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The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology Paperback – April 28, 2009
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"Winchester has once again captured the essence of persistence against odds resulting in achievement." (Library Journal (starred review))
"Smith's life provides a terrific plot to frame his contribution to science. Winchester's wonderful account does credit to it." (Publishers Weekly (*Starred Review*))
“Winchester masterfully weaves a compelling history.” (Newsday)
“Smith’s unsung life provides the perfect backdrop for yet another entertaining intellectual history.” (Denver Post)
"A compelling human story" (Boston Sunday Herald)
"Well-researched narrative" (BusinessWeek)
From the Back Cover
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.
- Item Weight : 9.9 ounces
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0061767905
- ISBN-13 : 978-0061767906
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.83 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 28, 2009)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #51,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I've read several of Winchester's books over the years and find them to be reliably interesting and informative. If you're interested in how science has come to describe the natural world, this book should be on your reading list.
I give the book 3 stars because it did give some good information about Smith's work, and I really wanted that information. Unless you have a particular interest in this subject, like I do, this book might not be worth your time, money, or effort.
Seven months later, I reread this review and felt it was too negative--gives the wrong impression. I still give the book four stars as I did previously, but don't know how to fix my own paragraph description so I shall let it stand and supply this supplemental note: It's kind of like watching all the Lord of the Ring movies. They were great but the sheer length is a deterrent from watching them again. In regard to this book, it was great and even the memories of it are still inspirational, but the excessive descriptions are a disincentive for rereading it again. Understand that this is only my preference, if you like or at least don't mind the descriptive passages you will love this book.
The Map that Changed the World is about William Smith the "Father of Geology" and the Great Map of England's Geology that he created.
We see William as a young man as a surveyor of coal mines and canals in England in the early 19th century as England was getting a great industrialization. He temporarily has a very good income but over stretched his finances, buying a large estate with a large mortgage, renting an expensive apartment, opening up a mine that fails and marrying a woman who develops heath problems and severe mental illnesses. He is fired from his job and tries getting smaller temporary jobs but eventually is thrown in "Debtors Prison". He is financially ruined.
William through the decades learns about the different strata layers of the earth and the different fossils that are in certain layers. He learns the layers represent different ages of the earth and are very, very old.He believes much, much older than anyone thought. He battles people who for religious reasons believe that God created the earth in 1 day and the earth is way less than 10.000 years old. Today by carbon radioactive isotope dating, we know that some of these rock layers are hundreds of millions of years old and older. In William's early 1800th days no one knew this.
Also a rich, snob member of the "Geologist Society" steals William's geology data and plagiarizes his great Map of England's underground Geology. A friend takes financially destroyed William and his wife in. Eventually the snobs in the Geology Society lose their power and William is recognized as the true "Father of Geology and the true creator of the great Map of England's Geology. William is given the ultimate recognition by his peers, the gold Wollaston Medal. Eventually, William gets his true Great colored Map of England's Geology printed and copies sold. He is given an Irish honorary doctorate degree and a $100LB pension from the English government. Finally he has the recognition as the "Father of English Geology and the creator of the Great Colored Large Map of English Geology.
I won't ruin the ending for you. A great ending. Anyone interested in the history of Geology, fossils or map creation will enjoy this book plus you will learn a little about the different Earth layers and where some different kinds of fossils are located in the different layers/ages.
I developed a lot of empathy for William Smith and gave a small cheer when he eventually gets his recognition as "Father of Geology", and the creator of the Great Colored large Map of English Geology a revolutionary breakthrough showing the underground geology layers that changed people's thinking about how the earth rock/layers were formed, the rock layers ages ,and life at differnt ages on earth) and happiness. 5 stars and recommended. Another winner by Simon Winchester!
Top reviews from other countries
But Simon Winchester recounts the original thought and breakthrough that William Smith made in the late 1700's that became not just the science of geology but provided the basis that helped Charles Darwin formulate his ideas. And he does it in such an entertaining way.
Andrew Smith's great breakthrough was his realisation that all rocks laid down as sediments at a particular time and in a particular place are laid down with the same characteristics and the same fossils always appear in the same stratigraphical order. Therefore by noting the fossils found, he could forecast the order of strata beneath them and so produce a geological map.
And he went on to geologically map the whole of the British Isles, producing his masterpiece in 1815. He also realised that the more recent strata contained fossils that appeared to be higher forms of life than the fossils in strata lower down and hence provided the evidence that creation was not exactly 6,000 years ago when all species were simultaneously created as was the prevailing belief. Smith recognised and produced the evidence that life far older than mankind had once existed on the planet.
But what makes the book so readable is the story of William Smith's life set in the social history of the time. He was from a lower class who learned his trade as an apprentice land surveyor at the times of the enclosures, then as a mining surveyor and then a surveyor for the canal boom. His theories were developed from his observations and his practical experience.
But not being a member of the aristocracy created an almost insurmountable barrier to the acceptance of his ideas and his involvement in the burgeoning societies for scientific development. But there were well connected doctors / MP's / vicars - Joseph Townsend and Benjamin Richardson - who recognised Smith's brilliance and assisted him to formulate and write down his ideas. And particularly Sir Joseph Banks a prominent member of the aristocracy who sponsored him.
But he remained unrecognised and in deep financial trouble for much of his life - 30 nights in a debtors prison - all his possessions taken - his outstanding fossil collection sold to pay his bills. But fortunately in his old age, the new more enlightened society did recognise him as one of the most significant men of the 19th century and gave him the honours and respect he deserved.
Summing up the whole matter I state that I enjoyed the book very much