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Born to humble parents, Smith was also a child of the Industrial Revolution (the year of his birth, 1769, also saw Josiah Wedgwood open his great factory, Etruria, Richard Arkwright create his first water-powered cotton-spinning frame, and James Watt receive the patent for the first condensing steam engine). While working as surveyor in a coal mine, Smith noticed the abrupt changes in the layers of rock as he was lowered into the depths. He came to understand that the different layers--in part as revealed by the fossils they contained--always appeared in the same order, no matter where they were found. He also realized that geology required a three-dimensional approach. Smith spent the next 20 some years traveling throughout Britain, observing the land, gathering data, and chattering away about his theories to those he met along the way, thus acquiring the nickname "Strata Smith." In 1815 he published his masterpiece: an 8.5- by 6-foot, hand-tinted map revealing "A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales."
Despite this triumph, Smith's road remained more rocky than smooth. Snubbed by the gentlemanly Geological Society, Smith complained that "the theory of geology is in the possession of one class of men, the practice in another." Indeed, some members of the society went further than mere ostracism--they stole Smith's work. These cartographic plagiarists produced their own map, remarkably similar to Smith's, in 1819. Meanwhile the chronically cash-strapped Smith had been forced to sell his prized fossil collection and was eventually consigned to debtor's prison.
In the end, the villains are foiled, our hero restored, and science triumphs. Winchester clearly relishes his happy ending, and his honey-tinged prose ("that most attractively lovable losterlike Paleozoic arthropod known as the trilobite") injects a lot of life into what seems, on the surface, a rather dry tale. Like Smith, however, Winchester delves into the strata beneath the surface and reveals a remarkable world. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
Great story only occasionally mired by some overly dramatic writing.Published 8 months ago by Jeffrey R. Fish
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. Read morePublished on Nov. 25 2003 by Rick Fisher
Stacey gave me this book last year for Christmas. It is written by Simon Winchester, who also wrote The Professor and the Madman, which was a fascinating book about the creation of... Read morePublished on Sept. 18 2003 by M. Griffith
Disappointing sums it up for me. If I wasn't interested in geology already I would be even more disappointed. Read morePublished on Sept. 1 2003 by John R Laferriere
What is it about England and its wonderful eccentric scientists? From Darwin and Newton to Harrison and Smith, these folks are just amazing - their love of what they did and their... Read morePublished on Aug. 19 2003 by portledgesteven
Simon Winchester successfully and masterfully spins this non-fiction biography with the twists and turns of a well-plotted fiction. Read morePublished on Aug. 14 2003 by Matthew Munyon