A novel that gives a “breathtaking account of addiction” and a story exploring the heartbreak of infertility are among the works on the shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize.
Six titles are in the running for the £30,000 award, which is for books that engage with medicine, health or illness.
This year’s judging panel selected one novel, one memoir and four non-fiction books.
They include Mayhem: A Memoir by Sigrid Rausing, which judge Bryony Gordon called “a breathtaking account of addiction and its effects on families”.
“Sigrid Rausing’s book is powerful and searing without ever feeling exploitative; her writing is spare and honest, asking questions that many would be too frightened to,” Gordon said.
Ayobami Adebayo’s debut Stay With Me offers an insight into fertility, family and the devastating effects of sickle-cell disease in 1980s Nigeria.
Artist and writer Edmund de Waal, chair of the judging panel, said the book is “a remarkable and turbulent novel that sweeps the reader into the heartbreak of infertility and societal expectation”.
In The Butchering Art, author Lindsey Fitzharris evokes the grisly world of Victorian surgery, as Joseph Lister brings centuries of savagery, sawing and gangrene to an end.
Meredith Wadman takes readers into the 20th century in The Vaccine Race, presenting the game-changing story of the rubella vaccine breakthrough that has since protected hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Mark O’Connell looks to the future in To Be A Machine, investigating and questioning the transhumanism movement and the aim of using technology to extend life and push the human body beyond its current limitations.
Judge Sumit Paul-Choudhury said the book “manages to be simultaneously hilarious, touching and utterly humane”.
The sixth contender is With The End In Mind, a book from palliative care consultant Kathryn Mannix which makes a compelling case for approaching death not with trepidation but with openness and understanding.
De Waal said of this year’s selection: “The demand of judging the Wellcome Book Prize is to find books that have to be read, books to press into people’s hands, books that start debates or deepen them, that move us profoundly, surprise and delight and perplex us, that bring the worlds of medicine and health into urgent public conversation: books that show us what it is to be human. These are six powerful books to read and share.”
Kirty Topiwala, publisher at Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Book Prize manager, said: “Year on year this genre continues to excel.
These six exceptional books brilliantly demonstrate the variety, style and power of contemporary writing engaged with health and the human experience.”
The winner will be revealed on April 30.