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The Map That Changed The World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology Paperback – Jul 11 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (July 11 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931803
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.5 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #771,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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Once upon a time there lived a man who discovered the secrets of the earth. He traveled far and wide, learning about the world below the surface. After years of toil, he created a great map of the underworld and expected to live happily ever after. But did he? Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) tells the fossil-friendly fairy tale life of William Smith in The Map That Changed the World.

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.

From Publishers Weekly

As he did in The Professor and the Madman, Winchester chooses an obscure historical character who is inherently fascinating, but whose life and work have also had a strong impact on civilization. Here is William Smith, the orphan son of a village blacksmith, with lots of pluck and little luck until the end of his life when this pioneering first geological cartographer of the world beneath our feet was finally and fully recognized. Smith's life illustrates the interconnectedness of early 19th-century science, the industrial revolution, an intellectual climate that permits a look beyond religious dogma, and the class biases that endlessly impede his finances and fortunes. Published in 1815, Smith's huge and beautiful map of geological strata and the fossils imbedded in them blazed the way for Darwin and the creation-vs.-evolution debates that rage even day. Winchester is a fine stylist who also has a fine, clear reading voice. He fully engages listeners, not only with the excitement of Smith's life and work, but even with geological explications that would have been pretty dull in science class. Simultaneous release with HarperCollins hardcover (Forecasts, June 4).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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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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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

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 Joe Sherry on July 10 2003
Format: Hardcover
After reading Winchester's book "The Professor and the Madman" I was very interested in reading some more of Simon Winchester's work. The Map That Changed the World was the book that he wrote after The Professor. It took me some time to get around to read it, but I was looking forward to it. Winchester does a prodigious amount of research for his books and it shows as we learn about the stated subject of the book as well as all the details that surround it.
The Map That Changed the world deals with William Smith, an amateur geologist living at the end of the 18th Century. William Smith had a driving ambition and interest in finding out exactly what was under the ground in England. This may not seem like much, but the methods and knowledge that Smith acquired during his research and over decades of work were the building blocks for modern geology and for discovering everything we know about the geology of our planet. William Smith is rightfully called the father of geology.
This book is filled with details of geology: rocks, strata, the ages of the earth, the Geological Society of London, etc. On one hand, this is a very interesting work. It tells the story of how one man pretty much established the ground rules for geology and what it can begin to know. On the other hand, this book is so heavily detailed that it is dry reading. I don't have a strong interest in geology, so I was interest in this book more for the historical implications rather than the geological ones (even though they overlap at times). I think this book is worth reading for anyone interested in the social/scientific history of the time, and without reservation for anyone interested in geology. This is a well written book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. J. Thompson TOP 1000 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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Format: Paperback
William Smith was the father of English geography. He was the first recipient of the Wollaston Medal. This medal has the significance of a Nobel Prize.
Smith was untutored, unlettered, and a genius. The map in question is a map of the substrata of England and Wales devised by one person in his walks, hikes, theorizing, and geological investigations, published circa 1815.
The occasion of Smith's discoveries was coal mining and the consequent canal building undertaken to transport the coal to markets. Smith, surveyor and drainer of flood lands, had the opportunity to see below the earth in the various mines created for coal extraction. He ascertained that stratification was orderly in accordance with fossil finds.
Although much-honored at the end of his life, Smith underwent many hardships in the course of his career including imprisonment for debt. Winchester does a wonderful job of making the subject matter exciting and the science understandable. He creates atmosphere in his book reminding one of Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen for reason of his description of places, buildings, building materials, and rocks.
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Format: Hardcover
The worst charge that can be made against this book is that it is boring for someone without a consuming interest in geology, but it will clarify some issues that come up in college geology courses. The basic points are just two: 1)English geologic strata are tilted from the Northwest to the Southwest, so that exposed rock in the Northwest is much older than exposed rock in the Southeast of England, and all intermediate strata are of an intermediate age. 2)particular fossils are specific to particular strata. I find these two concepts understandable in their relative simplicity. The writing is not perfect, occasionally dense, but one does get a considerable feel for both the energy of the man and for early 18th century England, including coal mining,transport by canal, the Georgian city of Bath, the town of Scarborough, the state of geologic knowlege at the time at the great universities, drainage of fields to make them arable, sheep-shearings,the oolitic limestone of the Cotswolds, and other matters that may or may not be specifically geologically- related. The man is portrayed as an energetic intellectual who had both detractors and supporters. Geology at the time was a matter of theological debate. Before he came along, people really didn't know what to make of fossils, though they were considered collectible. Some of his detractors were in direct competition with him; one attempted to copy his map, which would today be a copyright infringement. His accomplishments were recognized late in his lifetime and presumably he died a happy man, though a pauper.He had serious financial problems starting in middle age. He is at least a poor man's Charles Darwin in stature.
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