The prolific Hibbert (Nelson: A Personal History, 1994, etc.) offers a lively if unsurprising portrait of a contentious hero. Arthur Wellesley, later to become the duke of Wellington, took to the trade of soldiering with alacrity, rising to prominence during his long, careful campaign against Napoleon's forces in Spain, and becoming enshrined as a national hero for his victory against the emperor himself at Waterloo. He then chose to plunge into politics, eventually becoming prime minister, in 1827. For several decades Wellington, alternately irascible and charming, arrogant and solicitous, and almost always imperious, dominated the national scene. Hibbert covers Wellington's campaigns with speed and clarity but plunges with enthusiasm into Wellington's years at the center of British politics. It's likely that most readers do not need to know quite so much as they are told here about the nasty particulars of political life in the 1820s and '30s in England. Still, Hibbert does a deft job of marshaling facts and anecdotes. A useful introduction to a complex, powerful figure. (b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.