Wellcome Book Prize: 5 brilliant books about life & death

By Kitty Knowles 9 February 2018

Novels and non-fiction to open your mind.

We all want to live longer. But surely that only applies if we can also live better?

Fortunately, this year’s longlist for the Wellcome Book Prize includes a number of fantastic titles about life and death – fighting illness, and future healthcare.

Whether you love novels, memoirs, or stirring non-fiction, lose yourself in one of our five picks…

1) To Be a Machine

By Mark O’Connell 

The titillating full title of this book gives an insight into the epic ride within.

After all, who wouldn’t be curious about ‘Adventures among cyborgs, utopians, hackers, and the futurists solving the modest problem of death‘?

Delve into the depths of transhumanism, the technological movement of improving ourselves until we’re no longer the humans we once were: from its philosophical and scientific beginnings through to the cutting-edge possibilities.

The world of biohackers and ‘immortalists’ has never been more exciting.

Granta Books, £9.99 Amazon

2) In Pursuit of Memory

By Joseph Jebelli

No one wants to lose their sense of self as they age. But this is what Joseph Jebelli saw when, aged 12, his much-loved grandfather developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Now a neuroscientist, Dr Jebelli debut book explores the epidemic that affects millions around the world – and the race against the clock to find a cure.

Discover how we’ve leapt forward since Alzheimer’s was first recorded more than 100 years ago, and what complex challenges still have us stumped.

We guarantee you’ll be moved by the heroes you meet: both by the scientists driving change and the patients and families bravely facing up to the disease.

John Murray, £10 Amazon.

3) With the End in Mind

By Kathryn Mannix 

A title that’s not about extending life but ensuring we all live well to the end is With the End in Mind.

Written by palliative medicine pioneer Dr Kathryn Mannix, it’s an exploration of death and how we deal with it – one of the biggest taboos in society today.

Told through tender stories from three decades of clinical practice, you’ll meet the dance-loving Holly, Eric, the retired headteacher with motor neurone disease, and teenage leukaemia patient Sylvie who’s sewing a cushion for her mum for after she’s died.

Expect an honest and enlightened voice that brings humanity to death – whether your grieving, ill or healthy, you can expect With the End in Mind to shape your life for the better.

William Collins, HarperCollins UK, £7.20 Amazon.

4) The Vaccine Race

By Meredith Wadman 

This is the epic and controversial story of the major scientific breakthrough that saw the creation of some of the world’s most important vaccines.

Learn from long-time celebrated medical reporter Meredith Wadman, about the plight of crippling birth defects, and how in 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia created the first safe, clean cells to mass produce vaccines.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world live better longer lives thanks to vaccines. Probably yourself included.

Time to celebrate those behind the XYZ?

Doubleday, Transworld, £9.99 Amazon

5) The Butchering Art

By Lindsey Fitzharris 

Ready to step into the gateway of death? This is how the Victorian operating theatre came to be known.

Until, that is, visionary British Quaker surgeon Joseph Lister used antiseptics to transform medicine forever.

Let historian Lindsey Fitzharris guide you from a time of brutal, harrowing practice (where cadavers were stolen from graveyards and a broken leg meant a grisly amputation) to the safe, esteemed profession we know today.

If you choose to learn about the persistent infections suffered in squalid hospitals, you’ll think twice before complaining about the NHS.

Allen Lane, Penguin Press, £8.50 Amazon.