The Art of Political Murder, an exhaustively researched story of assassination, impunity and justice in Guatemala, has won the first annual WOLA-Duke Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America.

The author of the winning book, Francisco Goldman, received a $1,000 cash award and an invitation to the WOLA Benefit Gala and Human Rights Award event on September 17. He was invited to give a reading at Duke University in Durham, N.C., in the fall.

WOLA, the human rights research and advocacy group established in 1974, and Duke University created the prize to honor the best current, non-fiction book published in English on human rights, democracy and social justice in contemporary Latin America.

Goldman’s book, published by Grove Press, recounts the 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Gerardi, four days after he and a group of lawyers presented a devastating report on human rights abuses committed by the Guatemalan military against civilians, and the trial of several military officers for the assassination.

The four-judge panel also announced an Honorable Mention for the book Fair Growth: Economic Policies for Latin America’s Poor and Middle-Income Majority, by Nancy Birdsall, Augusto de la Torre, and Rachel Menezes, published by the Center for Global Development and Inter-American Dialogue.

The judges in the competition were:


Holly AckermanLibrarian for Latin America and Iberia, Duke University
Roger AtwoodCommunications Director, Washington Office on Latin America
Richard FeinbergProfessor, Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego
Robin KirkDirector, Duke Human Rights Center, Duke University

The Art of Political Murder was chosen from a group of four finalists that included Fair Growth, named above, and two other distinguished books, Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru, by Jo-Marie Burt (Palgrave/MacMillan) and Counting the Dead: The Culture and Politics of Human Rights Activism in Colombia, by Winifred Tate (University of California Press).

The judges were unanimous in their praise for Goldman’s book. “It is not only well-written but researched with a rigor that will inform both Guatemala experts and general scholars of Latin American Studies,” said Ackerman, who compared the book to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood for the way it “raised awareness of unfathomable criminality.”

“The primary aim in creating the WOLA-Duke Book Award was to draw the general public’s attention to good writing on contemporary Latin America. By that standard, we couldn’t have had a better first winner than The Art of Political Murder,” said Atwood. “It is destined to become a classic of compassionate reporting.”

About the winning book, Kirk said the “reporting is stellar, the word-craft outstanding and the story beautifully told.” 

Feinberg called both the Goldman and Birdsall books “excellent publications, very much supportive of WOLA’s mission, and they will solidly establish the WOLA-Duke Book Award for quality selection.”

The book award is another cooperative venture between WOLA and Duke University. Under an agreement signed in January, WOLA has donated its inactive archives dating  back to the organization’s founding to the Archive for Human Rights at Duke Libraries.