The Map That Changed the World

The Map That Changed the World

William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

Book - 2001
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The fascinating story of the father of modern geology In 1793, William Smith, the orphan son of a village blacksmith, made a startling discovery that was to turn the science of geology on its head. While surveying the route for a canal near Bath, he noticed that the fossils found in one layer of the rocks he was excavating were very different from those found in another. And out of that realization came an epiphany: that by following these fossils one could trace layers of rocks as they dipped, rose and fell -- clear across England and clear across the world. Obsessed with creating a map that would showcase his discovery, Smith spent the next twenty years traveling England alone, studying rock outcroppings and gathering information. In 1815 he published a hand-painted map more than eight feet tall and six feet wide. But four years later, swindled out of his profits, Smith ended up in debtors' prison. His wife went mad. He lived as a homeless man for ten long years. Eventually a kindly aristocrat discovered him; Smith, the quiet genius and 'father of geology' was brought back to London and showered with the honors that he rightly deserved.
Publisher: New York : HarperCollins ; Harper Perennial, c2001
ISBN: 9780060193614
Characteristics: xix, 329 p., [2] p. of plates : ill., maps (some col.) ; 22 cm


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May 23, 2016

If the history of geology intrigues you then Martin Rudwick's Earth's Deep History is superior to this effort in all respects. Winchester's book suffers two serious defects: he believes in the great men theory of history and argues that William Smith is one, though his text undermines his argument; and, more perniciously, Winchester asserts that religion was dead set against geological inquiry, which was simply not the case. One can easily cheery pick some outrageous comments in support of such a thesis, but Rudwick's account puts the lie to this tired stereotype.

Mar 30, 2015

An entertaining and brisk-paced history/ biography... among the best aspects are the bottom of page footnotes, which include interesting digressions on numerous things, including Korean mythology.

Apr 21, 2013

Interesting and worthwhile topic, but perhaps over-developed: more detail than necessary.

Jun 25, 2012

Simon Winchester is an incredibly prolific writer, considering how thoroughly researched all his books are. Well, this one is about his own field, geology, but still, he had to wade through all the (not easily attainable) material about William Smith, the undeservedly forgotten genius mapmaker. Kudos to Winchester for drawing attention to this remarkable man in his easy conversational style (although I must say that the book could have done with a little trimming here and there).

May 28, 2012


Aug 09, 2011

Simon Winchester is a gifted writer who has entertained us with such books as “The Meaning of Everything...” (the story of the Oxford English Dictionary), and “Atlantic.
In the Map, we are treated to an investigation of one William Smith who overturned to accepted knowledge of geology to develop on an understanding of the science that is still valid today.
As usual, Winchester spins a beguiling tale that entertains and enlightens at the same time. “The Map…” takes a subject that could be vary arid in the hands of another writer and makes the book a pleasure to read.

Mar 26, 2010

I found the author to have a simplistic writing style that I did not particularly care for. I was looking for something with more depth, and this was not it.


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