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Wilford's 'America's Great Game' Earns Top Washington Institute Book Prize

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Books on Iran’s Revolution, Egypt’s Copts and Israel’s Challenges also cited

Washington, D.C. -- Hugh Wilford’s America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, a thrilling investigative history of how the first generation of CIA operatives shaped U.S. relations with the Middle East, has been awarded the gold medal in The Washington Institute's 2014 Book Prize competition, the research organization announced today. A professor of history at California State University Long Beach and author of four other books, Wilford will receive the prestigious award and an accompanying $25,000 prize.

The Washington Institute Book Prize is given annually to outstanding new books that have illuminated the Middle East for American readers. "Through this competition, The Washington Institute acknowledges the very best new works on the region and encourages authors and publishers to produce books of unique quality and insight," according to Institute Executive Director Dr. Robert Satloff, who is also the Howard P. Berkowitz Chair in U.S. Middle East Policy.

In recognizing Wilford with the prize, the judges said: “Historian Hugh Wilford offers a riveting study of the CIA’s early involvement in the Arab world, showing what many only suspected: that the CIA, just like the State Department, was populated by Kiplingesque romantics and the sons of missionaries who gave the agency a strongly Arabist tilt. ... This is also American social history at its finest, tracing how a fascination with the East captivated America’s mid-century elites (including two Roosevelts, Kim and Archie, who mixed espionage with fantasy). Fine writing and research in untapped archives come together in this invaluable account of America’s left-footed entry into the Middle East." America's Great Game is published by Basic Books.

James Buchan was awarded the silver medal, with its $15,000 prize, for Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences, published by Simon and Schuster. The judges called the book "perfectly pitched, vignette-filled replay of Iran’s transformation from a dirt-poor playground of foreign powers into a regional pretender. ... On an Iran bookshelf laden with biased tomes, Days of God stands out, and almost stands alone, for its objectivity and elegant prose." Buchan, a student of Arabic and Persian who first visited Iran in 1974, is a British novelist and journalist who served for many years as a correspondent for the Financial Times.

The jurors presented two bronze prizes this year, worth $5,000 apiece. One award went to Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity by Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Published by Hoover Institute Press, the judges said the book "breaks new ground by intertwining the story of the Copts with that of Egypt’s quest for modernity. ... Tadros tells a sad story with a keen eye for the telling detail that keeps this book moving fast to his inevitable conclusion: mass Coptic emigration from Egypt is now unstoppable." 

A bronze prize was also awarded to Israeli columnist Ari Shavit for his New York Times bestseller My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. The judges praised the memoir as “a fast-paced personal tour of Israel’s modern history and contemporary scene. Written with passion and flair, this bestselling book powerfully restates the liberal case for Israel, by a careful weighing of the virtues and flaws of what Shavit presents as the remarkable and redemptive saga of Israel--both as it has been, and as it should be." The book is published by Spiegel & Grau, a Random House imprint.

The Book Prize, now in its seventh year, has been generously supported since its inception by Washington Institute trustees Shelly and Michael Kassen.

Submissions for the 2015 Book Prize will commence after January 1, 2015. Publishers may submit English-language nonfiction books on any subject that bears on the modern Middle East or America's role in the region published between May 1, 2014 and May 1, 2015. The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2015. Complete details are available at

About the Institute: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy is an independent, nonpartisan research institution that advances a balanced and realistic understanding of U.S. interests in the broader Middle East. Drawing on the expertise of its fellows, the Institute promotes informed debate and scholarly research on U.S. policy in the region.

Contact: Brittany Parker, media liaison, email, 202-452-0650