Category: Book Prizes (page 1 of 3)

The Wellcome Book Prize 10th Anniversary Blog Tour

Welcome to Halfman, Half Book, I am Paul Cheney. This is the first stop on the 10th Anniversary Blog Tour for the Wellcome Book Prize. Launched in 2009, the prize celebrates the best new books that engage with an aspect of medicine, health or illness, showcasing the breadth and depth of our encounters with medicine through exceptional works of literature. These exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives. Over the last decade, the prize has recognised an eclectic variety of titles from novels to memoirs to popular science. In 2019, the prize will celebrate this legacy and this extraordinary genre of books that add new meaning to life, death and everything in between.

Today I am going to be highlighting one of the books from 2009, the first year that the prize ran, Tormented Hope. First, though I will be talking about, Illness by Havi Carel.

What is illness? Is it a physiological dysfunction, a social label, or a way of experiencing the world? How do the physical, social, and emotional worlds of a person change when they become ill? Can there be well-being within illness?

In this remarkable and thought-provoking book, Havi Carel explores these questions by weaving together the personal story of her own illness with insights and reflections drawn from her work as a philosopher. Carel’s fresh approach to illness raises some uncomfortable questions about how we all – whether healthcare professionals or not – view the ill, challenging us to become more thoughtful. Illness unravels the tension between the universality of illness and its intensely private, often lonely, nature. It offers a new way of looking at a matter that affects every one of us.

Revised and updated throughout, the third edition of this groundbreaking volume includes a new chapter on organ transplantation. Illness: The Cry of the Flesh will prove essential reading to those studying philosophy, medical ethics, and medical anthropology, as well as those in the healthcare and medical professions. It will also be of interest to individuals who live with illness, and their friends and families.

My Review:

However, there are those that have long term, debilitating and life-shortening illnesses that affect them and their families in a multitude of ways. How does society as a whole consider those that are ill and how should we as individuals treat those that are ill.

Havi Carel is well placed to consider the impact of illness on an individual and the wider implications in society in her position as Professor of Philosophy at Bristol and as a long term sufferer of Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). This is a rare, progressive and systemic disease that typically results in cystic lung destruction and affects younger women.

Using the intimate knowledge of her own illness from when she began to realise that there was something wrong in 2004, learning about the illness with her father there, to details on the medical treatments that she needed. She is open about how some friends, family and medical practitioners have treated her since the diagnosis and when their care has succeeded and when it hasn’t. With the finely honed gaze of a philosopher and through the prism of phenomenology she is best placed to understand how and why people do the things that they do.

It is quite a profound book in lots of ways. Carel explores from a very personal perspective the feeling and emotions that come with severe and long term debilitating illness and gets to the very crux of the matter on how we need to treat those in those long term illnesses. Some of the more esoteric philosophy I didn’t really get the first time, so it will be worth a second read again on those sections. In my opinion, this is a brilliant companion volume to the book by Kathryn Mannix that was shortlisted last year, With The End In Mind, that explores different and more empathetic ways to treat people as they reach the end of their life.

Another book on the shortlist in 2009 was, Tormented Hope. 

In this, Brian Dillon looks at nine prominent hypochondriacs – James Boswell, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Daniel Paul Schreber, Alice James, Marcel Proust, Glenn Gould and Andy Warhol – and what their lives tell us about the way the mind works with, and against, the body. His findings are stimulating and surprising, and the stories he tells are often moving, sometimes hilarious, and always gripping. With a new afterword on Michael Jackson.

Brian Dillon’s first book, In the Dark Room, won the Irish Book Award for Non-fiction in 2006. He lives in Canterbury.

Please do come back later for a review of this book and thank you for stopping by today

Do find the other blogs and book lovers on social media as they talk about the books that have made the shortlists over the past decades

Find out more about the prize and the Wellcome Trust here:

Follow the hashtag too: #WBP2019


The longlist for the prize will be announced in February, the shortlist in march and the winner announced in April. Really looking forward to seeing what makes it on this year.

Elif Shafak, the award-winning author, is chair of the Wellcome Book Prize 2019 and is joined on the panel by Kevin Fong, consultant anaesthetist at University College London Hospitals; Viv Groskop, writer, broadcaster and stand-up comedian; Jon Day, writer, critic, and academic; and Rick Edwards, broadcaster and author.



Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award Shortlists

There are Lots of excellent books to read on these shortlists announced today. The scary thing is that I am an official judge for the Stanford Dolman list!:


Ottoman Odyssey: Travels through a Lost Empire by Alev Scott

Lights In The Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe by Daniel Trilling

The Rhine: Following Europe’s Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps by Ben Coates

Dancing Bears: True Stories about Longing for the Old Days by Witold Szablowski (translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd Jones)

The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain by Damian Le Bas

The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins


Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Ponti by Sharlene Teo

The Madonna of The Mountains by Elise Valmorbida

Woman At Sea by Catherine Poulain

House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma


The Secret Surfer by Iain Gately

Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth

Up: My Life’s Journey to the Top of Everest by Ben Fogle and Marina Fogle, Mark Fisher (photographer)

Arabia: A Journey Through The Heart of the Middle East by Levison Wood

Around the World in 80 Days: My World Record Breaking Adventure by Mark Beaumont

Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy by Ishbel Holmes


Destination: Planet Earth by Jo Nelson, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

Alastair Humphreys’ Great Adventurers by Alastair Humphreys, illustrated by Kevin Ward

Explorers on Witch Mountain by Alex Bell

Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World by Ben Handicott, illustrated by Lucy Letherland

Journeys by Jonathan Litton, illustrated by Leo Hartas, Chris Chalik, Jon David and David Shephard

Maps of the United Kingdom by Rachel Dixon and Livi Gosling


The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands by Huw Lewis-Jones

The Hidden Tracks: Wanderlust – Hiking Adventures Off the Beaten Path by Cam Honan

Wonders: Spectacular Moments in Nature Photography by Rhonda Rubinstein and California Academy of Sciences

Maps of London and Beyond by Adam Dant, foreword by The Gentle Author

Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road by Joshua Cunningham

The Golden Atlas: The Greatest Explorations, Quests and Discoveries on Maps by Simon & Schuster


Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding

Copenhagen Food: Stories, traditions and recipes by Trine Hahnemann, Photography by Columbus Leth

Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World by James & Tom Morton, Photography by Andy Sewell

Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light by Caroline Eden

Nightingales and Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen by Maryam Sinaiee

Khazana: Saliha Mahmood Ahmed (Hodder & Stoughton) by Saliha Mahmood Ahmed


The Crossway by Guy Stagg

Step By Step by Jonathan Litton

Thinking on My Feet: The small joy of putting one foot in front of another by Kate Humble

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Skybound: A Journey In Flight by Rebecca Loncraine

More details on this link:

Shadow Panel Winner for the Young Writer Award

I cannot tell you all how delighted to announce for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick Shadow Panel winner is Imogen Hermes Gowar with the fabulous The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock (Published by Harvill Secker) You can read the official announcement here

Many Congratulations to Imogen Hermes Gowar for this. It was a really close call. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn’t make the meeting (thanks to Network Rail) and contributed via phone from the train as it made its way into London. It was a shame as I was really looking forward to meeting all my shadow panel members.

Here we all are holding the winning book



I am really looking forward to seeing what the real judges pick next week!

Follow our Winner on Twitter: @girlhermes. And her publisher: @harvillsecker
Here is the round up of all the shadow panel reviews.
Don’t forget to follow the award on twitter @youngwriteryear And the has tag #youngwriterawardshadow

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

My final review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick, shortlist, is for The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Imogen Hermes Gowar studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History before going on to work in museums. She began to write small pieces of fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with. In 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing. She won the Curtis Brown Prize for her dissertation, which grew into this novel. She lives, works, and walks around south-east London – an area whose history she takes a keen interest in.

My review:

Jonah Hancock hears frantic knocking on his from door one September evening. On opening it he finds Captain Jones, one of the captains of his merchant ships eagerly waiting to see him. He lets him in and then hears the news that he has bought. It is not good; he has sold Hancock’s entire ship for what he has been told is a mermaid. Stunned at first, Hancock is lost for words, but Jones persuades him that this will make his fortune, provided he stirs interest in it.

Turns out that lots of people have heard of this marvel and are desperate to see it. The showing is a success and he is being courted by the great and the good as he rises into the echelons of high society. Mrs Chappell, the sharp-eyed businesswoman sees an opportunity to make money from this wonder and offers to rent it from him for a staggering sum of money. He attends the first event, naïvely thinking that the owner of a bordello might not have an event that descends into a romp; but he was wrong. His chaperone for the evening, Angelica Neal, is one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen, but even her charms cannot keep him there so he leaves the party early.

He is approached with an offer for the mermaid and manages to negotiate a very high price for it; financially he is made for life. He is still seeing Angelica, and she requests that she would love him to acquire another mermaid for her, something that he would have considered almost impossible, but one has been found before.

Historical melodrama in not really my thing, but the advantage of reading a shortlist is that it opens your eyes to books that you wouldn’t have considered before. Gowar’s book is well researched and her attention to detail for the period is spot on. Even though it is almost 500 pages long, it didn’t read like a long novel. The prose is flowery and elaborate but suits the time period that it is written in well. It has a strong moral tale and about obsession, oppression and tragedy. It was a book that I liked but didn’t love it as these are not completely my thing.

There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here:

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here:

You can find them on Facebook here:

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat –

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books –

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit –

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow

Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth

My second review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick, shortlist, is for Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth

Adam Weymouth is interested in the relationship between humans and the world around them. It has led him to write on issues of climate change and environmentalism, and most recently, to travel the Yukon River and tell the stories of the people living on its banks. He lives on a 100-year-old Dutch barge on the River Lea in London. He has written for a wide variety of outlets including the Guardian, the Atlantic and the New Internationalist. Kings of the Yukon is his first book.

My review:

There are very few areas left in the world that haven’t had some interference from mankind, but one of the true wilderness areas left is in Alaska. It is through this part of Canada and America that the Yukon River snakes its way to the coast and it is this 2000 mile river that Adam Weymouth is intending to canoe along. Even this remote wilderness is showing the signs of climate change and the results of our ruining the planet.

Weymouth is also there to track the King salmon, or chinook as they are known in Canada, as they head upstream from the Bearing Sea to carry out their last act before dying; spawning. They have been away in the Pacific and no one knows exactly where they go, or indeed how they find their way back to the same river and the exact pool where they were spawned themselves. When they have committed this last act, they die. The return of the salmon brought food for the various predators and economic activity along the river for the people that choose to live in this part of the world. However the thousands and thousands of salmon that used to almost clog the river up in their desire to reproduce are no longer there, changes wrought by us and climate change hade decimated the populations.

His account of his four-month journey was in reality split over two years as the river was impossible to canoe down during the winter. That doesn’t lessen his desire to find the people with the stories to tell, and what stories they are. This part of the world attracts those that wanted to drop out of normal society. He meets the indigenous people too who have relied on the king salmon as an intrinsic part of their culture for thousands of years and who until recently have only lightly touched the earth. Weymouth takes time to talk to those he meets, tease out the stories and understand the shocking effects we have been causing on this otherwise unspoilt wilderness and the way that people who have depended on this natural resource are trying to change to reverse some of the changes. For a debut travel writer,  he is pretty accomplished. This is a really enjoyable travel book with a sharp focus and I am looking forward to reading what he does next.


There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here:

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here:

You can find them on Facebook here:

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat –

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books –

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit –

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow

Elmet by Fiona Mozely

My second review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick, shortlist, is for Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Fiona Mozley grew up in York and later lived in London, Cambridge and Buenos Aires. She has gone full circle and is now back in York, where she is writing a PhD thesis on the concept of decay in the later Middle Ages. Elmet was her first fiction book and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for fiction. She currently works part-time at The Little Apple Bookshop.

My review:

Daniel and Cathy live in a home that their father, John, built with his own hands. He is a huge man and an acclaimed bare-knuckle boxer but as a parent caring for his children, he is a gentle giant. They were never like the other children, and have an alternative upbringing, dropped out of school, spend their days foraging and hunting for food and share their fathers roll-ups and cider. He has told them that this is their home forever, but he has no truck with details like who actually owns the land.

Soon the ghosts from his past lives begin to haunt him once again, the local landlord and hood Price needs John to fight again, large amounts of money are stake and Price has leverage over John. The children notice a difference in their father, gone is the calm; now they see rage flame in his eyes. John decides to accept Prices request to fight, negotiating a deal to secure their future properly and so begins his training…

 I normally don’t read Booker Prize books as I have not always got along with them in the past but this was on my list to read as I was fortunate to win a signed copy. It is a dark tale of the underground culture of a northern village, with the characters deeply rooted in the very landscape they inhabit. I thought it did take a little while to get going, as Mozley takes time setting the scene and builds the atmosphere, however, the last quarter of the book flew by. The prose is sparse yet visceral and charged. Her portrayal of the characters, whose flaws give the plot the friction it needs, make this tale of a family who have stepped away from contemporary society, unnerving and disturbing.

There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here:

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here:

You can find them on Facebook here:

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat –

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books –

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit –

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

My first review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick shortlist, is for The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman.

Laura Freeman is a freelance writer and art critic. Her first book The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite has been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.

She writes about art, architecture, books and food for the Spectator, Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Apollo, Literary Review,  Standpoint, World of Interiors, Country Life and TLS. She is a former dance critic for the Evening Standard.

Her work has been short-listed for Feature Writer of the Year at the British Press Awards.

She read History of Art at Cambridge, graduating with a double first in 2010.

My review:

At the young age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. Where everyone saw a really thin girl with almost transparent skin, she saw something utterly different in the reflection in the mirror. It was the culmination of months of avoiding certain foods, before almost stopping eating completely until she reached the point where she was starving to death. While she let very little pass her lips in the form of nourishment, she still devoured books, and it was literature that was to hold the key to her recovery.

The road to recovery for an anorexic is long and fraught and it was no different for Laura, but where others just had the mental battle, she had the extra support from the books she was reading. In between the covers of Dickens, Sassoon, Woolf, Lee and Leigh Fermor, she would discover how they were able to consume vast plates full of roast beef, bowls of soup and exotic sounding breads without a care in the world. She reads of soldiers who treasure the moment of a scalding hot cup of tea after an intense battle in World War One. In fact, what she discovered was that these authors loved food; revelled in the taste of what they were eating and sharing the moment with others. These passages in the books slowly gave her the confidence to rediscover food for the pleasure of eating it rather than purely as a fuel.

Even though her mind had driven her to the point of abhorring food, one thing that she never lost was her love of reading. Most people do not realise just how debilitating anorexia is and there is some painful moments in here as she recalls the lowest points of her illness. But there are the moments too, where she is sustained by her mother’s love, an invitation from a friend that arrived at just the right moment. I have read a fair number of the books that Laura talks about in here and whilst the eating and celebration of life between friends and strangers is a key part of them, it is not something that particularly stood out for me, until now. Just reading the descriptions quoted in the book made me very hungry! However, it did for Laura and this list of childhood favourites and other classics has played a crucial role in her accepting that food is not something to avoid and can be enjoyed.

There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here:

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here:

You can find them on Facebook here:

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat –

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books –

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit –

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow



The Peters Fraser And Dunlop/Sunday Times Young Writer Of The Year Award – Shortlist Reveal

And here are the four shortlisted titles for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick:

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

At the age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. She had seized the one aspect of her life that she seemed able to control, and struck different foods from her diet one by one until she was starving. But even at her lowest point, the one appetite she never lost was her love of reading.

As Laura battled her anorexia, she gradually re-discovered how to enjoy food – and life more broadly – through literature. Plum puddings and pottles of fruit in Dickens gave her courage to try new dishes; the wounded Robert Graves’ appreciation of a pair of greengages changed the way she thought about plenty and choice; Virginia Woolf’s painterly descriptions of bread, blackberries and biscuits were infinitely tempting. Book by book, meal by meal, Laura developed an appetite and discovered an entire library of reasons to live.

The Reading Cure is a beautiful, inspiring account of hunger and happiness, about addiction, obsession and recovery, and about the way literature and food can restore appetite and renew hope.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.
Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned menacing and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them in the woods with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted.

Cathy was more like their father: fierce and full of simmering anger. Daniel was more like their mother: gentle and kind. Sometimes, their father disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home, he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, Elmet is a compelling portrayal of a family living on the fringes of contemporary society, as well as a gripping exploration of the disturbing actions people are capable of when pushed to their limits.

Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth

A captivating, lyrical account of an epic voyage by canoe down the Yukon River.

The Yukon River is almost 2,000 miles long, flowing through Canada and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Setting out to explore one of the most ruggedly beautiful and remote regions of North America, Adam Weymouth journeyed by canoe on a four-month odyssey through this untrammelled wilderness, encountering the people who have lived there for generations. The Yukon’s inhabitants have long depended on the king salmon who each year migrate the entire river to reach their spawning grounds. Now the salmon numbers have dwindled, and the encroachment of the modern world has changed the way of life on the Yukon, perhaps for ever.

Weymouth’s searing portraits of these people and landscapes offer an elegiac glimpse of a disappearing world. Kings of the Yukon is an extraordinary adventure, told by a powerful new voice.

It is good to see two non-fiction on the list. I have already read the Reading Cure earlier in the year. I had won a signed copy of Elmet but not got around to reading it. Really looking forward to the others too.

What do you think of the shortlist? Have you read any?


Young Writer Award – Shadow Panel Judge

I am genuinely humbled to announce to announce that I have been asked to be a member of the official shadow panel for The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with Warwick University. It is awarded annually for a full-length published or self-published (in book or ebook formats) work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, by an author aged 18 – 35 years. The winner receives £5,000, and there are three prizes of £500 each for runners-up. The winning book will be a work of outstanding literary merit.

The Irish writer Sally Rooney was named last year’s Young Writer of the Year for Conversation with Friends (Faber & Faber), which went on to be shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize, the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize, and the British Book Awards. Rooney followed Max Porter, who won with his genre-bending Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Faber & Faber), and the poet Sarah Howe, who was awarded in 2015 for her first collection, Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus), which went on to win the T.S. Eliot Prize. This year’s winner will join these three exceptional writers, and a list of alumni that includes everyone from Robert Macfarlane and Simon Armitage to Zadie Smith and Sarah Waters.

The prize – which rewards the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35 – has become the definitive platform for young writing. Working with a growing network of partners, including the British Council, it provides a vital support system to the very best talent at work now. Generously sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop, and created by The Sunday Times, the Young Writer of the Year Award is running in association with the University of Warwick – home to the acclaimed Warwick Writing Programme – who are offering a bespoke 10-week residency for the award’s winner, and a year long programme of digital support for the Prize. The British Council is the international partner of the prize.

Find out more about the prize here:

Follow them on Twitter here:

As well as the hashtags:  & #youngwriterawardshadow

My fellow bloggers on the shadow panel are :

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat –
Susan Osborne – A Life In Books –
Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit –
Lizzi Risch – These Little Words

Timetable of Events:
The shortlist will be announced on 4 November in the Sunday Times.
Shadow Panel Winner Announcement – 28th November.
The winner will be announced on 6th December at an evening event in London.

Review: Liquid by Mark Miodownik

4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The amount of stuff we consume these days is staggering, but there are some things that we use day in day out that barely get our attention, the water that comes out of the tap that goes into the kettle to make your coffee. The liquid soap that you use to wash your hands, the ink that stays in the pen until you scribble on a notepad, the glass of something cold that helps you relax at the end of a busy week. All of these are liquids and they all lubricate our lives in one way or another.

But, if someone was to place three glasses full of clear liquids in front of you, which could you drink that is essential to life, which would power an aircraft and which would kill you if you knocked it over?

Mark Miodownik is best placed to explain all of these things being a materials engineer and Professor of Materials and Society at UCL and in this highly entertaining journey from London to San Francisco on a plane he describes and enlightens us about all the liquids that we use in the modern world. Beginning as he passes through security, and why we can’t take more than 100ml of fluids on board now, on to the pre-dinner drinks, the oceans that he is flying over and what liquids hold the plane he is on together.

The film he watches after diner allows him to explain liquid crystals and the way that most modern TV’s work before he nods off and wakes up dribbling on the passenger alongside him. From a discussion on body fluids, he moves swiftly onto the delights of coffee and tea and why they don’t taste quite the same over the Atlantic. A wash and brush up and then onto the history of inks, musings about clouds and liquids that sometimes think that they are solids, liquids that can flow uphill and new modern technologies like self-healing roads.

I thought that was a great companion volume to Stuff Matters and another very well written book by Miodownik. He has used a fair amount of artistic license to ensure that the narrative flows and to give him plenty of subjects to discuss as he travels from the UK to the United States. I do like the way that he talks about science in an engaging manner and the whole book is stuffed full of facts and interesting anecdotes, but there is only so much you can do from the viewpoint of an airline seat and he does veer a little off course occasionally. Well worth reading.

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