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In 1793, a canal digger named William Smith made a startling discovery. He found that by tracing the placement of fossils, which he uncovered in his excavations, one could follow layers of rocks as they dipped and rose and fell—clear across England and, indeed, clear across the world—making it possible, for the first time ever, to draw a chart of the hidden underside of the earth. Smith spent twenty-two years piecing together the fragments of this unseen universe to create an epochal and remarkably beautiful hand-painted map. But instead of receiving accolades and honors, he ended up in debtors' prison, the victim of plagiarism, and virtually homeless for ten years more.

The Map That Changed the World is a very human tale of endurance and achievement, of one man's dedication in the face of ruin. With a keen eye and thoughtful detail, Simon Winchester unfolds the poignant sacrifice behind this world-changing discovery.

Topics: England, Wales, Yorkshire, Enlightenment, Illustrated, Geology, Maps, Popular Science, Evolution, The Environment, Archaeology, and British Author

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061978272
List price: $10.99
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A fascinating biography of 'Strata' Smith and his work in establishing the science of geology. The interactions of his supporters and his detractors made for interesting reading: the contrast between the snobbish fossil-collectors who found Smith's practical approach too workmanlike for their taste and the true scientists who recognised the worth of the man and his discoveries was striking.On reading the acknowledgements, I did feel a bit sorry for Hugh Torrens, the professor who is writing a scholarly work on William Smith's life and who provided a lot of information to Simon Winchester write this one. It felt to me as though the plundering of ideas which affected Smith is being repeated here. But perhaps I'm being unkind...more
It's very rare that this happens, because I'm a stubborn reader, but I had to abandon this book halfway through. The writing style is irritatingly journalistic. The author lacks the imagination to fill in the blanks in the historical record with any sympathy or sense of William Smith's personality. His use of footnotes is also an irritant. I was looking forward to finding out about the "Father of Geology" but by halfway through the book I knew little about him, I wasn't engaged with the story, and I was put off persevering by the author's prejudices and presumptions. A really disappointing book.more
If the name "Simon Winchester" sounds familiar, it is probably because of his recent bestseller, "The Professor and the Madman", the history of how the Oxford English Dictionary was originally compiled. It is supposed to be very good, but I haven't had a chance to read it myself yet. However, my experience with "The Map..." strongly inclines me toward reading that other one as well. Mr. Winchester does an excellent job of bringing to life not only the obsession of William Smith to publish a lifetime of work in the first geological map of England, but also the milieu in which he worked. Perhaps Winchester slightly exaggerates the singularity of his main character, and gives him a bit more credit than he deserves, for putting together ideas that had been going through the minds of others of the time. But there is no minimizing his painstaking effort to gather the data that would constitute his opus. This is a book that makes the relatively slow-moving science of geology come to life.more
Deadly. Subject matter could easily have been covered in a book half the size.more
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Reviews

A fascinating biography of 'Strata' Smith and his work in establishing the science of geology. The interactions of his supporters and his detractors made for interesting reading: the contrast between the snobbish fossil-collectors who found Smith's practical approach too workmanlike for their taste and the true scientists who recognised the worth of the man and his discoveries was striking.On reading the acknowledgements, I did feel a bit sorry for Hugh Torrens, the professor who is writing a scholarly work on William Smith's life and who provided a lot of information to Simon Winchester write this one. It felt to me as though the plundering of ideas which affected Smith is being repeated here. But perhaps I'm being unkind...more
It's very rare that this happens, because I'm a stubborn reader, but I had to abandon this book halfway through. The writing style is irritatingly journalistic. The author lacks the imagination to fill in the blanks in the historical record with any sympathy or sense of William Smith's personality. His use of footnotes is also an irritant. I was looking forward to finding out about the "Father of Geology" but by halfway through the book I knew little about him, I wasn't engaged with the story, and I was put off persevering by the author's prejudices and presumptions. A really disappointing book.more
If the name "Simon Winchester" sounds familiar, it is probably because of his recent bestseller, "The Professor and the Madman", the history of how the Oxford English Dictionary was originally compiled. It is supposed to be very good, but I haven't had a chance to read it myself yet. However, my experience with "The Map..." strongly inclines me toward reading that other one as well. Mr. Winchester does an excellent job of bringing to life not only the obsession of William Smith to publish a lifetime of work in the first geological map of England, but also the milieu in which he worked. Perhaps Winchester slightly exaggerates the singularity of his main character, and gives him a bit more credit than he deserves, for putting together ideas that had been going through the minds of others of the time. But there is no minimizing his painstaking effort to gather the data that would constitute his opus. This is a book that makes the relatively slow-moving science of geology come to life.more
Deadly. Subject matter could easily have been covered in a book half the size.more
I find this book to be quite a classic in many ways. The story of William Smith is inspiring, enduring and sad. This is the story of a man who, for all practical purposes, ruined his own life for the sake of geology, yet gave the world a new science. It is also the story of how powerful and influential people can play such a strong role in moulding science, the way it is viewed, and in the way that the truth is perceived.It is a sad story in that the man who gave us the science of geology is practically forgotten, and is great map is not generally on display.England surely should do more for the memory of William Smith.Simon Winchester does a really great job of telling the tale of William Smith, and the book is lively and well researched. I read it through, and these days I do have the time to read books through! If I give it three stars, it is only because I wish that it contained a little more information on the scientific methods that William Smith used, and a little more detail about how he created the map. This, to my mind, has been glossed over. Yet, it is a very good book indeed. It is a book that should be read by the scientific community of my own country. We could learn a little from the passion and dedication shown by William Smith, to create enduring legacies of our own.more
A great non-fiction read about the man who did the first topographical map of England, yet was not appreciated at the time, primarily because of his humble origins. Readable and informative.more
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