The air of having invented Cervantes never quite fades from Byron's busy treatment, which begins with a lot of speculations about family tensions and a rehash of the Jewish-ancestry question, founded on much diligent between-the-lines perusal of cloudy documents. Other biographers may wonder why in 1590 Cervantes purchased four books in French, which he apparently did not know. Byron promptly concludes that he was ""dazzled"" by the gilt bindings: ""Booklovers will understand."" But notwithstanding his propensity for motive-excavating and inability to resist an aperÃ‡u or metaphor, Byron does in fact come through with a solid, useful account of Cervantes' life and works. The narrative gains in confidence and flair as he traces the comparatively well-documented career as soldier and minor functionary, with particular attention to Cervantes' escape from slavery in Algiers and his Kafkaesque service as a royal commissary during and after the outfitting of the Armada. The treatment of the works begins unpromisingly with some obtuse generalities about the Galatea and the pastoral tradition but finds surer footing in the discussion of the Spanish picaresque as reflected in Don Quixote and the Exemplary Novels. This is not a tidy narrative; it often falls over its own feet in the effort to say everything at once. But it eventually succeeds in suggesting the inward as well as outward stature of this good-natured failure who somehow, at the age of 58, presented us with an indelible image of human delusion and perseverance. While we wait for an English translation of Luis Astrana MarÃn's Vida ejemplar, it is well worth looking at any lively one-volume introduction which affords the insight that ""This mining of spiritual reserves where no reserves should be is the essence of heroism.