The Wellcome Book Prize reveals 2015 shortlist


Monday 9 March: The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2015 was announced today by acclaimed author and chair of judges, Bill Bryson. Joined by Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, Bryson revealed the six shortlisted titles at a breakfast event held in Wellcome Collection’s new Reading Room.

Celebrating the best new books that engage with some aspect of medicine, health or illness, the 2015 shortlist showcases the breadth and depth of our encounters with medicine through six exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction:

  • The Iceberg by Marion Coutts (Atlantic)
  • Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (Granta)
  • The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being by Alice Roberts (Heron)
  • My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel (Windmill Books)
  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Faber)

The two novels and four non-fiction books capture a diverse range of perspectives and characters – from brain surgeon to anxiety sufferer, historic trailblazer to bereaved survivor of loss.

Worth £30,000, the 2015 prize is judged by a panel comprising internationally acclaimed author and Chair of Judges, Bill Bryson; Prof. Uta Frith DBE, the Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at UCL; bestselling author Mark Haddon; BBC presenter Razia Iqbal; and barrister and broadcaster Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.

Chair of Judges Bill Bryson said: “Highlighting the importance of literature in exploring the human experience within medicine, the shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2015 covers a pleasingly diverse array of subjects and genres. All six books blend exquisite writing with scientific rigour and personal experience, making medical science accessible in six very different ways. Having found my own way to science through literature, I'm thrilled to recommend each one of them."

Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection Ken Arnold said: “This year’s list proves again what a vibrant, surprising and moving slice of contemporary literature Wellcome Collection’s concern with medicine and health can reveal. At an exciting moment for us, when we have unveiled more spaces offering a wider range of programming to encourage greater depths of curiosity than ever, these books make it clear that our core themes are also inspiring some of the best writers at work today. Here are six wonderful books of both fact and fiction that offer powerful insights into the body and the mind, the practices of medicine, as well as the impact of death and suicide. I wait with bated breath to see which one will win our prize.”

Previous winners of the Wellcome Book Prize have been Andrew Solomon for Far From the Tree: Parents, children and the search for identity in 2014, Thomas Wright for Circulation in 2012, Alice LaPlante for Turn of Mind in 2011, Rebecca Skloot for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in 2010, and Andrea Gillies for Keeper: Living with Nancy – A Journey into Alzheimer’s in 2009.

Re-launched in 2014 with the strapline Books for the incurably curious, the Prize is open to both fiction and non-fiction titles which have been published in the UK during the Prize year. The winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2015 will be announced on Wednesday 29 April.


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Notes to Editors:

Wellcome Book Prize 2015 shortlist

The Iceberg by Marion Coutts (Atlantic)

  • The Iceberg is an exploration of the impact of death in real time, a sustained act of looking that only ends when life does. It gives an account of a small family unit under assault, and the inventiveness by which they tried to stay together. It charts the deterioration of Tom's speech even as it records the developing language of his child. It navigates with great power the journey from home to hospital to hospice.
  • Marion Coutts is an artist and writer. She wrote the introduction to Tom Lubbock's memoir Until Further Notice, I am Alive, published by Granta in 2012. She is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and lives in London with her son.

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

  • Do No Harm is an astonishingly candid insight into the life and work of a modern neurosurgeon – its triumphs and disasters.
  • Henry Marsh read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University before studying medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1984 and was appointed Consultant Neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley's/St George's Hospital in London in 1987, where he still works full time. He has been the subject of two major documentary films, Your Life in Their Hands, which won the Royal Television Society Gold Medal, and The English Surgeon, featuring his work in the Ukraine, which won an Emmy. He was made a CBE in 2010 and was on the judging panel for the Wellcome Book Prize 2012. He is married to the anthropologist and writer Kate Fox.

Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (Granta)

  • Bodies of Light is a profound and provocative book about family and a radically modern novel with a 19th-century setting. It is a gripping story told with rare precision and tenderness.
  • Sarah Moss was educated at Oxford University and is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. She is the author of two novels: Cold Earth (2010) and Night Waking (2011), which was selected for the Fiction Uncovered Award in 2011, as well as Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland (2012), which was shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2013.

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being by Alice Roberts (Quercus)

  • The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being, the presenter of BBC’s The Incredible Human Journey takes a surprising tour around the human body, explaining how we function and how we might evolve.
  • Alice Roberts is an anatomist and anthropologist, television presenter, author and Professor of Public Engagement with Science at the University of Birmingham. She has presented Coast, Horizon and several series about human evolution – including The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us and Prehistoric Autopsy – on BBC 2. She has also presented Inside Science on Radio 4, and writes a regular science column for The Observer. Her previous books include Evolution: The Human Story, The Incredible Human Journey and The Complete Human Body. She lives near Bristol with her husband and two children.

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel (Windmill books)

  • My Age of Anxiety is a riveting, revelatory and moving account of one man’s battle with anxiety, and a history of the efforts to understand the condition by scientists, philosophers, artists, and writers, from Freud to Hippocrates and from Samuel Johnson to Charles Darwin.
  • Scott Stossel is the editor of The Atlantic. Previously, he was the executive editor of The American Prospect. He is also the author of Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. A graduate of Harvard, he lives with his family in Washington DC.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Faber)

  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is a story of sisters, suicide and how to carry on with hope when grief loads the heart.
  • Miriam Toews (pronounced tâves) was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba, in Canada. She has published six novels - including A Boy of Good Breeding, A Complicated Kindness, The Flying Troutmans, Irma Voth All My Puny Sorrows - and a memoir of her father, Swing Low. Toews is the recipient of numerous literary awards including the Governor General's Award, the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award (twice), and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. In 2007 she made her screen debut in the film Luz silenciosa. She was nominated for Best Actress at Mexico's Ariel Awards for her performance.

Wellcome Book Prize 2015 Judges Biographies:

Bill Bryson is a best-selling author whose books have sold more than 16 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. His science book A Short History of Nearly Everything won the 2004 Aventis Prize of the Royal Society and the Descartes Prize, the European Union’s highest literary award. His other books include Notes from a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods, Down Under, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, One Summer: America, 1927, and the biography William Shakespeare: The World as Stage; He was editor of the Royal Society’s 350 anniversary book, Seeing Further. Before becoming a fulltime freelance writer, he worked as a journalist, principally on The Times, and he was one of the founding journalists on The Independent. He was born in the American Mid-West, but has spent most of his adult life in England.

Uta Frith DBE is Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at UCL and Visiting Professor at Aarhus University. She is known for her pioneering work on autism and dyslexia. She has contributed some of the major theories explaining some paradoxical features of these conditions and has published numerous scientific articles and books. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society. One of her current interests is to promote women in science and another is science communication, and in particular, demystifying findings from cognitive neuroscience. She believes that the study of brain and mind will lead to big discoveries in the 21st century and will lead to a better understanding of human nature.

Mark Haddon is the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which was a bestseller around the world. It won more than seventeen literary awards, including the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He has written drama for radio and television for which he won two BAFTAs. His play Polar Bears was produced by the Donmar Warehouse in 2007. His latest novel is The Red House.

Razia Iqbal is a BBC presenter. She is one of the main presenters of Newshour, the BBC World Service's flagship, daily current affairs programme. She also presents Talking Books on BBC World TV and Front Row on Radio 4. She was the BBC's Arts correspondent for more than a decade, and over a 25 year career at the BBC, has worked as a correspondent in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as a political correspondent, and a Special Correspondent for the six and ten o'clock news on BBC1.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC is a barrister, broadcaster, and member of the House of Lords. She is an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues and has received many honours for her work. Current chair of Justice – the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists, she was the Chair of the British Council and Chair of the Human Genetics Commission. She recently produced a report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Human Trafficking in Scotland and was a member of the Government Commission on a British Bill of Rights. A Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, she is also the Co-Chair of the International Bar Association's Institute of Human Rights. She is Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford.

About Wellcome Collection: 

Wellcome Collection is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The venue offers visitors contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, lively public events, the world-renowned Wellcome Library, a café, shop, restaurant and conference facilities as well as publications, tours, a book prize, international and digital projects.

Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.