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The Map That Changed The World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology Paperback – Jul 18 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (July 18 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931803
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 13.5 x 20.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #433,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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First Sentence
The last day of August 1819, a Tuesday, dawned gray, showery, and refreshingly cool in London, promising a welcome end to a weeklong spell of close and muggy weather that seemed to have put all the capital's citizens in a nettlesome, liverish mood. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Penelope B. M. Hedges on Nov. 20 2009
Format: Paperback
I was riveted by this book, which shows the power of one man who challenges established thought on how the earth was made and realises that there was more to it than seven days. William Smith's observations in the mines and while building canals contributed greatly to the theory of evolution. Smith constructed a geological map that is not so very different from those in use today. If you are interested in geology or map making you will enjoy this read.

Additional biographical information shows how Smith struggled with life, fame and debt along the way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. J. Thompson TOP 500 REVIEWER on Nov. 24 2010
Format: Paperback
Simon Winchester has rather made a name for himself taking offbeat and obscure topics and making them accessible and entertaining for the casual reader and I think this may be one of his better books. I actually read this particular history a number of years ago (and I recall enjoying it) but I think I got more out of it in subsequent reads. The difference, I think, is that in the interim between the first and later reads I also read a lot of books about creationism, Darwinian evolutionary theory and the impact an influence of modern geological science on those areas. After reading about the religious uproar which occurred once the immense age of the earth and the form of its structure began to contradict certain long held beliefs it was very interesting to see how the whole fuss got started.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ken Zirkel on May 1 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm sorry, but not even Simon Winchester's earnest enthusiasm and lyrical prose can save this tale. It's just too dull. I got through about halfway, and couldn't finish.
Winchester is a glorious writer in his twin histories of the Oxford English Dictionary. But here his subject is just too obscure and trivial, and try as he might, Winchester can't make it seem interesting.
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Format: Paperback
It's a matter of taste, but I'm mystified by people who find Winchester's writing "charming." The author's cardinal rule seems to be: "When in doubt, slather on another thick coat of adjectives, adverbs, and clichés." This kind of prose is too politely described as turgid, florid, and repetitive.
I wouldn't normally review a book after reading 1/4 of it, but I feel about this one the way I do after watching 20 minutes of a movie, and the direction, acting, and story are already tired and weak. It's usually a waste of time to stick it out on the off chance of an improvement.
Given that, I can't comment on whether the underlying story will come close to living up to its grandiose title, but I can say that I have a hard time trusting an author on the big picture once I've seen him get the details wrong in areas that I am intimately familiar with (e.g. coal mining in this case).
As several other readers suggested, John McPhee is an incomparably better writer and researcher, on geology or any other topic he cares to tackle.
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By Rick Fisher on Nov. 26 2003
Format: Paperback
I had many hours of flying ahead of me and this was the wrong book to have taken. The fact that it was the only book I had gave me great incentive to like it. I didn't. I left it on the plane for someone more desperate than myself.
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Format: Paperback
William Smith learned how to read the layers of rock beneath Great Britain and created the world's first stratigraphic map. He did indeed "change the world", because his map became the basis of so much fundamental research in geology and literally place the engineering of mines, bridges, canals, and skyscrapers on a sound basis. I enjoyed Winchester's description of England in the early 1800's, particularly the agricultural revolution resulting from the enclosure laws. Smith was known as the "drainer" because he advised landowners on the usefulness of their fields, based on his knowledge of the strata beneath them.
Smith based his identification of strata on the fossils they contained. He found that sedimentary layers invariably contained fossils, that the fossils were characteristic for a given layer. Although he didn't spend much time speculating about it, Smith discovered evolution. If you are occasionally annoyed by Creationists who say that "evolution is just a theory" you'll find this book a delight and a resource.
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Format: Paperback
Simon Winchester, the author of the deservedly best-selling *The Professor and the Madman*, writes in *The Map that Changed the World* about William Smith, who was dubbed in 1831--a bit belatedly--The Father of English Geology by the then president of the Geological Society of London. Smith's great work was an enormous--some 8 x 6 feet--geological map of England, the data for which Smith had spent a considerable part of his lifetime collecting single-handedly. The map, which delineates in splendid color the various strata of rock that underlie England, was the first of its kind. Smith himself was a maverick intellect for his understanding of both the implications of the strata for the history of the Earth and the importance to the rocks' identification of the fossils that could be collected from them.
Smith also had an interesting personal history in that his great efforts for science were so unremunerative that he landed for some eleven weeks at the age of fifty in one of London's great debtors' prisons. Winchester makes much of this great irony in his book, that a monumental figure should be so ill-treated and so long unrespected during his lifetime.
For all Smith's merits as a subject, however, Winchester's narrative is a bit of a slog. His emphasis is very often on the science of geology rather than the personality of Smith. This is reasonable enough given the subject matter of the book, but I, at least, frequently found the author's discussion difficult to follow. Winchester may, as a one-time student of geology at Oxford, have had too high an opinion of his layman readers' capacities. (Or I, of course, may not have been the proper audience for the book.
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