The shortlist for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize is announced today, Tuesday 19 March, celebrating the best new books that illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives.
Whether you’re reading any of the books yourself or in a reading group, we have reader’ guides including discussion points, themed reading and useful links to help. You can find them all on the resources page.
The 2019 shortlist:
- Amateur: A true story about what makes a man (Canongate Books) by Thomas Page McBee (USA) Non-fiction
In this groundbreaking new book, Thomas Page McBee, a trans man, trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence.
See the readers’ guide.
- Heart: A History (Oneworld) by Sandeep Jauhar (India/USA) Non-fiction
Sandeep Jauhar – cardiologist, bestselling author and New York Times columnist – beautifully weaves his own experiences with the defining discoveries of the past to tell the story of our most vital organ. See the readers’ guide.
- Mind on Fire: A memoir of madness and recovery (Penguin Random House/Penguin Ireland) by Arnold Thomas Fanning (Ireland) Non-fiction
A searing, immersive account of profound mental illness – and recovery. See the readers’ guide.
- Murmur (CB editions) by Will Eaves (UK) Fiction
Taking its cue from the arrest and legally enforced chemical castration of the mathematician Alan Turing, Murmur is the account of a man who responds to intolerable physical and mental stress with love, honour and a rigorous, unsentimental curiosity about the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world. See the readers’ guide.
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Jonathan Cape) by Ottessa Moshfegh (USA) Fiction
A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. See the readers’ guide.
- The Trauma Cleaner (Text Publishing) by Sarah Krasnostein (Australia/USA) Non-fiction
The author charts the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bringing order and care to the living and the dead, in her role as a trauma cleaner. A compelling story of a fascinating life, and an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together. See the readers’ guide
Chaired by the award-winning author Elif Shafak, the judging panel have selected a wonderfully eclectic shortlist that showcases the breadth and depth of this exceptional genre. The six titles in contention for the £30,000 prize explore our complex relationships with gender, identity, mental health and mortality.
Elif Shafak commented on behalf of the judging panel:
“The judging panel is very excited and proud to present this astonishing collection of titles, ranging from the darkly comic to the searingly honest. While the books selected are strikingly unique in their subject matter and style, the rich variety of writing also shares much in common: each is raw and brave and inspirational, deepening our understanding of what it truly means to be human through the transformative power of storytelling.”
The two novels on this year’s list look at the connection between the body and mind, identity and gender. Inspired by the life of Alan Turing, Murmur by Will Eaves fictionalises the devastating period before the mathematician’s suicide in an extraordinary contemplation on consciousness, science and the future. Ottessa Moshfegh’s savagely comic My Year of Rest and Relaxation chronicles a privileged New York woman’s decision to enter a drug-induced coma to sleep away her emotions.
Gender is also integral to two of this year’s shortlisted non-fiction books. Amateur by Thomas Page McBee, the first transgender man to box at Madison Square Garden, provides an unflinching exploration into the limitations of conventional masculinity and the vexed relationship between men and violence. Sarah Krasnostein’s compelling biography The Trauma Cleaner, uncovers the complex life of Sandra Pankhurst – husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife – and how her journey through childhood abuse, trauma and transphobic hostility has led her to a vocation bringing order and care to both the living and the dead.
The final two titles on the list explore mental health and mortality. Arnold Thomas Fanning’s beautifully written memoir, Mind of Fire, is a harrowing insight into the consciousness of someone living with mania, psychosis and severe depression, and has visited hellish regions of the mind and survived to tell the tale. In Heart, cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar draws on both his professional expertise and his personal medical history to give an unparalleled insight into this extraordinary organ, and the importance of facing our own mortality.
The shortlisted authors are from the UK, USA, India, Australia and Ireland, and include two debuts Arnold Thomas Fanning (Mind on Fire) and Sarah Krasnostein (The Trauma Cleaner).
Four independent publishers appear on the list: Canongate, CB Editions, Oneworld and The Text Publishing Company.
The winner will be revealed at an evening ceremony on Wednesday 1 May at Wellcome Collection.
Share your thoughts about the chosen books on Twitter and Instagram using #WBP2019.
Find out more about the books on the Wellcome Book Prize website.
Take a look at the Wellcome Book Prize winner from 2018.