By Associated Press
Updated November 04, 2013 at 10:18 PM EST

A biography of Italian fascist Gabriele D’Annunzio has won Britain’s leading nonfiction book prize.

The Pike, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, was awarded the 20,000 pound ($32,000) Samuel Johnson Prize on Monday. The book tells the story of D’Annunzio, a debauched Italian artist who became a national hero.

Martin Rees, who chaired the judging panel, praised Hughes-Hallett’s “intricate crafting” of the narrative and said readers will be transfixed by her portrayal of “repellent egotist” D’Annunzio.

“Her original experimentation with form transcends the conventions of biography,” Rees said.

Hughes-Hallett has written two other books: Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions and Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen.

For the Samuel Johnson Prize, she beat out other finalists, including Charles Moore’s Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography; Charlotte Higgins’ portrait of ancient Britain, Under Another Sky; and A Sting in the Tale by bee conservationist Dave Goulson. Empires of the Dead, a history of World War I cemeteries by David Crane, and William Dalrymple’s 19th-century Afghan saga Return of the King also were on the shortlist.

Rees noted that the strength and variety of the other shortlisted works had given the judges a difficult task.

The Samuel Johnson Prize recognizes English-language books from any country in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.