NEW YORK — John Sterling, who has just taken over as publisher at Henry Holt, has invested a rumored $1.5 million to acquire world rights to “The Liberation Trilogy,” a proposed nonfiction series about WWII to be written by Washington Post assistant managing editor Rick Atkinson.

The books will respectively focus on the Northern Africa, Italian and D-Day campaigns and will thus cumulatively explore the Allies’ push in 1942-1945 to conclude the war. The first book will be published in about three years, with the others following in 3- to 3-1/2-year intervals thereafter.

WWII franchise

Industry observers compare the proposed series to a possible franchise like the WWII books by Stephen Ambrose, the bestselling Simon & Schuster house author who served as consultant on “Saving Private Ryan and whose own “Band of Brothers” will be the basis for a 13-hour HBO miniseries by “Ryan” vets Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (Daily Variety, Dec. 2).

About a decade ago, Atkinson wrote “The Long Gray Line,” the story of the Vietnam-era West Point class of 1966, which was developed from a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles. That book was followed by “Crusade,” an account of the Gulf War. Both were edited by Sterling when he was at Houghton Mifflin prior to his most recent position at Random House’s Broadway Books. A planned reprint of “The Long Gray Line” (which had at one point been optioned by Lorimar but whose dramatic rights are now available) is part of the Holt acquisition.

Washington, D.C.-based literary agent Rafe Sagalyn repped Atkinson in the deal.

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Warren Adler’s “Random Hearts,” which has been out of print for 10 years, will be brought back to press by Ballantine thanks to the upcoming Columbia Pictures release of the film version directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas.

“Random Hearts” focuses on two people who meet after their spouses die in an airplane crash, only to discover that those spouses were having an affair.

Adler, who has published 27 books, is perhaps best known for “War of the Roses.”

“Random Hearts” was originally published in 1984 by Macmillan prior to its acquisition by S&S. Paperback rights had been licensed to Signet but have since lapsed. The book also sat on various shelves in Hollywood for 15 years.

Never too late

Ballantine editor George Lucas beat out other final bidder Penguin Putnam for a book deal rumored in the high-five-figure range and plans to tie publication to the film release tentatively set for August.

Adler’s literary agent, Peter Lampack, had previously resold paperback rights to foreign publishers at this past October’s Frankfurt Book Fair.

Adler’s “Private Lies” is in development with Warner Bros., and his first musical, “Never Too Late,” based on his short story collection “The Sunset Gang,” about lust and love in a retirement community in Florida, will see its first production in February at the Forum Theater in Metuchen, N.J.