The shortlist for the Wellcome Trust’s Book Prize. The Wellcome Book Prize will award £30,000 (up from £25,000 in previous years) to the best fiction or non-fiction book from 2013 that focuses on a medical theme. The winner will be announced on April 29, 2014. Check em out!
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker — a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist — but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life. Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe — from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who — born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution — bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.
Wounded: The Long Journey Home From the Great War by Emily Mayhew
Wounded traces the journey made by a casualty from the battlefield to a hospital in Britain. It is a story told through the testimony of those who cared for him – stretcher bearers and medical officers, surgeons and chaplains, orderlies and nurses – from the aid post in the trenches to the casualty clearing station and the ambulance train back to Blighty. We feel the calloused hands of the stretcher-bearers; we see the bloody dressings and bandages; we smell the nauseating gangrene and, at London’s stations, the gas clinging to the uniforms of the men arriving home. There are the unspeakable injuries: the officer with a hole in his torso so big the doctor can see the sky beyond him; a man with no legs holding a hymnbook for a man with no arms. Together, the experiences in Wounded encapsulate what it was to fight, live and die for four long years at the Western Front. The first comprehensive account of medical care at the Western Front, Wounded is a homage to the courageous and determined men and women who saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Creation: The Origin of Life & The Future of Life by Adam Rutherford
Recent breakthroughs in the science of life are solving the great mystery of its origin while giving us the power to design its future. Presented here back-to-back, these two gripping narratives reveal the full story of creation. The Origin of Life takes the reader on a gripping, four-billion-year journey of discovery to explain what life is, where it came from and in what form it first appeared. From interplanetary collisions to the inner-workings of cells and genes, it offers answers to the very grandest of questions before arriving at a thrilling solution to the greatest detective story of them all. The Future of Life introduces a new chapter in human history: living technology. Our mastery of genetics now allows us to create entirely new life-forms within the laboratory – goats that produce spider silk in their milk, bacteria that excrete diesel, cells that identify and destroy tumours — but this revolutionary technology is fraught with controversy, not least the fear of bioterrorism. While introducing us to these remarkable innovations and explaining how they work, Adam Rutherford presents a powerful argument for their benefit to humankind.
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
To many people, hallucinations imply madness, but in fact they are a common part of the human experience. These sensory distortions range from the shimmering zigzags of a visual migraine to powerful visions brought on by fever, injuries, drugs, sensory deprivation, exhaustion, or even grief. Hallucinations doubtless lie behind many mythological traditions, literary inventions, and religious epiphanies. Drawing on his own experiences, a wealth of clinical cases from among his patients, and famous historical examples ranging from Dostoevsky to Lewis Carroll, the legendary neurologist Oliver Sacks investigates the mystery of these sensory deceptions: what they say about the working of our brains, how they have influenced our folklore and culture, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all.
Solomon’s startling proposition in Far from the Tree is that being exceptional is at the core of the human condition — that difference is what unites us. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or multiple severe disabilities; with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, and Solomon documents triumphs of love over prejudice in every chapter. All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent should parents accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on ten years of research and interviews with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original and compassionate thinker, Far from the Tree explores how people who love each other must struggle to accept each other — a theme in every family’s life.
Gaslight tales of rooftop escapes, men and women snatched in broad daylight, patients shut in coffins, a fanatical cult known as the Abode of Love. The nineteenth century saw repeated panics about sane individuals being locked away in lunatic asylums. With the rise of the ‘mad-doctor’ profession, English liberty seemed to be threatened by a new generation of medical men willing to incarcerate difficult family members in return for the high fees paid by an unscrupulous spouse or friend. Sarah Wise uncovers twelve shocking stories, untold for over a century and reveals the darker side of the Victorian upper and middle classes — their sexuality, fears of inherited madness, financial greed and fraudulence — and chillingly evoke the black motives at the heart of the phenomenon of the ‘inconvenient person’.