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History of fascist-leaning Italian poet wins UK book prize

LONDON (Reuters) - A history of the Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, who tried to set up a fascist state in Italy in the early 20th century and was an influence on the dictator Benito Mussolini, won Britain's Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction on Monday.

Author Lucy Hughes-Hallett's "The Pike" focuses on the life of "the debauched Italian artist who became a national hero", the prize committee said in a statement.

"Through his ideological journey, culminating in the failure of his attempt at Fiume to establish a utopia based on his fascist and artistic ideals, readers witness the turbulence of early 20th-century Europe and the emergence of fascism, while also allowing a personal story of an outrageous career," the committee added.

The prize, which is given for non-fiction writing in English, is in its 15th year and carries a 20,000-pound ($31,800) award.

Martin Rees, chair of the judges and Royal Astronomer, said readers of Hughes-Hallett's book "will be transfixed by her vivid portrayal of D'Annunzio - how this repellent egoist quickly gained literary celebrity - and how, thereafter, his incendiary oratory, and foolhardy bravery influenced Italy's involvement in World War One and the subsequent rise of Mussolini".

Hughes-Hallett is the author of two previous books, "Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions" and "Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen". She is a critic for major British newspapers and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Wade Davis, explorer-in-residence for the National Geographic Society, was last year's winner for his account of George Mallory's ill-fated attempt to scale the heights of Mount Everest.

(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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