Irish author up for £30,000 book prize

Irish author Mark O Connell 30000 pounds book prize
Mark O’Connell

Irish author Mark O’Connell, whose book about people trying to prolong their lives by becoming more like machines was featured in the Irish World recently, has been shortlisted for this year’s £30,000 Wellcome Book Prize.

The Prize goes to a book drawn from a shortlist of titles that the judges believe best illuminate our encounters with health, medicine and illness.

One of the panel of judges, Sumit Paul Choudhury, said of O’Connell’s book To Be a Machine: “Mark O’Connell goes from the sublime to the ridiculous in To Be a Machine – deftly skewering those who think the answer to humanity’s frailty is to leave it behind, in a book which itself manages to be simultaneously hilarious, touching and utterly humane.”

Of the six titles on the list, five are written by women and four are debuts. The authors are from the UK, Ireland, USA, Nigeria and Canada and Sweden. Chaired by artist and writer Edmund de Waal the panel chose one novel, one memoir and four non-fiction books – all connected by humanity’s complex relationship with mortality.

Irish author Mark O Connell 30000 pounds book prize

The titles explore bereavement, loss and the fragility of life, consider medical innovations developed to escape death, and reflect on why we should talk more about dying.

Ay bámi Adébáy ’s debut Stay with Me is the only novel shortlisted for the prize and is about fertility, family and the devastating effects of sickle-cell disease in 1980s Nigeria.

Sigrid Rausing’s memoir, Mayhem is about the author’s own experience of addiction and the impact it had on her loved ones.

Lindsey Fitzharris’s The Butchering Art is about the grisly world of Victorian surgery, as Joseph Lister brings centuries of savagery, sawing and gangrene to an end.


Meredith Wadman’s The Vaccine Race tells the story of the rubella vaccine breakthrough that has since protected hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Plliative care consultant Kathryn Mannix’s With the End in Mind makes a case for approaching death with openness, clarity and understanding.

  • Stay With Me by Ay bámi Adébáy (Nigeria) Canongate Books
  • The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris (USA) Allen Lane, Penguin Press
  • With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix (UK) William Collins, Harper- Collins
  • To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell (Ireland) Granta Books
  • Mayhem: A memoir by Sigrid Rausing (UK/Sweden) Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books
  • The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman (USA/Canada) Doubleday, Transworld

The winner will be revealed at an evening ceremony on Monday 30 April at the Wellcome Collection. Chair of the panel of judges Edmund de Waal said of their choices: “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.”

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