08 February 2018
wellcomebookprize

The longlist for the Wellcome Book Prize has been announced today, with an incredible five out of the twelve titles included published by Penguin Random House: The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman (Black Swan), Behave by Robert Sapolsky (Bodley Head), The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris (Allen Lane), Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing (Hamish Hamilton), and Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty (Jonathan Cape).

The prize celebrates exceptional books that engage with the topics of health and medicine and the many ways they touch our lives. It awards £30,000 each year to the winning author, and aims to stimulate interest and debate about medical science through books and reading.  This year’s judges are Edmund de WaalBryony GordonHannah CritchlowSumit Paul-Choudhury and Sophie Ratcliffe. The shortlist is announced on 20 March, with the winners crowned on 30 April. The Penguin Random House shortlisted titles are:

The Vaccine Race: How Scientists Used Human Cells to Combat Killer Viruses

The epic and controversial story of the major scientific breakthrough that led to the creation of some of the world’s most important vaccines. Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant. There was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated foetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia produced the first safe, clean cells that made possible the mass-production of vaccines against many common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day effectively wipe out rubella for good. This vaccine – and others made with those cells – have since protected hundreds of millions of people worldwide, the vast majority of them preschool children. Meredith Wadman’s account of this great leap forward in medicine is a fascinating and revelatory read.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Why do we do what we do? Behave is at once a dazzling tour and a majestic synthesis of the whole science of human behaviour. Brought to life through simple language, engaging stories and irreverent wit, it offers the fullest picture yet of the origins of tribalism and xenophobia, hierarchy and competition, morality and free will, war and peace. Robert Sapolsky’s ingenious method is to move backwards in time from the moment at which a behaviour occurs, layer by layer through the myriad influences that led to it. Throughout, Sapolsky considers the most important question: what causes acts of aggression or compassion? What inspires us to terrible deeds and what might help foster our best behaviour?

Wise, humane, often very funny, Behave is a towering achievement, powerfully humanising.

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

The spellbinding story of a visionary British surgeon who changed medicine for ever. In ‘The Butchering Art’, historian Lindsey Fitzharris recreates a critical turning-point in the history of medicine, when Joseph Lister transformed surgery from a brutal, harrowing practice to the safe, vaunted profession we know today. Victorian operating theatres were known as gateways of death, Fitzharris reminds us, since half of those who underwent surgery didn’t survive the experience. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more dangerous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: Joseph Lister, a young Quaker surgeon. By making the audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection – and could be treated with antiseptics – he changed the history of medicine for ever. With a novelist’s eye for detail, Fitzharris brilliantly conjures up the grisly world of Victorian surgery, revealing how one of Britain’s greatest medical minds finally brought centuries of savagery, sawing and gangrene to an end.

Mayhem: A Memoir

A searingly powerful memoir about the impact of addiction on a family.

In the summer of 2012 a woman named Eva was found dead in the London townhouse she shared with her husband, Hans K. Rausing. The couple had struggled with drug addiction for years, often under the glare of tabloid headlines. Now, writing with singular clarity and restraint the editor and publisher Sigrid Rausing, tries to make sense of what happened to her brother and his wife.

In Mayhem, she asks the difficult questions those close to the world of addiction must face. ‘Who can help the addict, consumed by a shaming hunger, a need beyond control? There is no medicine: the drugs are the medicine. And who can help their families, so implicated in the self-destruction of the addict? Who can help when the very notion of ‘help’ becomes synonymous with an exercise of power; a familial police state; an end to freedom, in the addict’s mind?’

Midwinter Break

A retired couple, Gerry and Stella Gilmore, fly to Amsterdam for a midwinter break. A holiday to refresh the senses, to see the sights and to generally take stock of what remains of their lives. But amongst the wintry streets and icy canals we see their relationship fracturing beneath the surface. And when memories re-emerge of a troubled time in their native Ireland things begin to fall apart. As their midwinter break comes to an end, we understand how far apart they are – and can only watch as they struggle to save themselves.

‘Midwinter Break is a work of extraordinary emotional precision and sympathy, about coming to terms – to an honest reckoning – with love and the loss of love, with memory and pain...this is a novel of great ambition by an artist at the height of his powers’ Colm Tóibín

Press Enquiries

For more information on this story please get in touch via our media contacts.

Related articles