20 March 2018
Wellcome Book Prize shortlist

Three Penguin Random House titles have been selected for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize shortlist: The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman (Black Swan), The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris (Allen Lane) and Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing (Hamish Hamilton).

Other books which have made the shortlist are Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Canongate Books), With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix (HarperCollins) and To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell (Granta Books). 

The 2018 Wellcome Book Prize shortlist celebrates the many ways in which literature can illuminate the breadth and depth of our relationship with health, medicine and illness. 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 Waal, Bryony Gordon, Hannah Critchlow, Sumit Paul-Choudhury and Sophie Ratcliffe.

The winner will be revealed at an evening ceremony on Monday 30 April at Wellcome Collection.

More about those Penguin Random House titles included on this year’s shortlist:

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

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.

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

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 by Sigrid Rausing

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?’

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