The Wellcome Book Prize 2017 – reviewed

Article published on March 20, 2017.

The shortlist for the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize was announced last week, on Tuesday 14 March. David France, Paul Kalanithi, Maylis de Kerangal, Sarah Moss, Siddhartha Mukherjee and Ed Yong all remain in the running for the £30,000 prize, which 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 list of six titles was revealed by Chair of Judges and celebrated Scottish crime writer Val McDermid in a press conference at the London Book Fair.

The judging panel praised both the extraordinary variety of writing and the diversity of subjects, from questions of humanity and mortality to the microscopic components of our body.


The full 2017 Wellcome Book Prize shortlist is:

How to Survive a Plague by David France (USA) Picador, Pan Macmillan

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (USA) The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House

Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (France) trans. Jessica Moore MacLehose Press

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (UK) Granta Books

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (USA) The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House

I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (UK) The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House

Click on each title above to read its corresponding review by the nudge-book team.


The two fiction contenders on the 2017 shortlist – The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal – both celebrate and interrogate the intricacies of modern-day healthcare systems.

Sarah Moss - credit University of Warwick website

© University of Warwick website

Moss explores a family’s experience of navigating the NHS as they come to terms with their child’s unexplained medical condition, and de Kerangal tells the 24-hour story of a heart transplant, from fatal crash to life-saving operation. Mend the Living is the first text in translation to be shortlisted for the prize, and de Kerangal is the first French author to be shortlisted.

© Philippe QuaissePasco Co








This year’s four non-fiction titles shine a light on the human stories behind scientific developments and medical care, as well as opening a door to extraordinary new worlds.

Paul Kalanithi’s life-affirming memoir When Breath Becomes Air chronicles his transformation from medical student to neurosurgeon, patient and father before his sad death while working on this book. It is the first posthumously published title to be in contention for the Wellcome Book Prize.





David France credit Ken Schles

© Ken Schles


How to Survive a Plague by David France is the powerful story of the 1980s AIDS epidemic and the bravery of the activists, many facing their own life-or-death struggles, who campaigned for scientific research to help develop accessible, effective treatment.






Siddhartha Mukherjee - credit Deborah Feingold

© Deborah Feingold


Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene highlights the relevance of genetics within everyday life and interrogates concerns with our growing ability to alter the human genome. Woven within this narrative is an intimate story of Mukherjee’s own family and its recurring pattern of mental illness.






Ed Yong - credit Urszula Soltys

© Urszula Soltys

I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong’s debut book, provides a page-turning exploration of the body’s 40 trillion microbes, and how our microscopic companions not only sculpt our organs, protect us from diseases and guide our behaviour, but also hold the key to understanding all life on Earth.







There are two previously shortlisted authors in the running for this year’s prize: Siddhartha Mukherjee (The Emperor of All Maladies, 2011) and Sarah Moss, who is recognised for the third consecutive year (Bodies of Light, 2015; Signs for Lost Children, 2016).

The winner will be announced at an evening ceremony on Monday 24 April at Wellcome Collection.

Wellcome Book Prize judges 2017, Di Speirs, Simon Baron-Cohen, Val McDermid, Tim Lewens and Gemma Cairney.

“What these six challenging, diverse and enriching titles have in common is their insight into what it means to be human. Together they form a mosaic that illuminates our relationship with health and medicine. It spans our origins, our deaths and much that lies between, from activism to acts of human kindness.”

Val McDermid


We have also featured a review of each longlisted title on nudge-book:

The Golden Age by Joan London

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Cure by Jo Marchant

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford


Find out more about the Wellcome Book Prize and follow on Twitter @wellcomebkprize
Join the conversation #WBP2017


Room Empty by Sarah Mussi


Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life by Tracy Tynan

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