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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Simon Winchester, bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, presents the fascinating story of William Smith, a 19th-century engineer who became the father of modern geology by discovering the various fossil layers under the earth and creating the world's first map of the various strata. Before he could receive any such acclaim, however, he was forced to overcome a landslide of adversity.
Once again, Winchester brings to life an obscure historical figure almost completely forgotten over the years. Smith worked as an engineer at a time when canal growth was booming in England -- experienced men were needed to determine the most practical route each canal should take. As he surveyed, he noticed that the rocks were arranged in layers, each layer containing a unique set of fossils. He quickly realized what this meant: The Earth must be far older than the 4,004 years commonly thought to be true, as taught by the Bible.
For the next 20 years, Smith traveled throughout England, accumulating rocks and fossils -- creating one of the largest collections ever -- while planning the creation of a huge hand-painted map that would show the arrangement of the various layers. In 1815, his map was produced, at great personal expense.
Four years later, he was thrown into debtor's prison, and swindled out of his meager profits. He was deemed too "unpolished and ill-educated" to gain entry into the Geological Society, a snub that devastated him. Worst of all, his carefully and painstakingly created map was then plagiarized by a "gentleman," George Bellas Greenough -- a sitting member of both the House of Commons and the Geological Society, immensely wealthy and powerful.
Smith's struggles to revive his good name and, ultimately, receive the acclaim of his geological peers make for compelling reading -- and another triumph for Simon Winchester. (Nicholas Sinisi)
Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes and Noble.com History Editor.