Wellcome Book Prize Shadow Panel Decision

Addiction, death, infertility, surgery, transhumanism and vaccines: It’s been quite the varied reading list for the five of us this spring! Lots of science, lots of medicine, but also a lot of stories and imagination.

After some conferring and voting, we have arrived at our shadow panel winner for the Wellcome Book Prize 2018: To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell.

Rarely have I been so surprised to love a book. It’s a delight to read, and no matter what your background or beliefs are, it will give you plenty to think about. It goes deep down, beneath our health and ultimately our mortality, to ask what the essence of being human is.

Here’s what the rest of the shadow panel has to say about our pick:

Annabel: “O’Connell, as a journalist and outsider in the surprisingly diverse field of transhumanism, treats everyone with respect: asking the questions, but not judging, to get to the heart of the transhumanists’ beliefs. For a subject based in technology, To Be a Machine is a profoundly human story.”

Clare: “The concept of transhumanism may not be widely known or understood yet, but O’Connell’s engaging and fascinating book explains the significance of the movement and its possible implications both in the distant future and how we live now.”

Laura: “My brain feels like it’s been wired slightly differently since reading To Be a Machine. It’s not just about weird science and weird scientists, but how we come to terms with the fact that even the luckiest of us live lives that are so brief.”

Paul: “An interesting book that hopefully will provoke further discussion as we embrace technology and it envelops us.”

On Monday we’ll find out which book the official judges have chosen. I could see three or four of these as potential winners, so it’s very hard to say who will take home the £30,000.

Who are you rooting for?

7 responses

  1. Intrigued as to who you think the fourth potential winner is – for me, there are three that seem a lot more likely than the other three (Mannix, O’Connell and Fitzharris).


    1. Those three, yes, and then I actually wouldn’t be hugely surprised if they picked Rausing. The judges have given it high praise (though of course they have for all six books), and I wonder if that and Plot 29 are representative of at least de Waal’s taste.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] See Rebecca’s full post on the decision here. […]


  3. Was it your review where you said you were really surprised to like this one? It’s not the type of book I’d usually go for, but I’m hearing such good things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I thought I was not at all interested in the subject matter and was pretty reluctant to read this when it was shortlisted, so it was a big surprise to find it so readable and fascinating. I can recommend it to pretty much anyone, whether or not you think you’d find the topic to your liking.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ll be very glad to hear that our local independent bookshop has a special display of all the books on the shortlist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent! My public library does too — except it’s empty because I have all the books! (Not quite true — only two of mine are library copies; but it does look very depleted and they’ve pulled out previous years’ shortlistees to fill in the gaps.)

      Liked by 1 person

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