The Map That Changed The World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology Paperback – Jul 11 2002
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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. See all Product Description
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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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Additional biographical information shows how Smith struggled with life, fame and debt along the way.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Great story only occasionally mired by some overly dramatic writing.Published 16 months ago by Jeffrey R. Fish
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. Read morePublished on May 1 2004 by Ken Zirkel
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... Read morePublished on Nov. 26 2003 by Peter F Gray
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
William Smith learned how to read the layers of rock beneath Great Britain and created the world's first stratigraphic map. Read morePublished on Nov. 24 2003 by Captain Kang
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... Read morePublished on Oct. 11 2003 by Debra Hamel
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
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