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The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology (2001)

by Simon Winchester

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,794793,217 (3.61)110
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.… (more)
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» See also 110 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
Perfect popular science/history. This is very well written and Winchester has a wonderful story to tell. ( )
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
also geology, earth science ( )
  pollycallahan | Jul 1, 2023 |
Biography of William Smith and story of how he compiled the first geological map of England, Wales, and part of Scotland in the early 1800s. Smith was beset by a number of problems in his life. His wife suffered from mental health issues, others took credit for his work, and he ended up in debtor’s prison. The author portrays how Smith’s map served as the beginning of the science of geology. It is a fascinating account of a lesser-known person and event that brings together science and history. I always enjoy Simon Winchester’s writing. ( )
  Castlelass | Jan 29, 2023 |
it took me three tries to actually be able to listen to this, but this time something finally clicked for me. at least mostly. there is some really interesting history here (about william smith but more so about the history of geology and the way that knowledge and science contradicted the religious assumptions of the time), but this definitely won't appeal to everyone. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Dec 13, 2022 |
The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester (2002) ( )
  claudioargento | Feb 8, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
Smith was ultimately successful because his ideas were immediately useful, and his map was beautiful as well as reasonably accurate for its era. It taught us to begin to look beneath the surface and see the history of our planet. The publisher of ''The Map That Changed the World'' pays tribute to Smith in the ingenious dust jacket of this book, which unfolds to form a striking reproduction of Smith's map.
 
True, the reader must put aside a familiarity with Smith's discoveries, which have long since become textbook information, and travel back in time to the days when the earth was literally terra incognita. But for those willing to suspend previous knowledge and great expectations, Mr. Winchester tries hard to make this story worth the trip.
 
The genre of scientific biography has gone rather stale over the last year or so, but Winchester's book may well prompt a revival.
 
Listening is akin to hearing an articulate scientist reading a paper to a lay audience. It's an authoritative delivery and an enjoyable experience.
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winchester, Simonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bijtel, Herman J.V. van densecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vannithone, SounIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
In days of old, old William Smith,
While making a canal, Sir,
Found out how the strata dipped to the east
With a very gentle fall, Sir,
First New Red Sand and marl a-top,
With Lias on its border,
Then the Oolite and the Chalk so white
All stratified in order.
Sing, cockle-shells and oyster banks,
Sing, thunder-bolts and screw-stones,
To Father Smith we owe our thanks
For the history of a few stones.

Anniversary dinner, A. C. Ramsay, 1854.
Dedication
For Harold Reading
First words
Incorporated in eighteen of the nineteen chapter headings that follow will be found small line drawings of Jurassic ammonites - long-extinct marine animals that were so named because their coiled and chambered shells resembled nothing so much as the horns of the ancient Egyptian ram-god, Ammon.

About the chapter heading illustrations.
Above one of the many grand marble staircases within the east wing of Burlington House, the great Palladian mansion on the north side of London's Piccadilly, hangs a pair of huge sky blue velvet curtains, twisted and tasseled silk ropes beside them.

Prologue.
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.

1. Escape on the northbound stage.
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Wikipedia in English (5)

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.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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