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D’Este wins lifetime award, but is far from finished

Carlo D’Este’s seven books about World War II includes biographies about Churchill and Eisenhower.

Upon retiring in 1978 after 20 years in the US Army, Mashpee resident Carlo D’Este took up the pen. Guided by his knowledge of military operations and his curiosity about World War II, he has written seven books about the war, including mammoth biographies of Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, and Winston Churchill.

Late last month D’Este was honored with the $100,000 2011 lifetime achievement award in military writing from the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago. In announcing the award, James N. Pritzker paid tribute to D’Este’s mentoring of the next generation of military historians.

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D’Este retired as a lieutenant colonel and enrolled in the war studies program at the University of London. He had visited Omaha Beach in Normandy and wanted to better understand the war in Europe. The papers of major World War II figures were being made available. “It was an ideal time to be doing what I was doing,’’ he said during a recent phone interview. He was lucky enough to find military historians to mentor him. “The first lesson I learned is tell a good story. That’s always been my guiding light,’’ D’Este said.

“Decision in Normandy,’’ his first book, received a rave review in The New York Times in 1984 from Drew Middleton, the paper’s military correspondent. Middleton wrote that the book “will appeal to military buffs. But it should also appeal to all who ponder how intelligent men, well trained in the military sense, act under the terrible pressures of war.’’

The book didn’t sell very well but D’Este’s path was set. The review and his own military background helped him gain access to key figures such as Lieutenant General James M. Gavin, who had a summer home in Osterville. D’Este wrote three more books about other military campaigns before switching to biography, which he called his “real love.’’

At 75, D’Este would like to write one more biography, this one about Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat credited with saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. “Here’s a guy who steps up and does what should be done,’’ D’Este said. “We need more of that.’’

Agni party

As usual, Agni magazine has lined up an intriguing set of readers to celebrate the release of its new issue. They are novelist Sarah Braunstein, whom the National Book Foundation last year named one of “5 Under 35’’ fiction writers to watch; Vermont poet laureate Sydney Lea; Jonathan Wilson, a fiction writer who also has published works about Saul Bellow and Marc Chagall; and Agni’s fiction editor William Giraldi, whose “Busy Monsters’’ was hailed by Washington Post critic Ron Charles as “one of the weirdest comic novels of the year.’’ The party begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston.

Coming out

■“Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt’’ by James Schneider (Bantam)

■“The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun’’ by Robert Greenfield (Simon and Schuster)

■“Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power’’ by Susan Hertog (Ballantine)

Pick of the week

Christopher Rose of Andover Bookstore in Andover recommends “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President’’ by Candice Millard (Doubleday): “Millard is a masterful writer of narrative nonfiction and the unfulfilled promise of the unusually decent, capable James Garfield’s unfinished presidency makes her riveting book that much sadder.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner @yahoo.com.
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