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Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Wellcome Book Prize 2014 Shortlist

Sometimes it feels like there are so many different book prizes around these days that they all blur together in my mind and feel a bit samey-samey. But then again, there are a few of my favourites that I always keep an eye on. For example, I'm really looking forward to seeing who's made the shortlist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction when that is announced later this week because I read a few of their candidates in 2013 and really enjoyed them all.

Today I want to let you know about of another of my favourite book prizes which doesn't get quite so much online buzz about it - The Wellcome Book Prize. This is a prize looking at books with "a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness". But where you might think the frontrunners for that award would be dusty science texts without mass appeal, you'd be wrong - previous winners have included a New York Times bestseller, a historical memoir, and a great psychological thriller about dementia. The shortlist is usually really diverse.

So the shortlist was announced last week - let's see who has made the grade for the 2014 prize:

Wounded by Emily Mayhew
This tells the story of how health services were arranged at the Western Front, and how horrifically injured soldiers ever managed to make it back to Britain in one piece.

Creation by Adam Rutherford
Here, Rutherford looks back to the origins of life itself and explains how new technological advances will impact massively upon human life as we know it by allowing us to create new life forms from scratch in the lab.

Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon
"Sometimes your child - the most familiar person of all - is radically different from you. The saying goes that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. But what happens when it does?"
Solomon uses case studies to explore experiences of difference and diversity in communities and perhaps sheds some light on that age-old question of nature vs nurture.

The Signature Of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
This novel looks like an epic. It's the story of one Alma Whittaker, a young woman with a passion for botany who finds herself drawn into the conflict between science and spirituality in the Age of Enlightenment.

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
Some of you will already have enjoyed Sacks' skill in explaining neuropsychological phenomena in his previous classic 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat'. Here he applies the same treatment to clinical cases of hallucinations in all their various forms.

Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise
Sarah Wise explores the chilling world of psychiatry in Victorian England, telling the story of countless voiceless individuals who were incarcerated in lunatic asylums for the most spurious of reasons.

I have to say, I'm a little disappointed in the lack of balance between fiction and non-fiction in this year's list, but there are some nice choices on there nevertheless. Inconvenient People is already on my wishlist, and I think I'll give the Elizabeth Gilbert novel a try now, too - although I can hardly believe this historical epic is brought to us by the same woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love! I've had Sacks' 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat' on my TBR for years now and have never got through more than a few chapters, so I think I'll give that one a miss for the time being, although Hallucinations does sound really interesting. The other one that sounds like a good read is Far From The Tree but I'm not sure whether I am intrigued enough to buy a copy at the moment. One to keep on my radar in case I find myself in a non-fiction mood at some point, perhaps.

What do you think of this shortlist? Are any of these books catching your eye? And are there any other books you've read in the past year with medical themes that you think have been passed over? I reckon Belinda Bauer's Rubbernecker would have been a great candidate for this prize, personally.


  1. Interesting, I hadn't heard of this prize before. I'm a big fan of Women's Prize though and very excited to see which books will be in long list this year.

    Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love was not my cup of tea, but this book looks like it could be something much more interesting. Also Oliver Sacks is pretty good, I remember reading "The Man Who Mistook..." and chuckling at times because some ways he described his patients were so funny (in a very good way!) :)

    1. I haven't read Eat Pray Love but it isn't something I have ever even considered reading so I'm intrigued by her change of direction for this one. And I have promised myself I will get to read Sacks one day...so many books, so little time!

  2. I've only read 2 of these books - Far from the Tree was the best book I read last year and Signature of All Things was my favourite fiction book last year. To combine these two on one list is impressive. I've been aware of the Wellcome Prize in the past, but never read the shortlist before. I'm very tempted to do that this year.

    1. Oh wow - I must go and read your reviews now because I have heard only vague murmurings about both of these so it is really interesting that you loved them both so much. It definitely makes me more keen to try Far From The Tree now!

  3. I hadn't even heard of this prize but it sounds interesting and a few books on the list have caught my eye.
    I'm excited for the Bailey's announcement on Friday as well - I'm all ready to start reserving books like crazy at my library!

  4. I've only vaguely been aware of this prize in the past but this year, with the inclusion of two books on my wish list, I have been really interested in it. I'm really intrigued by Wounded and Inconvenient People and will hopefully get round to them soon.

    I can't way for the Bailey's announcement either - my to read list is going to skyrocket!

  5. I haven't heard about this prize, but now I'm intrigued in some of the titles you have brought :))

  6. Is it that time of year already. I e.joyed your comments on last year's selection/

  7. I'm pretty excited about this prize, though I agree that they seem badly skewed towards nonfiction this time! Still. There are some books that I want to read - especially Inconvenient People.