Wellcome Book Prize 2017 Shadow Panel

Newsflash! I’ve started a shadow panel of readers who will make our way through the six medical-themed titles shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize and deliberate to choose our own winner before the official prize announcement on Monday, April 24th. I hope to get the panel up to five – I’ve been in contact with a couple of science journalists via Twitter – but for now we are three, including:

Paul Cheney: blogs at Halfman, Halfbook and writes for Nudge’s Book Life section.

Amy Pirt: blogs at This Little Bag of Dreams and writes for Mookychick and g3 magazine.

The Wellcome Book Prize is an annual award sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation founded by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936 and dedicated to improving health. The current incarnation of the prize has been running since 2009 and the winner gets a whopping £30,000. Books are nominated by their publishers, and for the 2017 award cycle they must have been issued in the UK between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016.

One thing that’s unique about the Wellcome Prize is that both fiction and nonfiction books are eligible. Here’s how the website describes the aim of the prize:

To be eligible for entry, a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.

So as we’re reading (or looking back at) the six shortlisted books, those are the criteria we’ll be keeping in mind.

Here’s the full 2017 shortlist:

  • How to Survive a Plague by David France: a history of the AIDS crisis.
  • When Breath Becomes Air* by Paul Kalanithi: a posthumous memoir by a neurosurgeon.
  • Mend the Living* by Maylis de Kerangal (trans. Jessica Moore): a novel about a donor heart [published in the USA as The Heart].
  • The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss: a novel about a child who suddenly falls ill.
  • The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee: a thorough history of genetics.
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong: a survey of the human body’s microbes.


* = the two I’ve already read and reviewed on Goodreads. I’ll get these reviews together for my first shortlist post on Thursday. Next up for me is The Tidal Zone, which I plan to start today. I have the three other nonfiction titles on request from the public library and hope they’ll come in soon – each one is well over 300 pages, so I’ll need plenty of time with them!

For more on this year’s nominees and the official judging panel, see this Guardian article.

What interests you from the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist? Are there some titles you’ve already read? If you’ve reviewed any of these, let me know and I’d be happy to link to your reviews when I post mine.

Also, if you’d like to read any of the shortlisted books along with us over the next five weeks, I’d love to know that you’re taking part and will help share your reviews, so do get in touch!

(A huge thanks to Naomi of The Writes of Woman for advice on running a shadow panel.)

12 responses

  1. This sounds fascinating, although medical books are my “thing” about as much as business books are apparently my blog readers’ “thing”. I’ll be interested to read about the differing opinions on the books. I’ve transcribed an interview with Mukherjee and he was very interesting and engaging.


    1. The health theme allows for a lot of variety: I’m expecting The Gene and I Contain Multitudes to be popular science, and How to Survive a Plague to be more like social history. And then Mend the Living is a very literary novel that delights in words. So I think there’s a lot here that will appeal to different sorts of people.

      I loved Mukherjee’s previous book, The Emperor of All Maladies, but I’ve heard that this one is a little dryer and less interesting to the lay reader. We shall see!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carolyn Anthony | Reply

    This is a wonderful idea. I’m impressed with how you unite people.

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. It’s easy to do nowadays — what with Twitter and blogs — without leaving one’s chair! But thank you.


  3. What fun! And this sounds like a great match for you – you seem to read a lot of medical themed books already. Looking forward to following along! I always love to hear about these books, but rarely ever got to them myself, even though I think I’d like them all!


    1. You’re right, I do read a lot of books on a medical theme, so it seemed to make sense 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. count me in as a fellow shadow.


    1. Brilliant! Welcome 🙂


  5. Yay, well done you! Looking forward to seeing how it all develops.


    1. Thanks! I’m excited 🙂


  6. Glad to be part of the panel Rebecca

    Liked by 1 person

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