Cavalier by Lucy Worsley Faber and Faber, HK$160 Biographies can be plodding reads when their subjects are not interesting enough to warrant book-length exposes, or if the author lacks the material to provide a rounded portrait. Then there is the matter of how to present the research in a captivating way. Lucy Worsley, however, scores in all three departments with Cavalier, which dissects the life of William Cavendish, a 17th-century aristocrat who was a soldier, statesman, womaniser, architect, poet, sponsor of the arts and skilled horseman. Oh yes, he was also married to the blue-stockinged author Margaret Lucas. Worsley's interest in the great houses Cavendish inherited and built is not surprising: she was an inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage and worked on a representation project at Derbyshire's Bolsover Castle, which formed part of the Cavendish portfolio alongside Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Before he left his architectural legacy, however, he had already established himself socially and politically although not militarily. In 1644 he led a disastrous attack at Marston Moor in the largest battle of the English civil war. When the Royalist troops were defeated he went into exile in Antwerp until 1660. Worsley tells his story by describing not only events but also the minutiae of 17th-century life, covering everything from hygiene to food to medicine. The result is a riveting snapshot of history.