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The Map That Changed the World: William…

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern… (original 2001; edition 2009)

by Simon Winchester (Author)

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3,110712,860 (3.61)104
In 1793, William Smith, the orphan son of a village blacksmith, made a startling discovery that was to turn the science of geology on its head. While surverying the route for a canal near Bath, he noticed that the fossils found in one layer of the rocks he was excavating were very different from those found in another. And out of that realization came an epiphany: that by following these fossils one could trace layers of rocks as they dipped, rose and fell across the world. This is the story of his life and the history of geology.… (more)
Title:The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology
Authors:Simon Winchester (Author)
Info:Harper Perennial (2009), Edition: 1 Reprint, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester (Author) (2001)


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Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
Skipping over the repetitious foreshadowing of William Smith's decline, [The Map That Changed the World] reads like a lively historical novel.
Further enhancing its appeal are the beautifully rendered drawings of Smith's beloved Jurassic ammonites. Ah, for a fold-out map!

Simon Winchester covers the basics of British late 18th century life, with the strange omission of the horrors of colonization and slavery. ( )
  m.belljackson | Jun 27, 2019 |
This is the story of William Smith and the beginnings of geology as a recognized science. Smith was a man of humble origins and never acquired much beyond a basic education. However, from his childhood he was fascinated by unusual rocks and fossils and spent his life learning more and more about them. After leaving school he learned the art of surveying and came to Somerset in 1791 to survey an estate there. Then he began working for the owner in surveying, planning and drainage for the owner's coal mines. In the mines Smith quickly noticed that the rocks were in well-defined layers that showed a regular pattern between the seams of coal . His insight was that the strata extended all through England and he was able to begin verifying this when he was asked to survey and oversee the planning for a new canal designed to take the local coal to market. Later Smith worked all over England surveying and planning water drainage systems. Everywhere he went he examined the rock formations and collected fossils. He discovered that particular fossils were always from the same strata. All this information allowed him to eventually publish the first geological map of England showing where the various formations were underneath the ground.

William Smith's life was not a particularly easy one as many of the upperclass dabblers in geology looked down on him and one of the founders of the Geological Society even stole his data and published an 'official' map. He also tended to spend more than was wise and became mired in debt. However, his contributions to the science of geology were recognized towards the end of his life.

Winchester doesn't just describe Smith's life but also the England he was born into and the changes that were occurring during his lifetime: the enclosures, the new inventions, changing attitudes, etc. The book was enjoyable and informative, containing as much history as science. Recommended.
  hailelib | Apr 1, 2019 |
The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology is a wonderful biography of William Smith’s life. Simon Winchester takes the reader on an extraordinary journey through William Smith’s life.

Despite my own interest and background in geology, my first impression on hearing about Simon Winchester’s book was one of, “why bother”. Geologic maps are second nature to me, and I never really gave them a second thought. I find them beautiful to behold and very practical and I’ve even participated in creating geologic maps not only on Earth, but on Mars as well, but I never gave thought to the history of this invaluable geologic tool.

Simon Winchester changed my mind. In recounting William Smith’s struggle to create his first geologic map he brings to life a man who was before his time and who was cruelly ignored and plagiarized by his supposed peers. Winchester’s style is fluid and dynamic, interspersing narrative on William Smith’s life with excerpts from Smith’s diary entries and notes, making the book a delightful read. Not only did I learn about William Smith the man and the scientist, but I also learned a lot about the late 18th and early 19th century when William Smith lived. My only complaint is the jumps Winchester takes the reader on through the life of Smith. While most of the book is fairly linear, following Smith's life from boyhood in Oxfordshire to his adulthood and work in Bath, London, and finally his self-imposed exile to northern England, there are places where Winchester seems to be getting ahead of himself. At several places Winchester jumps ahead then backtracks, seemingly heading off on a tangent then remembering to get back to Smith and his life.

William Smith was not a perfect man, and Winchester does a wonderful job of bringing to light Smith’s difficulties and problems, many of which directly or indirectly hindered his ambitious project to map the geology of England, Wales, and part of Scotland. (At one point Smith was placed in prison for failing to pay off his debts.) Smith often struggled to create his map while working as a freelance surveyor and drainage engineer, traveling across England often at his own expense to collect the fossils and map the strata. But despite these difficulties Smith endured and completed his ambitious project single-handedly.

Smith’s map was a phenomenal accomplishment, measuring over eight feet by six feet in size. Winchester’s account of Smith’s struggle, the highs and lows of his life, to create this masterpiece is a wonderful testament to Smith’s contribution to the science of geology. Along with the story of Smith’s life, Winchester also provides a copy of the map (albeit in a smaller form) as part of the dust cover of the book (in hardback editions). The book is also illustrated with maps, fossils, and various locations that were prominent in Smith’s life. There is a simple glossary and an extensive bibliography to assist the reader unfamiliar with certain terms or who is interested in reading further into Smith’s story.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the science of geology and about the life and times of the man who has been named “The Father of English Geology”. It is a delight to read and I found it informative and entertaining ( )
  GeoffHabiger | Jun 13, 2018 |
Around 1820, Smith mapped the geologic layers of England from coal mines to building canals
  bmcbook | Dec 27, 2017 |
A readable and illustrated accounft of the life of William Smith, who established Geology as a science. Straddling the eighteenth and nineteenth century, this relatively unlettered man worked all his life to set the boundaries of what we now regard as scientific geology. Beginning with the stratigraphy of a local coal mine, he finally mapped all the major features of British geology dating back to the Carboniferous. In spite of the resistance of the more aristocratic dilettantes of the day, his plan for the science had triumphed by the 1820's. Simon winchester has created a very lively and informative biography in the man's historical context. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Nov 10, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 71 (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 (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winchester, SimonAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vannithone, SounIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
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.

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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