A book by Indian-origin journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, setting out new details of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority's government of Iraq, has won the Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize worth 30,000 pounds.
The book, titled "Imperial Life in the Emerald City", states that 800 million pounds of Iraq's oil revenue was paid to US Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm Halliburton and that the Baghdad stock exchange was put in the hands of a 24-year-old who had never worked in finance. It also states that the Iraqi capital's new traffic regulations were based on the laws of the state of Maryland, downloaded from the Internet.
Judges of the prize hailed the book as "up there with the greatest reportage of the last 50 years" at an awards ceremony in London Monday night. Chandrasekaran is a former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post.
The chairperson of the judges, Lady Helena Kennedy, said the book was "as fine as Hershey on Hiroshima and Capote's 'In Cold Blood'. The writing is cool, exact and never overstated and in many places very humorous as the jaw-dropping idiocy of the American action is revealed."
"Chandrasekaran stands back, detached and collected, from his subject but his reader is left gobsmacked, right in the middle."
The other books on the shortlist were: "Murder in Amsterdam" by Ian Buruma, "Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties" by Peter Hennessy, "Brainwash" by Dominic Streatfeild, "The Verneys" by Adrian Tinniswood and "Daughter of the Desert" by Georgina Howell.
Judges for the prize included scientist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili, writer and editor Diana Athill, historian and journalist Tristram Hunt, and broadcaster and journalist Mark Lawson.