Who Will Win the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize?

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The Wellcome Prize celebrates the best new books that engage with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. Last year the prize was awarded to Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, one of the most impressive books I’ve ever read. This year I decided to try the entire shortlist and I’ve been rewarded with a diverse range of titles; dealing with subjects as different as brain surgery and evolution.

The shortlist:

My Age of Anxiety

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

Five words from the blurb: fear, stress, mental, health, research

This book contained a wealth of knowledge on anxiety. Scott Stossel battles with crippling anxiety and in an effort to understand his condition he compiled medical research and historical information about a wide range of sufferers. The overall structure wasn’t quite right, but I think this will be an important reference book for many years to come.

 

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh 

Five words from the blurb: brain, operate, pressures, dilemma, lives

Henry Marsh is a neurosurgeon and this book explains what life is like for a man performing dangerous operations on a daily basis.  It vividly explains the pressures faced by a surgeon; beautifully describing both the guilt felt when procedures go wrong and the pride when lives are saved. I found it slightly too technical in places, but I appreciated the insight into this fascinating subject.

 

Bodies of Light

Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

Five words from the blurb: approval, mother, student, medicine,  suffrage

Bodies of Light is set 19th century Manchester and follows Ally, one of the first female students to study medicine at London university. It contains a wealth of historical information and shows the shocking way women in society were treated back then. Unfortunately I found it lacked the emotional engagement of her earlier novels, but it is a must-read for anyone interested in the development of women’s rights.

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The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us by Alice Roberts

Five words from the blurb: evolution, humans, embryo, extraordinary, development

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being is a very readable account of our development from an embryo into a fully-functioning adult. Much of the information was familiar to me, but there were enough engaging side-stories to keep me entertained. This book doesn’t contain anything ground-breaking, but is a useful introduction to human biology.

 

The Iceberg: A Memoir 

The Iceberg by Marion Coutts

Five words from the blurb: tumor, husband, grief, support, family

The Iceberg contains some of the most powerful descriptions of grief I’ve ever read. Marion Coutts explains what life was like in the 18 months between her husband’s diagnosis of a brain tumor and his untimely death. The writing was outstanding, but it was so vivid I felt I was reliving her pain. I found it traumatising to read, but I admired the honesty and emotional power of the writing.

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All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Five words from the blurb: sisters, different, depressed, happy, lives

All My Puny Sorrows is a very well written book, as proved by its inclusion on the Folio shortlist. It beautifully describes a family trying to cope with depression and suicide; showing how strong the bonds of love within a family can be. It was too melancholy for me, but I can see why many admire the sensitive way this difficult subject was handled.

Who Will Win the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize?

I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see any of the shortlist win, as they all have something special about them. All My Puny Sorrows contains the most accomplished writing; whilst My Age of Anxiety will probably be the most useful of the books in years to come. But for me the winner is a difficult choice between two books: The Iceberg and Do No Harm.

The Iceberg has an emotional power I haven’t come across before. Books like The Son by Michel Rostain have come close, but I don’t think I’ve ever found a book too difficult to read because of the volume of tears in my eyes! I couldn’t even finish the book as I was grieving for a man I’d never even met. If you want a masterclass in emotional writing then this has to be top of your list!

Do No Harm was the most interesting book on the list. It made me think about the brain in a different way and gave me a new-found respect for these ground-breaking surgeons. Parts of it went over my head and it occasionally felt a bit repetitive, but I think this is just a reflection of a surgeon’s life and should be forgiven.

So, head or heart?!!

In the end I have to let the head win. Do No Harm is an impressive book. The skill and emotional strength of neurosurgeons should be celebrated and I hope Henry Marsh picks up the Wellcome Book Prize tomorrow.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Who do you think should win the Wellcome Book Prize?


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10 Comments

  1. Annabel says:

    I’ve only read Do No Harm – but would love it to win as despite being quite technical in places, it really does give a fantastic view of the life of a specialist surgeon and the daily challenges of working in the NHS as one. Marsh also shows that surgeons are human too which can only increase respect for the difficult job they do. (I do have The Iceberg in my TBR …)

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, It would be a worthy winner – I can’t wait to see which book they pick!

  2. I found The Iceberg quite hard-going too but I loved Do No Harm – one of my favourite non-fiction books of 2014.

    1. Jackie says:

      A Little Blog of Books, It’s good to know you felt the same way I did!

  3. Lisa Hill says:

    The only one I’ve read is Bodies of Light – and I was surprised to see it here on this list – I hadn’t associated it with ‘medicine, health or illness’ in the way that the Wellcome Prize suggests, though those elements are certainly there.
    It’s nice to see a prize like this, I like prizes that focus on some sort of topic. In Australia there’s one for writing about peace too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lisa, I love the sound of the peace prize! Thanks for letting me know about it!

  4. Athira says:

    All of these sound like amazing books! It would be hard to pick a winner from this list. I am curious about The Iceberg – dealing with grief is something that interests me and I’ve read one other book (The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke) which I liked.

    1. Jackie says:

      Athira, I’m glad you found the list interesting. I hope you enjoy any you decide to try.

  5. I have Bodies of Light on my desk right now and didn’t even realize it was nominated for this. Maybe that’s a sign that i should read it right away? In fact, i haven’t read any on the list at all.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tanya, I’m sure it’s a sign! I hope you enjoy reading it!

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