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ALEXANDER HAMILTON, AMERICAN, by Richard Brookhiser, Free Press, 240 pages, $25.

Alexander Hamilton was 32 years old when he took over the new nation’s books as first secretary of the United States Treasury. They were in bad shape, but he balanced them and audaciously charted a system of law and finance, thus almost single-handedly lifting America into a capitalist era and laying the foundations for the nation’s eventual emergence as a leading economic and military power. Yet Hamilton, “the bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar,” as John Adams called him, was more than the father of American capitalism, writes author Richard Brookhiser in this insightful, poignant, and graceful biography.

Brookhiser, a senior editor at the National Review, has painted a brilliant portrait of Hamilton. Drawing freely upon contemporary accounts, Brookhiser explains how Hamilton, born out of wedlock on the sugar island of Nevis in the British West Indies, came to America as an impoverished immigrant at the age of 15. He seized the opportunities available in New York and founded the New York Post, which still exists. He was one of the fathers of American journalism.

Brookhiser relates how Hamilton became an excellent and well-paid trial lawyer and helped to write the Constitution. If John Marshall was the father of judicial review, the author points out, then Hamilton was the grandfather.

The author acknowledges Hamilton’s flaws (he had a propensity for womanizing) and that he was attacked for being a friend of the rich, and once wrote that democracy was America’s “disease.” Yet Brookhiser points out that Hamilton was also the friend of working men and strove energetically to end slavery.

Sympathetic yet objective, painstakingly researched, and masterfully written, this is a definitive study of Hamilton and his times. Brookhiser’s luminous biography rates the highest praise.

Michael Hull writes for various military publications.