Paul Kalanithi’s "life-affirming" memoir When Breath Becomes Air (The Bodley Head) is one of the six-strong shortlist for this year's Wellcome Book Prize.
The acclaimed book, which chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from medical student to neurosurgeon, patient and father, before his sad death, is the first posthumously published title to be in contention for the £30,000 prize.
PRH imprint The Bodley Head also publishes two other titles on the shortlist: I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong’s debut book, which provides a "page-turning" exploration of the body’s 40 trillion microbes, and how our microscopic companions not only sculpt our organs, protect us from diseases and guide our behaviour, but also hold the key to understanding all life on Earth; and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene, which highlights the relevance of genetics within everyday life and interrogates concerns with our growing ability to alter the human genome. Woven within this narrative is an "intimate" story of Mukherjee’s own family and its recurring pattern of mental illness. Mukherjee was shortlisted for the prize in 2011 for The Emperor of All Maladies (Fourth Estate).
The fourth non-fiction title on the shortlist is How to Survive a Plague by David France (Picador), the "powerful" story of the 1980s AIDS epidemic and the bravery of the activists, many facing their own life-or-death struggles, who campaigned for scientific research to help develop accessible, effective treatment.
Meanwhile there are two fiction titles shortlisted. Sarah Moss has been shortlisted for the Welcome Book Prize for the third year in a row for her novel The Tidal Zone (Granta). Moss, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2015 for Bodies of Light and 2016 for Signs for Lost Children (both Granta), has been recognised once more. The Tidal Zone explores a family’s experience of navigating the NHS as they come to terms with their child’s unexplained medical condition.
The second fiction contender for the 2017 shortlist is Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (MacLehose Press) - the first text in translation to be shortlisted for the prize - which tells the 24-hour story of a heart transplant, from fatal crash to life-saving operation. De Kerangal is also the first French author to be shortlisted.
The Wellcome Book Prize celebrates "exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction that engage with the topics of health and medicine and the many ways they touch our lives".
Chair of judges, author Val McDermid, said: “What these six challenging, diverse and enriching titles have in common is their insight into what it means to be human. Together they form a mosaic that illuminates our relationship with health and medicine. It spans our origins, our deaths and much that lies between, from activism to acts of human kindness.”
Kirty Topiwala, publisher at Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Book Prize manager, said: “With so many new books now being published in this area, the quality of this selection is necessarily high, and we are immensely proud of this year’s superb shortlist. Each of these books offers the reader something different, but they all capture the acute pleasures and pains of being human.”
The winner will be announced at an evening ceremony on Monday 24th April at Wellcome Collection.