Entertainment & Arts

Wellcome Book Prize: Dying doctor's memoir up for £30k award

Paul Kalanithi Image copyright Norbert von der Groeben
Image caption Paul Kalanithi died while working on When Breath Becomes Air

It was enough to bring Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates to tears - a memoir by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, who died of lung cancer in 2015 age 37.

When Breath Becomes Air has now been shortlisted for the prestigious Wellcome Book Prize, which recognises books about health or illness.

After reading it, Gates wrote a blog post titled This Book Left Me In Tears.

In it, he declared: "This is the best non-fiction story I've read in a long time."

Image copyright Wellcome
Image caption The winner will be announced in April

Kalanithi's memoir chronicles his journey from medical student to neurosurgeon, patient and father before he died while still writing the book.

It is the first posthumous work to be considered for the prize, where both non-fiction and fictional books are eligible.

The other books in contention are:

  • The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, about the impact of a teenage girl's illness
  • David France's How to Survive A Plague, about the fight against Aids
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Gene, which highlights the relevance of genetics
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong, about the body's 40 trillion microbes
  • Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal, a novel about the turmoil of having a heart transplant

The winner of the £30,000 prize will be announced on 24 April.


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