The 2019 Wellcome Book Prize: Shadow Panel and Wish List

On Tuesday the longlist for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced. For the third year in a row I’m running a shadow panel, and it’s composed of the same four wonderful book bloggers who joined me last year: Paul Cheney of Halfman, Halfbook, Annabel Gaskell of Annabookbel, Clare Rowland of A Little Blog of Books, and Dr. Laura Tisdall.

This year we’re going to do things slightly differently: we plan to split up the longlist, taking two to three titles each, so that between us we will have read them all and can announce our own preferred shortlist before the official shortlist is announced in March. At that point we’ll catch up by (re)reading the six shortlisted books, each reviewing the ones we haven’t already. Essentially, I’m adding an extra stage of shadow panel judging, simply because I can. I hope it will be fun – and also less onerous, in that we should get a leg-up on the shortlist and not have to read all six books in March‒April, which has proved to be a challenge in the past.

My Wellcome Prize hopefuls are all the fiction or nonfiction titles I’ve read on a medical theme that were published in the UK in calendar year 2018. I have put asterisks beside the 12 books in this post that I predict for the longlist. (The combination of wishful thinking and likelihood means that these are not exclusively my personal favorites.)


Below is a list of the books I’ve already featured on the blog in some way, with links to my coverage and a few-word summary of their relevance.



Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman: Female body woes

*Beneath the Skin: Great Writers on the Body: Essays on organs

*All that Remains by Sue Black: Forensic anthropology

Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler: Living with advanced cancer

Heal Me by Julia Buckley: Tackling chronic pain

*The Unmapped Mind by Christian Donlan: Adjusting to life with MS

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty: Funerary rites around the world

This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein: A genetic disease in the family

Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich: Questioning the wellness culture

On Smaller Dogs and Larger Life Questions by Kate Figes: Pondering breast cancer

Shapeshifters by Gavin Francis: Instances of bodily change

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman: Healing from an eating disorder

Nine Pints by Rose George: The story of blood

Waiting for the Last Bus by Richard Holloway: Ageing and death

*Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar: Heart disease and treatments

Sick by Porochista Khakpour: Chronic Lyme disease

Human Errors by Nathan Lents: Flawed bodies; evolutionary adaptations

Skybound by Rebecca Loncraine: Breast cancer; flying lessons

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee: Memoir of F2M transformation

*Face to Face by Jim McCaul: Tales of facial surgery

*Somebody I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell: A firsthand account of early Alzheimer’s

*That Was When People Started to Worry by Nancy Tucker: Mental illness from the inside

*The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson: Nursing as a vocation



Little by Edward Carey: Anatomical models in wax (thanks to Clare for the reminder!)

Orchid & the Wasp by Caoilinn Hughes: Non-epileptic seizures

*The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason: Neurology, surgery during WWI

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry: Medicine in 1840s Edinburgh



Other eligible books that I have read but not happened to mention on the blog:


In Shock by Rana Awdish: The doctor became the patient when Awdish, seven months pregnant, was rushed into emergency surgery with excruciating pain due to severe hemorrhaging into the space around her liver, later explained by a ruptured tumor. Having experienced brusque, cursory treatment, even from colleagues at her Detroit-area hospital, she was convinced that doctors needed to do better. This memoir is a gripping story of her own medical journey and a fervent plea for compassion from medical professionals. 


Doctor by Andrew Bomback: Part of the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series, this is a wide-ranging look at what it’s like to be a doctor. Bomback is a kidney specialist; his wife is also a doctor, and his father, fast approaching retirement, is the kind of old-fashioned, reassuring pediatrician who knows everything. Even the author’s young daughter likes playing with a stethoscope and deciding what’s wrong with her dolls. In a sense, then, Bomback uses fragments of family memoir to compare the past, present and likely future of medicine. 


A Moment of Grace by Patrick Dillon [skimmed]: A touching short memoir of the last year of his wife Nicola Thorold’s life, in which she battled acute myeloid leukemia. Dillon doesn’t shy away from the pain and difficulties, but is also able to summon up some gratitude. 


Get Well Soon: Adventures in Alternative Healthcare by Nick Duerden: British journalist Nick Duerden had severe post-viral fatigue after a run-in with possible avian flu in 2009 and was falsely diagnosed with ME / CFS. He spent a year wholeheartedly investigating alternative therapies, including yoga, massage, mindfulness and meditation, visualization, talk therapy and more. He never comes across as bitter or sorry for himself. Instead, he considered fatigue a fact of his new life and asked what he could do about it. So this ends up being quite a pleasant amble through the options, some of them more bizarre than others. 


*Sight by Jessie Greengrass [skimmed]: I wanted to enjoy this, but ended up frustrated. As a set of themes (losing a parent, choosing motherhood, the ways in which medical science has learned to look into human bodies and minds), it’s appealing; as a novel, it’s off-putting. Had this been presented as a set of autobiographical essays, perhaps I would have loved it. But instead it’s in the coy autofiction mold where you know the author has pulled some observations straight from life, gussied up others, and then, in this case, thrown in a bunch of irrelevant medical material dredged up during research at the Wellcome Library. 


*Brainstorm: Detective Stories From the World of Neurology by Suzanne O’Sullivan: Epilepsy affects 600,000 people in the UK and 50 million worldwide, so it’s an important condition to know about. It is fascinating to see the range of behaviors seizures can be associated with. The guesswork is in determining precisely what is going wrong in the brain, and where, as well as how medicines or surgery could address the fault. “There are still far more unknowns than knowns where the brain is concerned,” O’Sullivan writes; “The brain has a mind of its own,” she wryly adds later on. (O’Sullivan won the Prize in 2016 for It’s All in Your Head.) 



I’m also currently reading and enjoying two witty medical books, The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris, and Chicken Unga Fever by Phil Whitaker, his collected New Statesman columns on being a GP.


Four additional books I have not read but think might have a chance of making the longlist:

Primate Change: How the World We Made Is Remaking Us by Vybarr Cregan-Reid

The Beautiful Cure: Harnessing Your Body’s Natural Defences by Daniel M. Davis

Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist by Edward M. Hallowell

*She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer


Look out for the announcement of the longlist on Tuesday afternoon! I’ll report back, perhaps on Wednesday, with some reactions and the shadow panel’s reviewing strategy.


Have you read, or are you interested in, any of these books?

Can you think of other 2018 releases that might be eligible for the Wellcome Book Prize?

20 responses

  1. I’ve only read two from your list – The Reading Cure and Little, both excellent – so there’s lots for me to explore here although I’ve already started This Really Isn’t About You. I like your approach to the shadow judging.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Of these, I’ve only read Sick and Sight, so it looks like I’ll have a lot to catch up on once we get the longlist! I already have The Language of Kindness, Skybound and This Really Isn’t About You on my TBR pile, and I also like the sound of All That Remains and In Shock.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, who knows what will make the longlist — I consider myself pretty clued-in about recent books, but every year there are nominees I have NEVER heard of. The other complication is that publishers have to nominate their own books, and only up to three (I think there are at least three W&N books on my list, if not more, for instance), so you never know what was even put forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh, good luck with shadow judging! I agree that The Language of Kindness is very good, though Brainstorm was less of a hit with me. That Was When People Started To Worry and This Really Isn’t About You definitely appeal. (And I’ve heard that All That Remains is very good too.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. All of the ones you starred interest me, except for Sight, plus the Mother’s Laugh and the Beautiful Cure.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  5. You have featured 27 medical-themed books on your blog?!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    1. It seems so! It was only when I listed them all together like this that I realized just how much medical material I reviewed last year.

      I’d happily lend you any of the ones I own, but I didn’t think you’d be so into medical reads? I was going to lend the nursing book to Trish, but she seems to have gone cold on the idea of retraining as a nurse (and doesn’t read much anymore). ________________________________


  6. This seems exciting! Good luck, I will be looking forward to the reviews 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m delighted to be joining in again! I’ve read several from your candidates (Sue Black, Christie Watson and Laura Freeman) and I was equally frustrated by Sight! It’ll be exciting to see what the longlist comprises though….

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Not that I would have any hope of getting through all of these books but your participation in the shadow panel and the reviews you post means quite a few of the titles seem to wind up on my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Please keep me in mind if you’re ever looking for more bloggers for your shadow panel. I had such good luck reading the National Book Award shortlist and I love books on medicine, so I expect I’ll at least be picking up many of the Wellcome prize shortlist books on my own 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great to know that you’re interested! Where are you based? The only issue could be accessing some books that have only been published in the UK. (NetGalley might be a way to get some if you’re overseas.) Feel free to read along with us on any of the longlist or shortlist titles you’re keen on!


      1. I’m in the US, so it’s true, I might have a harder time getting some of these! I’ll know some of the longlist titles have been published here, but I’ll have to check for some of the others and I’ll definitely follow along with your reviews 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. […] has posted a comprehensive list of predictions of her own, some of which overlap with mine. Which books are you hoping to see on the […]


  11. A very comprehensive list! I liked Sight but I think I could be on my own with that view in our shadow panel… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Laura loved it too! But Annabel and I had issues, and I really don’t think it would be Paul’s sort of book. In any case, I think it’s a strong fiction contender for the longlist.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. […] will be taking part in Rebecca’s shadow panel again – we’re planning to divvy up the longlist between us to cover if we can before the […]


  13. I like the idea of splitting up the longlist and predicting your own shortlist. I’ll be curious to see how many books you’ve predicted are on the list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I only predicted 2 correctly, but I had read/skimmed 5 of the 12 longlisted. I’ve started another nominee today, so I’ll be at halfway before long.

      We’re now busily figuring out to divide the longlist between us 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. […] correctly predicted just two, Sight by Jessie Greengrass and Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar, but had read another […]


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