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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 Oct 27, 2009
ISBN: 9780061978272
List price: $2.99
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Simon Winchester could write about paint drying and make it interesting and relevant to the modern world. In this instance, he chooses the founder of modern geology as his target. William Smith spent a lifetime during the 18th and 19th centuries in England roaming the countryside, collecting field data that helped him to prove that strata of rock form a definite and predictable pattern and that by investigating the fossils in certain levels of earth, one could accurately estimate the age of the soil. But, like all great minds, he suffered hardship. Unable to secure reliable and constant funding for his scholarship, he ended up serving time in debtors' prison. This story of an unlikely scientist is intermixed with Winchester's own adventures around Britain's land formations, and that makes for a wonderful tale.read more
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This book reminds me that I missed a few classes in Ms. Liles middle school science class, so my knowledge of geological epochs is limited.Besides that it's a bit boring. Not as good as 'The Professor and the Madman' (also by Simon Winchester).read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
If reading about a turning point in the way we view the world interests you, you should read this biography of William Smith. One of the pioneers of modern geology, Smith rose from humble origins to systematically map the geology of England. In doing so, he correlated the fossils uniquely found in each stratum, setting the stage for evolutionary theory. It is arguable that Smith made as much of an impact on our world view as Darwin. I listened to the CD version of this book, read by author Simon Winchester. Not only is the narration excellent, but this spared me from stumbling over the geological terms. Not that this is a textbook – you probably won’t be able to recite the order of the strata in England after reading/listening, but Winchester was trained as a geologist, so you can trust his technical grasp of the issues, even if you don’t particularly care. The book deals with the personal and professional struggles that Smith dealt with to get his work and his theories accepted and rewarded. It was a lifelong struggle, and one not fully recognized until near the end of Smith’s life.Winchester’s book lags a bit towards the end, when he describes Smith’s gradually reduced circumstances, bankruptcy, and years of vagabond life. These chapters are far less interesting than the intellectual breakthrough he made earlier in his life. Nonetheless, I’d give this book a thumbs up for the light it sheds on an important scientific and intellectual advance.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Simon Winchester could write about paint drying and make it interesting and relevant to the modern world. In this instance, he chooses the founder of modern geology as his target. William Smith spent a lifetime during the 18th and 19th centuries in England roaming the countryside, collecting field data that helped him to prove that strata of rock form a definite and predictable pattern and that by investigating the fossils in certain levels of earth, one could accurately estimate the age of the soil. But, like all great minds, he suffered hardship. Unable to secure reliable and constant funding for his scholarship, he ended up serving time in debtors' prison. This story of an unlikely scientist is intermixed with Winchester's own adventures around Britain's land formations, and that makes for a wonderful tale.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book reminds me that I missed a few classes in Ms. Liles middle school science class, so my knowledge of geological epochs is limited.Besides that it's a bit boring. Not as good as 'The Professor and the Madman' (also by Simon Winchester).
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
If reading about a turning point in the way we view the world interests you, you should read this biography of William Smith. One of the pioneers of modern geology, Smith rose from humble origins to systematically map the geology of England. In doing so, he correlated the fossils uniquely found in each stratum, setting the stage for evolutionary theory. It is arguable that Smith made as much of an impact on our world view as Darwin. I listened to the CD version of this book, read by author Simon Winchester. Not only is the narration excellent, but this spared me from stumbling over the geological terms. Not that this is a textbook – you probably won’t be able to recite the order of the strata in England after reading/listening, but Winchester was trained as a geologist, so you can trust his technical grasp of the issues, even if you don’t particularly care. The book deals with the personal and professional struggles that Smith dealt with to get his work and his theories accepted and rewarded. It was a lifelong struggle, and one not fully recognized until near the end of Smith’s life.Winchester’s book lags a bit towards the end, when he describes Smith’s gradually reduced circumstances, bankruptcy, and years of vagabond life. These chapters are far less interesting than the intellectual breakthrough he made earlier in his life. Nonetheless, I’d give this book a thumbs up for the light it sheds on an important scientific and intellectual advance.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
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I knew nothing at all about William Smith, so this was interesting stuff. It's entertainingly written. I did not worry too much about the geological details, as I knew I would never remember them. But it is an interesting story even if you do not know your ammonites from your belemnites or your mesozoic from your cenozoic. As Winchester says, it's amazing that Smith could put this map together all by himself, in the early 1800s, with very little education or financial backing. He should serve as an inspiration to the rest of us.
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One of Winchester's best. Highly recommended.
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