Andrew Motion announces shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014

The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2014 was announced today by the chair of judges, poet Andrew Motion. Authors Elizabeth Gilbert, Emily Mayhew, Adam Rutherford, Oliver Sacks, Andrew Solomon and Sarah Wise are all in contention for this year’s Prize, which will be presented at a ceremony at Wellcome Collection on 29 April.

The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize was decided by a panel of judges comprising author Lisa Appignanesi, journalist Hadley Freeman, scientist and TV presenter Michael Mosley, former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion (chair), and novelist and Head of Spoken Word at the Southbank Centre James Runcie.

The shortlisted titles are:

  • 'The Signature of All Things' by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury)
  • 'Wounded: From Battlefield to Blighty' by Emily Mayhew (The Bodley Head, Random House)
  • 'Creation: The origin of life' by Adam Rutherford (Viking, Penguin Books)
  • 'Hallucinations' by Oliver Sacks (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
  • 'Far From the Tree: A dozen kinds of love' by Andrew Solomon (Chatto & Windus, Random House)
  • 'Inconvenient People' by Sarah Wise (The Bodley Head, Random House).

The list spans genres and brings together six thrillingly diverse explorations of medicine and health, including a novel about botany and exploration, the story of an injured World War I soldier, a survey of parenting and human difference, a scientific account of the story of life, a study of hallucinations, and a history of lunacy and asylums in Victorian times.

The Wellcome Book Prize, which was relaunched in November to celebrate its fifth anniversary, will award £30 000 (an increase from £25 000) to the best book of fiction or non-fiction from 2013 which leads on a medical theme. We are all touched by experiences of medicine and health in our lives, and stories that explore these encounters have great capacity to make us think afresh about what it means to be human. The judges were looking for books that reward curiosity, inspire debate, move us, and through writing of the highest quality challenge the ways in which we imagine ourselves and the world around us.

Wellcome Collection's literary ambitions are expanding alongside a £17.5m development of its venue due to overwhelming demand. New spaces, opening in October 2014, include a transformation of the Wellcome Library’s historic Reading Room into an innovative hybrid of gallery, library and event space, and a home for the Wellcome Book Prize.

Chair of judges Andrew Motion said: "The Wellcome Book Prize highlights the importance of literature in connecting medicine, life and art.We have produced a shortlist that covers an exciting range of subjects and genres - six excellent books that in their different ways all tell us new and often surprising things about the human condition.They range from frightening tales of 'inconvenient' Victorians to the strange world of hallucinations, from the return journeys of Great War battlefield casualties to an important new concept of 'horizontal families', and from a beautiful story of a 19th-century explorer to a fresh take on the origins of life."

Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection Ken Arnold said: "The wonderful range of genres and subjects in this shortlist affirms the abundant variety of inspiration and insight that literature and medicine hold for one another. In a year when Wellcome Collection is expanding its galleries and spaces with a major redevelopment of our venue, and developing a wider publishing programme, the Wellcome Book Prize sits at the centre of our literary ambitions, enriching and inciting further our curiosity about the human condition. Choosing a winner will be a fiendishly difficult task, and I wait with bated breath to hear which version of wonder and imagination will win the day."

The Wellcome Book Prize is open to both fiction and non-fiction titles which have been published in the UK during the Prize year. The shortlist includes a varied mixture of fiction, history, science and biography to fully represent the breadth of this exciting brief. Previous winners of the prize have been Thomas Wright for 'Circulation' in 2012, Alice LaPlante for 'Turn of Mind' in 2011, Rebecca Skloot for 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' in 2010, and Andrea Gillies for 'Keeper: Living with Nancy - A journey into Alzheimer's' in 2009.