Not The Wellcome Prize: The Body by Bill Bryson

Not the Wellcome Prize
The Wellcome Book Prize celebrating fiction and non-fiction with a medical theme was “paused” this year – a decision taken before the current pandemic, although even if it had gone ahead, it would have inevitably faced disruption anyway. Fortunately, Rebecca has organised an alternative Not the Wellcome Prize blog tour of books that would have been eligible had the prize taken place this year. Rebecca, Laura, Paul, Annabel and I will be selecting a shortlist over the weekend based on what we’ve managed to read between us and announcing a winner on 11th May based on our discussions and a Twitter poll.

The Body Bill BrysonThis post is the final stop on the blog tour and I am championing The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson. Best known for his travel writing, Bryson has also written a number of history and science books of which ‘The Body’ is the most recent. When it was published just over six months ago, nobody would have predicted that the chapters on microbes and infectious diseases, particularly pages 33-36 on viruses, would take on a new significance, but these are the times we now live in.

Stuffed with fascinating facts, Bryson has a knack for synthesising and explaining difficult concepts with entertaining analogies and memorably mind-boggling statistics in his effortlessly amiable style. I’m not sure if such an unashamedly “popular” science book would have progressed very far had it been in contention for the Prize this year. It is very much a whistle-stop tour of the human body – major organs and diseases are summarised in just a few pages or paragraphs each in most cases. However, the breakneck pace means no subject area is dwelled on for too long and the reader can’t fail to appreciate the vastness of medicine as well as the huge number of tasks our bodies complete without us even noticing. As Bryson says: “In the second or so since you started this sentence, your body has made a million red blood cells.” And it’s no bad thing that ‘The Body’ will be read by a wide audience as it is the type of book which serves as an important gateway towards better understanding about how the human body actually works. Hopefully it will also raise more awareness about subjects like antimicrobial resistance and discussion on issues surrounding life expectancy and quality of life which are addressed in later chapters. Overall, ‘The Body’ is a highly engaging book which will particularly satisfy longtime Bryson fans and those who enjoy random trivia (I subscribe to both of these categories).

The World I Fell Out Of Melanie ReidI am also championing another book which would have been eligible for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize – The World I Fell Out Of by Melanie Reid was one of my books of 2019 and is a brilliantly written memoir about life-changing injury. My original review from last year is reposted below:

In April 2010, at the age of 52, journalist Melanie Reid broke her neck and fractured her back after falling from a horse, spending nearly a year in a high-dependency spinal unit. She is now a tetraplegic, permanently paralysed from the top of her chest downwards and will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She has documented her experience of adult-acquired disability in her ‘Spinal Column’ in the Times for several years now. Her memoir ‘The World I Fell Out Of’ draws on those articles but also provides a fuller account of how her life changed following the accident.

I try not to describe memoirs as “honest” in my reviews, but it really has to be said that Reid’s candour about the aftermath of her accident is unflinching, particularly the aspects of care, rehabilitation and mental outlook that are rarely discussed, from the intimate indignities of being doubly incontinent, to coming to terms psychologically with the randomness and suddenness of what happened, to being permanently relegated to seat-level in a wheelchair – Reid is 6 feet tall and her height had always played a big part in her self-confidence. She had a second fall from a horse less than two years later, breaking her hip during a supervised Riding for the Disabled session, an episode she didn’t discuss in detail in her columns at the time. And yet, despite the life-changing setbacks and challenges of Reid’s situation, ‘The World I Fell Out Of’ is a darkly funny book, particularly when she describes the other patients and NHS staff in hospital.

Which books would you have liked to see on the Wellcome Book Prize longlist this year? Have you read any of the books featured in the blog tour?

Not the Wellcome Prize


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8 responses to “Not The Wellcome Prize: The Body by Bill Bryson

  1. I’m a big fan of Melanie Reid. Her insights and humour are unique.


  2. I take your point about the Bryson being a little too populist and survey-like to go far in an actual WBP race. It was so enjoyable, though! And so many amazing statistics. I agree it will appeal to people who may have never picked up a medical book before — a second free copy came my way and I gave it to my father-in-law, who as far as I know has never had an interest in health reads before but will read anything Bryson writes.


  3. Pingback: Recapping the Not the Wellcome Prize Blog Tour Reviews | Bookish Beck

  4. My husband is reading The Body at the moment and keeps me entertained with snippets. The section on viruses was disturbing to put it mildly.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As a nonfiction lover who loves reading about medicine, I’m surprised I’ve never heard of the Wellcome prize. It’s too bad it was cancelled for this year but I’m so happy I found your blog tour. I’ll be going through all the posts and adding books to my TBR list for sure. I love random trivia too and both books you mentioned interest me tremendously.

    Liked by 1 person

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