My 2018 Wellcome Book Prize Wish List

Tomorrow the longlist for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced. This year’s judging panel is chaired by Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes. I hope to once again shadow the shortlist along with a few fellow book bloggers. I don’t feel like I’ve read all that many books that are eligible (i.e., released in the UK in 2017, and on a medical theme), but here are some that I would love to see make the list. I link to all those I’ve already featured here, and give review extracts for the books I haven’t already mentioned.



  • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell: O’Farrell captures fragments of her life through essays on life-threatening illnesses and other narrow escapes she’s experienced. The pieces aren’t in chronological order and aren’t intended to be comprehensive. Instead, they crystallize the fear and pain of particular moments in time, and are rendered with the detail you’d expect from her novels. She’s been mugged at machete point, nearly drowned several times, had a risky first labor, and was almost the victim of a serial killer. (My life feels awfully uneventful by comparison!) But the best section of the book is its final quarter: an essay about her childhood encephalitis and its lasting effects, followed by another about her daughter’s extreme allergies. 



It’s also possible that we could see these make the longlist:

  • History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: Fridlund’s Minnesota-set debut novel is haunted by a dead child. From the second page readers know four-year-old Paul is dead; a trial is also mentioned early on, but not until halfway does Madeline Furston divulge how her charge died. This becomes a familiar narrative pattern: careful withholding followed by tossed-off revelations that muddy the question of complicity. The novel’s simplicity is deceptive; it’s not merely a slow-building coming-of-age story with Paul’s untimely death at its climax. For after a first part entitled “Science”, there’s still half the book to go – a second section of equal length, somewhat ironically labeled “Health”. (Reviewed for the TLS.) 



  • Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life by Haider Warraich: A learned but engaging book that intersperses science, history, medicine and personal stories. The first half is about death as a medical reality, while the second focuses on social aspects of death: religious beliefs, the burden on families and other caregivers, the debate over euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, and the pros and cons of using social media to share one’s journey towards death. (See my full Nudge review.) 


Of 2017’s medical titles that I haven’t read, I would have especially liked to have gotten to:

  • Sound: A Story of Hearing Lost and Found by Bella Bathurst
  • This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay
  • With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Kathryn Mannix [I have this one on my Kindle from NetGalley]
  • Into the Grey Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border between Life and Death by Adrian Owen
  • Patient H69: The Story of My Second Sight by Vanessa Potter


We are also likely to see a repeat appearance from the winner of the 2017 Royal Society Science Book Prize, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Cordelia Fine.


Other relevant books I read last year that have not (yet?) been released in the UK:


  • No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine by Rachel Pearson: Pearson describes her Texas upbringing and the many different hands-on stages involved in her training: a prison hospital, gynecology, general surgery, rural family medicine, neurology, dermatology. Each comes with memorable stories, but it’s her experience at St. Vincent’s Student-Run Free Clinic on Galveston Island that stands out most. Pearson speaks out boldly about the divide between rich and poor Americans (often mirrored by the racial gap) in terms of what medical care they can get. A clear-eyed insider’s glimpse into American health care. 



  • The Tincture of Time: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty by Elizabeth L. Silver: At the age of six weeks, Silver’s daughter suffered a massive brain bleed for no reason that doctors could ever determine. Thanks to the brain’s plasticity, especially in infants, the bleed was reabsorbed and Abby has developed normally, although the worry never goes away. Alongside the narrative of Abby’s baffling medical crisis, Silver tells of other health experiences in her family. An interesting exploration of the things we can’t control and how we get beyond notions of guilt and blame to accept that time may be the only healer. 


Do you follow the Wellcome Book Prize? Have you read any books that might be eligible?

19 responses

  1. When saw the title to this post, I almost gave it a miss. I’m glad I persisted. Some great looking reads here. I’ll keep this list for later.


    1. I clearly should have given it a more enticing title 😉 I tend to go for bland, descriptive ones.

      The Wellcome is an interesting prize because it covers both fiction and nonfiction, and even within the broad field of medicine there are so many different topics. I’m glad you found some books that appeal.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, the title was fine. I was expecting worthy works, not such an eclectic and interesting selection. I stand corrected!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You should be on the judging panel! I’ve read and loved the Malmquist about which I was sceptical at first but it turned out to be one of my books of 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I would love to judge a prize ‘for real’ one day. Now that Simon Savidge has judged the Costa, there is that precedent for bloggers being involved. For now, I reckon it’ll just be shadow panels for me, but maybe some day…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list! I was struggling to think of eligible fiction titles but I will look out for those you have mentioned here.


    1. Thanks! Yeah, I only came up with a few fiction titles but there are probably more out there on autism, dementia or assisted suicide that I haven’t read and didn’t have on my radar.


  4. […] correctly predicted three of the entries (or 25%) in yesterday’s post: In Pursuit of Memory by Joseph Jebelli, With […]


  5. You’ve got me interested in the Wellcome – gradually, over a period of years, but now I’m really excited by the longlist (which I checked out today) and what they choose for the shortlist! Slightly surprised by Stay With Me’s presence, which I didn’t love as a novel, though I can see why it’s on the Wellcome for what it says about cultural reactions to (in)fertility.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t get far with Stay with Me, so I am rather hoping it doesn’t make the shortlist so I don’t have to try to read it again 😉 Lots of other interesting stuff on the longlist, anyway. I imagine you’d probably be too busy to do a shadow panel, but I hope we can lure you into some buddy reads when shortlist time comes around.


      1. Ooh, that sounds fun! And I’d love to do a proper shadow panel, but I’m already doing one this spring and that’s probably about my limit…


    2. Trust me, it’s not a “proper” shadow panel, just me and some people I rope in trying to read a stack of big science-y books; very informal 😉

      Are you doing the Baileys again?


      1. Yes indeed! (Although I’m not sure I’m allowed to say that as there hasn’t been an actual announcement yet.)

        Well, in that case, perhaps I’ll read along with you? At least the ones that look interesting 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Sure, join in for any you feel like reading!


  6. I’ve read extracts from both A Life in Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh and Fragile Lives and both seem well-deserving winners. I couldnt bring myself to read them in full last year since I was going through surgery myself so was a bit worried I would learn too much. But now I think I’m in a better mood to get to know them better


    1. Both of Henry Marsh’s books are worth reading, but Do No Harm is that little bit better than Admissions. I’m still shocked that Fragile Lives didn’t make the longlist.


      1. That’s good to know. I’m going to put them on reserve at the library

        Liked by 1 person

  7. […] I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell & The Lost Properties of Love by Sophie […]


  8. […] decipher a coherent plot to the events – that reminded me most of Free Woman by Lara Feigel and I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie […]


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