Tag Archives: Health

Three Memoirs About Health I’ve Read Recently

Coming Undone Terri WhiteI didn’t read much in the way of medicine or health-related books during lockdown, but I have recently started thinking about books which will be eligible for the Wellcome Book Prize next year following its “pause” this year. The three books I have read so far are all powerful and memorable if far from cheerful in their chosen subject matter.

Coming Undone by Terri White is the author’s memoir of her addiction issues and subsequent mental breakdown. The book opens with an account of her admission to a psychiatric ward in a New York hospital. She then details the abuse she suffered during her childhood growing up in poverty in Derbyshire before embarking on a career as a magazine editor. She moved to New York in 2012 where her problems with substance abuse spiralled and her outwardly successful life eventually unravelled. It is difficult to review a book, particularly a memoir, on this subject without using the same old adjectives: raw, honest, brutal, painful. ‘Coming Undone’ is all of those things, but for all its rawness and honesty about White’s state of mind, there does seem to be a lot held back too, especially about her career and more recent relationships, although I expect that this is mostly due to the necessity of protecting those close to her as well as her own privacy and recovery.  Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Mother Ship by Francesca Segal

Mother Ship Francesca SegalI saw Francesca Segal in conversation with Amanda Craig at the Jewish Book Festival in March 2018 and was immediately intrigued when she said she was writing a non-fiction book about the premature birth of her identical twin daughters ten weeks before their due date. Published in the UK this week, ‘Mother Ship’ is presented as a diary of the 56 fraught days the babies (initially known as A-lette and B-lette) spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2015. Continue reading

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Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar

Heart Sandeep JauharI am taking part in the Wellcome Book Prize blog tour today with a review of ‘Heart: A History’ by Sandeep Jauhar which is the final book I will be shadowing from this year’s shortlist. Jauhar is a cardiologist and director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and his third book combines memoir, case studies and the history of cardiology. In the opening pages, he recounts his family history (both of his grandfathers died as a result of sudden cardiac events) and how his own CT angiogram revealed signs of early coronary artery disease. Jauhar’s obsession with this vital and remarkable organ is therefore a very personal one. Continue reading

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Wellcome Book Prize: Mind on Fire and Murmur

Mind on Fire Arnold Thomas FanningI am approaching the end of shadowing this year’s Wellcome Book Prize, and I have followed two books which explore gender as the central theme (The Trauma Cleaner and Amateur) with two books primarily concerned with mental health. ‘Mind on Fire: A Memoir of Madness and Recovery’ by Arnold Thomas Fanning is a memoir which outlines his experience of bipolar disorder in the late 1990s. Having first suffered from depression at the age of 20 following the death of his mother, he had a breakdown in his late twenties while living in Dublin after quitting his job to concentrate on writing in 1997. He was hospitalised several times and also spent time homeless in London amid periods of mania. The narrative has been pieced together from his own fragmented memories, medical records and interviews with those who were involved at the time. The opening section is a frank stream of consciousness told in the second person while the rest of the narrative is told primarily in the present tense. Continue reading

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Wellcome Book Prize: Amateur and The Trauma Cleaner

Amateur Thomas Page McBeeGender is a notable theme on this year’s Wellcome Book Prize longlist and two of the books shortlisted this year (by the official judges and by the shadow panel) look at the lives and experiences of transgender individuals. ‘Amateur’ by Thomas Page McBee was also shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction last year and is an exploration of modern masculinity told through McBee’s training as the first trans man to fight in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden. From a childhood dominated by male violence in which he was abused by his stepfather from the age of four, McBee untangles the tricky relationship between masculinity and violence, questioning if aggression is an exclusively “toxic” male trait. Continue reading

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The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist

Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist

The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist was announced earlier this week and the six titles are:

Murmur by Will Eaves
Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning
Heart by Sandeep Jauhar
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From what we have read between us so far, the shadow panel has also come up with our own shortlist of seven titles (due to a tie on a couple), four of which overlap with the official shortlist:

Murmur by Will Eaves
This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
Heart by Sandeep Jauhar
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
Educated by Tara Westover

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The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist 2019

Wellcome Book Prize Longlist 2019
The 12 books longlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize are:

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
Astroturf by Matthew Sperling
Educated by Tara Westover
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar
Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning
Murmur by Will Eaves
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication by Thomas Abraham
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein

Among the five fiction and seven non-fiction titles, the judges have noted that gender, identity and mental health have emerged as prominent themes this year. I will be shadowing the shortlist of six books which will be announced on 19th March with fellow book bloggers Rebecca, Annabel, Paul and Laura and we will also be covering the longlist between us over the next few weeks. Continue reading

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The Wellcome Book Prize 2019: Predictions

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the longlist for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced on Tuesday. The £30,000 prize is awarded to a work of fiction or non-fiction which engages with some aspect of healthcare or medicine published in the UK last year. It has become my favourite book award in the last couple of years and once again, I will be shadowing the shortlist of six books to be announced in March with Rebecca, Paul, Laura and Annabel and between us, we will also be covering the longlist of twelve books too.

Little Edward CareyI imagine that the majority of the books submitted for consideration are non-fiction titles (they usually dominate the shortlists at any rate) but there are a fair number of novels which could also be in the running, even though the thematic criteria is more subjective. An obvious contender among fiction titles is Sight by Jessie Greengrass about a woman who is pregnant with her second child and undertakes research into the history of psychoanalysis and X-rays. I have also read Little by Edward Carey which is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud who made wax models of body parts in Paris in the late 18th century before living in London. Continue reading

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Face to Face by Jim McCaul and All That Remains by Sue Black

Face to Face Jim McCaulSince starting this blog, I have read various memoirs by medical professionals – a genre which provides thought-provoking insight into the practical and emotional side of modern medicine. From Atul Gawande to Suzanne O’Sullivan to Kathryn Mannix, each has offered new insight into their work and area of expertise, often through the stories of individual patients. I have recently read two more books which broaden the scope of the genre beyond case studies and explore other aspects of the author’s personal lives, careers and their specialties.

In his memoir ‘Face to Face’, Professor Jim McCaul, a consultant surgeon in maxillofacial surgery at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, recounts cases in which he has restored patients’ appearances following accidents, violence and the removal of tumours from the head and neck (which take up around 80% of his work). Continue reading

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The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman

The Vaccine Race Meredith Wadman‘The Vaccine Race: How Scientists Used Human Cells to Combat Killer Diseases’ by Meredith Wadman is an account of the history, science and ethics of vaccine development in the United States. It primarily concerns the career of American anatomy professor Leonard Hayflick and his quest to find and mass produce the safest human cells for use in vaccines at a time when viruses such as polio and rubella were far more prevalent than they are today. Continue reading

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With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix

With the End in Mind Kathryn Mannix‘With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial’ by Dr Kathryn Mannix is a collection of anonymised patient case studies (or “stories” as Mannix calls them) drawn from her thirty years of experience as a palliative care clinician and consultant. It has been shortlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize which I am shadowing with fellow book bloggers Rebecca, Laura, Annabel and Paul and is notably similar to one of the previous winners It’s All In Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan in that it seeks to demystify one of the most misunderstood aspects of medicine. In this case, it is death – the event that we will all one day meet (unless the transhumanists Mark O’Connell wrote about in To Be a Machine have their way…).
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Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing

Mayhem Sigrid RausingShortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize, ‘Mayhem’ is Sigrid Rausing’s family memoir about drug addiction. Her younger brother and heir to the Tetra Pak fortune, Hans Kristian, met American businesswoman, Eva Kemeny, when they were in rehab together in the late 1980s. They later married and became well-known philanthropists based in London. However, they relapsed and in 2007, Sigrid was granted custody of Hans and Eva’s four children. In July 2012, Hans was stopped by the police after driving erratically through London and was found with drugs in his possession. When the police searched his Belgravia mansion, they discovered Eva’s remains hidden under a mattress. She had been dead for approximately two months. Continue reading

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Jewish Book Week: Adam Kay and Rachel Clarke / Francesca Segal and Amanda Craig

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, I attended two Jewish Book Week events at Kings Place in London. The first was Adam Kay and Rachel Clarke in conversation with Daniel Glaser about their experiences as NHS junior doctors and the second was a discussion with novelists Francesca Segal and Amanda Craig chaired by Claire Armitstead.

‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ is based on Adam Kay’s experiences working in NHS hospitals from 2004 to 2010 specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology. It’s fair to say his book isn’t for the squeamish reader – the “degloving” incident is among the most memorable as is the Kinder Surprise story which Kay also read out loud to the audience. The title is apt – much of it is painfully funny while other parts are achingly sad and the ending in particular comes as an abrupt shock. Kay decided not to continue his medical career as a result of this tragic incident and it was the junior doctors’ strike years later in 2016 which compelled him to share his experiences. Kay and Clarke agreed that the term “junior doctor” is unhelpful – it implies someone in their early 20s straight out of medical school but it also applies to doctors on the verge of becoming consultants with multiple postgraduate qualifications and many years of experience.  Continue reading

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The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist 2018

Wellcome Book Prize 2018 LonglistThis year’s Wellcome Book Prize longlist has been announced today. The twelve books are:

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli
Plot 29: A Memoir by Allan Jenkins
The White Book by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)
With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Kathryn Mannix
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell
Mayhem: A Memoir by Sigrid Rausing
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky
The Vaccine Race: How Scientists Used Human Cells to Combat Killer Viruses by Meredith Wadman Continue reading

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Three Non-Fiction Books About Medicine

Pale Rider Laura SpinneyPale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed The World by Laura Spinney probably isn’t what most people consider to be cosy festive reading over Christmas but it is somewhat seasonal. Much of what has been written about the Spanish flu tends to focus on the impact it had on Western countries in the aftermath of the First World War but Spinney’s book is a refreshingly global account of how the virus reached all corners of the earth from Alaska to Rio de Janeiro to Samoa to China. Estimates remain vague but the Spanish flu is believed to have killed at least 50 million people worldwide, possibly as many as 100 million, and its rapid spread is likely to have been partly exacerbated by soldiers returning home at the end of the First World War. Continue reading

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Edinburgh Book Festival: I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death Maggie O'FarrellThe last event I attended at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday was Maggie O’Farrell in conversation with Hannah Beckerman. The discussion during the first half focused on her latest novel This Must Be The Place which I read last year while the second half explored her new book and first work of non-fiction ‘I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death’ which is published in the UK this week. Continue reading

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Edinburgh Book Festival: Admissions by Henry Marsh

Admissions Henry MarshI have spent the past few days at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and on Monday, I went to a talk by Henry Marsh about his new book ‘Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery’. I really enjoyed reading Do No Harm: Stories in Life, Death and Brain Surgery in 2014 in which he reflected on the successes and failures of his career as a consultant neurosurgeon and his frustrations with NHS hospital management with remarkable frankness. As the clever pun in the title suggests, his second book is similarly confessional and candid, perhaps even more so in some respects. Continue reading

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How to Survive a Plague by David France

How to Survive a Plague David FranceI am very pleased to be taking part in the official Wellcome Book Prize blog tour this week to champion ‘How to Survive a Plague’ by David France which is one of six titles shortlisted for this year’s prize awarded to a book on the subject of healthcare or medicine. It follows France’s 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary film of the same name and is a remarkable account of the activists and scientists who campaigned for awareness and funding towards fighting the AIDS epidemic in the United States.
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The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist 2017

Wellcome Book Prize 2017 Longlist

The Wellcome Book Prize is awarded to a fiction or non-fiction book about health or medicine. Since its launch in 2009, there has been a shortlist of six books but this year, there is a longlist of twelve books for the very first time. The nominated books which were announced today are:

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