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Cover images for When Breath Becomes Air, Mend the Living, The Tidal Zone, Miss Jane, How to Survive a Plague, and The Essex Serpent | Courtesy of the publishers
Cover images for When Breath Becomes Air, Mend the Living, The Tidal Zone, Miss Jane, How to Survive a Plague, and The Essex Serpent | Courtesy of the publishers

The Wellcome Book Prize Unveils Longlist for 2017

Picture of Simon Leser
UK Literary Editor
Updated: 30 January 2017

The selection of 12 books in the running this year was announced today. Worth £30,000 ($37,462), the prize celebrates “exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction that engage with the topics of health and medicine and the many ways they touch our lives.”

The long-list features five works of fiction and seven non-fiction titles, including Paul Kalanithi‘s posthumous memoir When Breath Becomes Airand Mend the Living by French author Maylis de Kerangal—the first translated work to be so selected. Other nominees include Sarah Moss, selected for the third time in a row for The Tidal Zone, which concerns the effects of a child’s illness on her family.

Yuval Noah Harari has likewise been picked for Homo Deushis exploration of the future of humanity with a particular focus on medical technology; and so has Sarah Perry for her best-selling novel The Essex Serpent, which features autism prominently, and illustrates the opposition of scientific rationalism and superstition.

Four independent publishers have been rewarded: Canongate, Granta, Europa Editions, and Serpent’s Tail. The full list goes as follows:

·         How to Survive a Plague by David France (USA), non-fiction
·         Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari (Israel), non-fiction
·         When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (USA) non-fiction
·         Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (France) trans. Jessica Moore, fiction
·         The Golden Age by Joan London (Australia), fiction
·         Cure by Jo Marchant (UK), non-fiction
·         The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (UK), fiction
·         The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (USA), non-fiction
·         The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (UK), fiction
·         A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford (UK), non-fiction
·         Miss Jane by Brad Watson (USA), fiction
·         I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (UK), non-fiction

The Wellcome Book Prize long-list | © Wellcome / Courtesy of Midas PR

The prize was set up in 2009 by the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity, which also happens to run the Wellcome Collection—a museum in London dedicated to displaying both art and medical artifacts. The prize is concerned wholly with those new books engaging an aspect of medicine or illness in a meaningful way. Previous winners have included Suzanne O’Sullivan for It’s All in Your Head, Andrew Solomon for Far from the Tree, and Rebecca Skloot for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The judges this year were Simon Baron-Cohen, Gemma Cairney, Tim Lewens, Di Speirs, as well as the venerable Scottish crime writer Val McDermid, who served as the panel’s chair. She commented, on behalf of the group: “the longlist is evidence of the breadth, humanity and creativity at work in the submissions for the prize, and we commend each of these 12 books for your reading pleasure.”

More information here.