s in 2009.

About Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection is the free museum and library for the incurably curious. Inspired by the medical objects and curiosities collected by Henry Wellcome, it connects science, medicine, life and art. Through its exhibitions, live programming, and digital and publishing activity, it makes thought-provoking content which aims to challenge how we think and feel about health.

Wellcome Collection is part of Wellcome, a global charitable foundation that exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. Both politically and financially independent, it supports scientists and researchers, takes on big problems, fuels imaginations and sparks debate. For information please contact Emily Philippou: e.philippou@wellcome.ac.uk | 020 7611 8726