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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Both stories in this book are very exciting. I loved learning a little history of a field you might not think would be interesting.Published 13 days ago by Gottfried
Usually I would like a book like this and I have enjoyed other books by Winchester. Somehow, I lost steam halfway through. Maybe it was me, but I still haven't finished it. Read morePublished 17 days ago by Jerry Lyons
This is very interesting for those interested in the history of biology. Smith is often mentioned in History of Science classes due to the important roll his discovery about the... Read morePublished 20 days ago by Rose
An informative set of details that bring forward the beginning of the original development of the first geologic map. Read morePublished 20 days ago by Robert Lichvar
The topic is not my favorite, but Winchester always wries well.Published 21 days ago by Edmond M Koury
Vividly shows "A prophet is without honor in his own country." Shows aristocracy as thieves of others' ideas. William Smith is a self taught genius. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Senior Ninja
An interesting history of a little known character and field of study. jbPublished 4 months ago by Jim Blankenship