Books to help you understand the world in 2016


The world is changing, sometimes incredibly fast. But one constant is that books can help us understand the world and our place in it. Some of our 2016 judges and a former winner offer their picks to make sense of it all this year.

Sathnam Sanghera (2016 Wellcome Book Prize judge)

'The Lightless Sky: An Afghan refugee boy's journey of escape to a new life in Britain' by Gulwali Passarlay. An extraordinary account illuminating what drives many refugee journeys to Britain.

'Number 11' by Jonathan Coe. Biting and perceptive follow-up to 'What a Carve Up!' - skewers the excesses of modern London.

'What's Left: How the left lost its way' by Nick Cohen. This has been reissued and is fascinating in light of the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn.


Joan Bakewell (2016 Wellcome Book Prize chair)

'How Much is Enough?' by Edward Skidelsky and Robert Skidelsky.

'Decline of the Public' by David Marquand.

'Age of Extremes: The short twentieth century 1914-1991' by Eric Hobsbawm.


Thomas Wright (winner of the 2012 Wellcome Book Prize for 'Circulation')

'César Birotteau' by Honoré de Balzac. In this novel the great anatomist of capitalist society examines the temptations, pitfalls, and baneful social consequences of property speculation - a form of investment more popular than ever today.

'Political Essays' by William Hazlitt. In his electrifying paradoxical style, the English Montaigne explores and dramatises the eternal war between power and liberty, both in politics and within the human heart: "The love of liberty", he remarks, "is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves."

'New Atlantis' by Francis Bacon. Bacon's Utopia contains Salomon's House, a college of the sciences whose empirical methods and Promethean ideals still inform scientific endeavours today - "the end of the foundation is to... enlarge the bounds of human empire... and effect all things possible".


Damian Barr (2016 Wellcome Book Prize judge)

Decidedly unpartisan but completely persuasive, 'Get It Together' by Zoe Williams tackles the big political questions of the day and comes up with some surprising answers.

'1984' by George Orwell. I think we need to look at this book again and really think what liberty means, what price we are willing to pay for it and question how free our thinking really is.

'The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare', by Michael Dobson, edited by Stanley Wells, the world's most enthusiastic and edifying authority on the Bard. Required reading in Shakespeare's big year and, as always, Shakespeare shows us how little we really change.


Tessa Hadley (2016 Wellcome Book Prize judge)

'The Evolution of Childhood' by Melvin Konner. A masterly overview of the significance and history of childhood, this book changed my perspective on so many things.

'Postwar' by Tony Judt.

'Time's Anvil' by Richard Morris. A memoir by a distinguished archaeologist looking back on his own life alongside the slower unfolding of historical time.