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

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


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061767906
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/28/2009
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 154,328
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.


New York; Massachusetts; Scotland

Date of Birth:

September 28, 1944

Place of Birth:

London, England


M.A., St. Catherine¿s College, Oxford, 1966

Read an Excerpt

Escape on the Northbound Stage

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.

Anyone trying to hurry along the cobbled and granite-paved streets that day was still certain to be frustrated, despite the improvement in the weather: The crowds! The crush! The dirt! The smell! More than a million people had lately been counted as living within and beyond London's city walls, and each day hundreds more, the morning papers reported, were to be found streaming in from the countryside, bent on joining the new prosperity that all hoped might soon be flowering now that the European wars were over. The city's population was well on the way to doubling itself in less than twenty years. The streets were in consequence filled with a jostling, pullulating, dawdling mass of people. And animals, too: It seemed of little matter to some farmers that there had long been laws to keep them from driving cattle through the center of town - so among the throngs one could spot mangy-looking sheep, more than a few head of cattle, the odd black pig, and of course horses, countless horses, pulling carriages and goods vehicles alike. The stench of their leavings, on a hot week such as this had been, was barely tolerable.

Since it was very early in the morning, there were, of course, fewer crowds than usual. Fewer, that is, except in one or two more notorious spots, where a sad and shabby ritual of the dawn tended to bring out the throngs - and where this story is most appropriately introduced.

The better known of the London sites where the morning masses gathered was in the rabbit warren of lanes that lay near Saint Paul's Cathedral, to the east of where the river Fleet had once run. Halfway along the Fleet Market a passerby would have noted, perhaps with the wry amusement of the metropolitan sophisticate, that crowds had gathered outside a rather noble, high-walled building whose address, according to a written inscription above the tall gateway, was simple: Number Nine.

An onlooker would have been amused because the address was a mere euphemism, the building's real purpose only too well known. The streets to the west of Saint Paul's were one of the two districts of nineteenth-century London where a clutch of the capital's many prisons were concentrated: the Newgate, the Bridewell, the Cold Bath Fields, and the Ludgate jails had all been built nearby, in what in winter were the chill gloom and coal-smoke fogs of the river valley. And Number Nine was the site of the best known of them all, the prince of prisons, the Fleet.

There was another, precisely similar, ghetto of prisons on the south side of the Thames, in the area that, then technically beyond London, was the borough of Southwark: another small huddle of grim, high-walled mansion houses of punishment and restraint - the Clink, the Marshalsea, the Bedlam prison-hospital, and, formidable in appearance and reputation, just like its sister establishment back at Number Nine, the infamous barrackslike monstrosity of the Prison of the King's Bench.

The King's Bench, the nearby Marshalsea, and the Fleet were different from most London prisons. They were very old, for a start, and were privately run according to a set of very strange rituals. They had been instituted for a sole purpose - the holding, for as long as necessary, of men and women who could not or would not pay their bills. These three institutions were debtors' prisons - and the reason that crowds formed around their entrances each sunrise is that, every morning just after dawn, it was the policy of their wardens to free those inmates who had discharged their obligations.

Of the three the Fleet had the most intriguing entranceway. On either side of the gate was a caged window, and above it the motto "Remember the Poor Debtors, Having No Allowance." Through the grate could be seen a small and gloomy chamber, with nothing inside except a wooden bench. A doorway beyond, locked and barred from the outside, gave access to the main cellblock. Each day a new impoverished prisoner would be pushed out into the cage - to spend the next twenty-four hours on begging duty, pleading with passersby for money to help in his or her plight. Debtors were obliged to pay for their time in prison; those who turned out to be totally out of funds were forced to go into the grated room and beg.

The crowds outside the Fleet and the King's Bench prisons on that cool August Tuesday morning, and that so interrupted the progress of men of affairs on their ways along the granite setts with which the road in Southwark and Saint Paul's had recently been paved, were there to see a spectacle. Tourists came to the jails to see the beggars; the merely curious - as well as the small press of family and friends (and perhaps some still-unsatisfied creditors) - came to greet with amiable good cheer the small group of inmates who each day would emerge, blinking, into the morning sunlight.

According to the prison records, one of the half dozen prisoners who stepped free from behind the high walls of the King's Bench Prison on that Tuesday morning was a sturdy-looking yeoman whose papers showed him to have come from Oxfordshire, sixty miles west of London. Those few portraits painted of him in his later years, together with a single silhouette fashioned when he was in his dotage, and a bust sculpted in marble more than twenty years later, show him to be somewhat thickset, balding, with a weatherbeaten face...


Exclusive Author Essay
Ten miles to the south of where I came to write this book stands the cold and windswept farmhouse where George Orwell wrote his appropriately bleak masterpiece, 1984. Ten miles to the north of me is the modest cottage, regularly staked out by reporters from London tabloid newspapers, where Princess Diana's mother has come to live. And so there was a kind of literary logic, my friends imagined, in my choosing to come up to write in a cottage on this small and lonely island off the west coast of Scotland: Pinioned with a fine equidistance between, on the one hand, a memorial to the rigors of classic literature and, on the other, to the more notorious writing practices of Fleet Street, thus might I be inspired, these friends suggested, and have a chance of making a new book that was both lively and lasting, a homage to both ends of the spectrum of our craft.

But in fact my friends were quite wrong. Though on a clear day I can (if I stand on a chair in my study and peer through the dormer) just make out the peninsula on Jura where stands the farmhouse of Barnhill, Orwell's spectral presence had nothing to do with my choosing to come to what the local Post Office insists be properly described as "the Isle of Luing, by Oban, Argyll." I chose this place in part simply for its peace and beauty; but in large measure I chose it -- because I was going to write a book about a geological map -- for its geological associations, not for its literary ones, however powerful and siren-like they might be.

Choosing to come to somewhere in Britain to write about geology made good sense anyway, it seemed to me. The British Isles are unique, so far as I know, in one crucial geological respect. Thanks to a series of lucky accidents over hundreds of millions of years, every single one of the time zones of the earth's history happen to be represented on the ground in Britain, scattered in outcrops of rock across the thousand miles or so that lie between Cornwall and the Shetland Islands. No other country -- not even the giants, like America or Canada or Russia -- can lay claim to possessing everything -- everything from the two-billion-year-old iron-hard rocks of the distant Precambrian right up to the soft formations of later Quaternary, which were laid down as recently as the last Ice Age.

No other country can display fossils of the entire range of life forms, from the single-celled smudges newly precipitated from the primeval oceans, through the most complex forms of the Hollywood-friendly Jurassic, right up to recognizable species that are the obviously immediate antecedents of today's living creatures. It just so happens that the entire array of the earth's ancient history and of life's ancient history is on permanent display on the cliffs and riverbanks and mountainsides of Britain -- making the country the ideal place, symbolically, in which to write a book about the beginnings of this most elemental of sciences. (Some pedants will say there is very little of the era known as the Miocene to be found in Britain, but the Miocene is an age of staggering geological dullness, and so, quite frankly, who cares? There's plenty of it over in Germany, if one insists on wanting to look at it.)

But then why, my friends would ask, if all Britain is so geologically congenial, come all the way up to Scotland? Why suffer the gales and the sea mists and the long winter nights and the clouds of summertime midges? Why not at least settle in a part of Britain that is postcard-lovely, covered with meadows and cattle and churches and villages? Why not be comfortable where you write?

Well, it is precisely the covering of loveliness -- a covering that renders all the underlying rocks invisible, swathed in their pretty countryside -- that is the problem. Up in western Scotland there is none of this softening, nothing to hide the realms that lie below. In Scotland the rocks are all there, exposed to the sky, rough and ready, rubbed bare and raw -- the pure geology of the nation is in full view, all the time. When I was at university nearly all of our field trips came to Scotland -- to Arran, to Mull, to Ardnamurchan, to Skye -- and we were taken there precisely because the rocks there were so visible, all ready to be examined, gazed at, hammered, understood.

And so I decided I would come to write this book about an unknown and unsung man on the equally unknown and unsung Isle of Luing, by Oban, Argyll. I now have rocks of all kinds, fossils of all kinds, eternally on view out of my windows. I gaze at gneiss, I breakfast looking at sandstone, I take tea looking at cliffs of ancient slate, I dine by granite. Geology surrounds me: The world is here stripped bare, a constant reminder, a marinade, of what I'm writing about. And if the distant influences of George Orwell and Fleet Street are in the air and in the mix as well, so be it. Rocks, literature, and journalism: For this one book and for much else besides, the perfect combination, the perfect place. (Simon Winchester)

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Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I struggled thru the first 100 pages detecting and hoping for a good story. And I caught glimpses. But in the end, I only found a cure for insomnia. Too bad.... I think theres a great story here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not only is this a well written and absorbing biography of William Smith, the father of modern geology, it is also a good exposition of the times and the emergence of modern science. The concept of geology did not exist prior to William Smith's work and it was interesting to read about the origins of the science resulting from an ordinary surveyor's observations and conclusions. The next time I go to England I will find a geological guide book. It will be a whole new way to look at the english countryside.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Winchester achieves two vastly different, though at the same time equally important objectives in the writing of this volume. The first of these is the documenting in great detail, the trials experienced by William Smith (which are by no means isolated instances in the history of science) during the long and difficult years necessary for the completion of this earliest geological map. As an example, Charles Darwin is widely believed to have been the one and only individual who first conceived the theory of evolution. Yet at present, few scholars and even fewer textbooks make any acknowledgement whatever of Alfred Wallace, Darwin¿s lesser known, though no less deserving co-discoverer of the same ideas. Perhaps, had Winchester not committed himself to the arduous task of putting pen to paper, William Smith would have been destined to suffer from much the same lack of recognition. This book, however, insures that such will not prove to be the end result. The author provides his readers with a substantial amount of information, probably encompassing about half of what is ultimately written, concerning the long and diverse history of our planet¿the second objective attained in these pages. This book is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in the history of geological science.
Guest More than 1 year ago
During my stay in an American hospital I was given this wonderful book to read by my sister. That was 4 years ago and I have never forgotten the inspiring but tragic circumstance of this story. So today I've purchased it as a Christmas present for my girlfriends 16 year old son. I hope he finds it as interesting and compelling as I did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first half of the book is difficult, it is very repetitious, not particularly interesting, and not to the point the introduction makes you think. Once through that section though, the story of Smith unfolds, the writting improves and the story becomes interesting.. As someone else said, it is a short story expanded badly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't normally read books quickly, some remain for weeks before I pick them up again and carry on. This one I couldn't wait to pick up again and again when I had a spare moment. It is a poignant story of one person's obsession and determination that finally ends in triumph against all the odds. A very readable book that taught me a lot and has woken in me a desire to explore further this fascinating story and subject area. Anyone who has ever picked up a strange rock or fossil while out on a walk and wondered about its origins must read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm afraid I found this a great story ruined by the horribly psuedo-academic style of the writing. There was extensive and unnecessary use of obscure words not found in my copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Mr. Winchester also droned on in sentences often exceeding fifty words. If you can possibly forgive the writing and get beyond it, you will find a good story buried within.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is extremely well written, Smith's life is fascinating, and the illustrations (especially the ammonites) are superb. My one criticism is that there is a fair bit of padding by the author to make this a reasonable length manuscript. There apparently is simply not a lot of hard evidence for large periods of Smith's life or for important things such as his relationship with his wife (or the author couldn't find this). To get around this, the author includes much detail on his modern day tracing of Smith's trail, his search for Smith's actual residences (which seems to be of only little importance) and several quite irrelevant stories of the authors own fossil hunting expeditions, unsuccessful university history etc etc. He also adds a quite unnecessary glossary of terms, index, and a very long acknowledgements section. These could all have been left out, but of course the book would then be very short indeed, hardly longer than a long magazine article. On the other hand, the method of packaging a small version of Smith's map as the book cover paper is quite ingenious and well done.
michdubb on LibraryThing 19 hours ago
Interesting.. but there is a lot of heavyy details.
Redhope on LibraryThing 19 hours ago
I was drawn to this book after hearing an interview with Simon Winchester on the radio. He prompted memories of a map on the wall in my middle school geography class in England during the 1970's....For someone with very limited interest in geology (how dry can this subject be?) this book kept me interested and entertained. Many readers may not appreciate how hugely powerful the upper class were during this time, controlling the sciences, art, industry, politics etc. This makes Smith's story all the more amazing.
dandelionroots on LibraryThing 19 hours ago
Started reading this book for a class and decided to finish it. Not one of my better decisions. While the subject matter is interesting enough, Winchester's presentation of it is... well, horrible. This could have been an enjoyable read had it been a third of its size. Instead of writing a succinct, illuminating portrait of William Smith, he babbles. Repetition; never-ending descriptions of already sufficiently described events, landscapes, and ideas; and useless facts and accounts wore away my desire to continue reading. Poor William Smith.
WaxPoetic on LibraryThing 19 hours ago
There is so much in this book that I enjoyed. The subject matter is interesting and timely. I think it would be an fantastic addition to any reading list dealing with the mid 19th Century. It is an unexpected adventure and travelogue while still being very much about one man's attempts to find his place in a world that needed and wanted his talents, but that rejected him for his social class.It is as much about the power of observation and careful recording as it is about the weakness of character defined by class distinction. The issue of class may seem very foreign to many, or at least, inappropriate in the academy, but I believe that there have always been ways of separating people from each other, and academia struggles with those separations no less than any other realm of life. The science of geology suffered because of the the unwillingness of some people acknowledge the validity of a person's work based on his lack of 'proper education.' That is a tragedy that reached farther than one person, or one group of people.The 1860's saw so much change in thought and technology and industry, it is a time that becomes more and more complex with every book I read. The writing is strong and the author is thorough. It is difficult at first to face the exhaustive talk of coal-mining and the industry surrounding it, but well worth the effort. I was frustrated at what I believed to be an over-emphasis on the class issues. By the time the book was finished, I understood why he made that choice. He was making a point that maybe could have used a lighter touch. The injustice was so great, though, that it does make sense.This book is a strong and well-researched addition to any library of geology, the history of science or the 19th century.
cmbohn on LibraryThing 19 hours ago
Themes: science vs. religion, triumph of the underdog, the self educated working scientist vs. the elite theoristI've been a fan of Winchester's since I read The Professor and the Madman several years ago. Sure, he can go on a bit, like in Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, where he spent lots and lots of time on Continental Drift and not enough time on exploding volcanoes. But when he's on, he's really on. So I was happy to get a copy of this book at the used bookstore.I'd have to rank it up there with my favorites. Winchester's geology background really shows in this book, but that's not a bad thing. First of all, who but a geologist, or a scientist anyway, would choose to write a biography of someone like William Smith, who never did anything sexy or cool, but simply wandered all over the British isles, improving drainage, of all things, digging canals and mines, and making a map?But what a map. A map that really did, in its own way, change the world. He's called The Father of English Geology, which doesn't sound like an especially cool epithet to me, but to each his own. But his map made possible the huge advances in the dating of the earth of understanding Continental Drift, as mentioned above, and finally allowed us to understand what fossils actually were, not Figured Stones, but relics of previous living things. That was huge.I loved the cover. It's a copy of his map that unfolds. I loved that there is another copy of the finished map inside, in full color, and a modern map with it for comparison. I wish they had added a color portrait of the subject as well. Color I guess doesn't really matter, but the full page size would have been nice. There's a glossy of geologic terms at the back, but the few words I looked for weren't there. Oh, and I *really, really loved* that this was a story of a brilliant man of humble origins who made a huge discovery, was ridiculed and victimized because of it, and then was vindicated. How cool is that?If you are interested in reading about science, I would recommend this one. If you like stories that feature real life triumphs of the underdog, I would definitely recommend this. It's not your usual take on the subject, but it's all true, and it makes a great story. 4.25 stars
NielsenGW on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Simon Winchester could write about paint drying and make it interesting and relevant to the modern world. In this instance, he chooses the founder of modern geology as his target. William Smith spent a lifetime during the 18th and 19th centuries in England roaming the countryside, collecting field data that helped him to prove that strata of rock form a definite and predictable pattern and that by investigating the fossils in certain levels of earth, one could accurately estimate the age of the soil. But, like all great minds, he suffered hardship. Unable to secure reliable and constant funding for his scholarship, he ended up serving time in debtors' prison. This story of an unlikely scientist is intermixed with Winchester's own adventures around Britain's land formations, and that makes for a wonderful tale.
eas311 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
not as good as Professor & the Madman. But still pretty awesome. Winchester makes things that ought to be boring fascinating.
rakerman on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Fascinating exploration of geological history.
BenjaminHahn on LibraryThing 4 days ago
On first appearance, I wouldn't imagine many would find a book about the origins of modern geology to be high on their pleasure reading lists, but I'm glad I finally took this one off the shelf because it provided brain food of a diverse and pleasurable kind. If any popular historian can make the fumbling origins of geology interesting, it is Simon Winchester. Although Winchester can be a bit dramatic and tends towards hagiography at times, I still found the book quite rewarding.The Map That Changed the World is more a biography than a popular science book, but delivers on both accounts in an enlightening and compelling way. However, a word of warning to all who may be enticed to read this book by simply reading the book flap alone: the intriguing tid-bit about Smith's wife being a nymphomaniac, should be disregarded as nothing but an editor's ploy to get the more naughty minds to crack the book open looking for tantalizing kinky anecdotes. Sadly, for those of us interested in saucy 1800's nymphomania, the word nymphomania is found only once in the entire book. The details surrounding Smith's wife's affliction are sparse and limited to a single paragraph more than half way through. I do not fault Winchester's editors for stooping to such tactics in hopes of luring more readers into his book. It was a good ploy that seemed to work for our book club and in the end I didn't really care because the story of William Smith was very rewarding and helped expand my mental image of early 1800's scientific England by quite a bit. For the book collector and admirer of trivial biblio-gimmicks, try to pick up a hardback edition of this text if you can. The dust jacket, actually folds out to be a miniaturized version of the very map that much of the book is about. It is quite helpful to reference while reading the book, something I did quite a few times.
TadAD on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Normally, I find biographical/historical works fascinating. Looking at the cover and reading the jacket summary, I was expecting another Longitude or Nathaniel's Nutmeg. Unfortunately, that's not what we have here. Mr. Winchester's presentation of the material completely destroyed any interest I may have had in William Smith's contribution to the founding of geological science.I can understand that, other than his ground-breaking cartography and his conflict with those who tried to steal credit for his work, there isn't a lot of exciting material present. However, rather than take Sobel's (Longitude) approach of simply writing a shorter book, Winchester found it necessary to stuff the book chock full of endless repetition, smarmy adulation, overly-long quotation and irrelevant travelogue. Coupled with his need to employ footnotes incessantly, this caused me to lose the thread of the main story quite often.Shortly after halfway through the book, I found myself skimming more and more frequently, trying to pick out the portions that were germane to the story in which I was interested.A disappointment.
JBD1 on LibraryThing 4 days ago
One of Winchester's best. Highly recommended.
aaronball8620 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
"The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology" follows the life of a visionary, William Smith, who dreamed of being the first in history to draw a geologic map of the entire nation of England. This map he would draw would revolutionize mineralogy (as geology was known during that time) and foster the Industrial Revolution. However, his en devour met with opposition from jealous aristocrats. William Smith was the son of a blacksmith who took up surveying as a profession after his father died. He apprenticed under another well know surveyor and soon became renowned for his accuracy. Many of his early jobs involved surveying coal mines and canal routes. He noticed on his surveys that rock layers repeated from location to location, as did the fossils found in each layer of rock. The rock layers, or stata, fascinated him, and he began drawing conclusions about their order and regularity. He believed that this would prove as fact if only he were able to travel the country to test his hypothesis. Eventually, he was hired to survey a canal that would be used to transport coal to the market in London. He used this job as an opportunity to pursue his true life's work: as he surveyed and supervised the digging of the canal, he studied the soil and rock layers. The rocks and fossils he collected he would later use to draw his map. Financial troubles plagued Smith all his life, including financing his map's publication. He worked for almost a decade to get the necessary financial support. Finally, in 1816 he was able to publish the map. The first geologic map ever made.Soon after the map's publication many people, including the Geological Society of London would plagiarize his work. Smith himself would receive very little credit for having compile the map until 1831. The map made finding coal seams consistent, thus stoking the coal fires of the Industrial Revolution. William Smith's map marks a paradigm shift in human helped prove that the world was older many Christian fundamentalist believed--they believed it was only 6,000 years old. He was one of the first to recognize fossils in overlying strata were more advanced than the fossils in underlying strata--something that Charles Darwin would recognize too in his book "On The Origin of Species".
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 3 months ago
At the very end of the 18th century, William Smith made a groundbreaking discovery in England that changed the picture of the world. He noticed that the rocks were arranged in layers which followed a pattern, and that certain fossils always appeared in certain layers of rocks. His discoveries shook the foundations of the belief that the earth and the universe were all created their entirety about 5000 years before. The discovery gave birth to geology as a science, and later to evolutionary biology, and all the sciences that followed. It is interesting to note that Smith, as many others, was unappreciated for the most part of his life and many wanted to steal his discoveries without giving him any credit. Some published his maps in books `without any indication of either permission sought or payment made¿, and the poor man ended up in debtors¿ prison and suffered years of homelessness before he was properly honoured at the end of his life.Not a bad book, but I would shorten it considerably on the details of Smith¿s life and conversations he had with various people, and put more information on the geological processes and the history of Earth in general, especially that Winchester is an educated geologist.
miketroll on LibraryThing 3 months ago
The wonderful story of the little known but great map maker, William Smith, a man of truly historic stature.Towards the end of the 18th Century in England, Smith created the first ever geological map of Britain (or any other country) at a time when the very word geology had not yet been coined. Amazingly, Smith completed this work all by himself, an extraordinary, herculean achievement. Sadly, he did not gain recognition of his achievements until late in his life, but passed his last years a contented man, lauded as the Father of English Geology.
dvf1976 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This book reminds me that I missed a few classes in Ms. Liles middle school science class, so my knowledge of geological epochs is limited.Besides that it's a bit boring. Not as good as 'The Professor and the Madman' (also by Simon Winchester).
lyzadanger on LibraryThing 3 months ago
What I hoped would be an educational, historical read about geology turned out instead to be mostly an elegiac to the alleged personal brilliance and, well, worthiness of the early 19th century geologic pioneer, William Smith. I dove in wishing for details, what I got was spates of almost whimpering testimonial about how slighted the morally unassailable Mr. Smith was by his colleagues and the general churchiness of his contemporary puritan English society. Basically: Think biography here, not history or geology, and you'll have more accurate expectations.While I agree with most of Winchester's arguments--religion stood in the way of deeper scientific inspection, for example, he had a tendency to repeat them so often that, even as an adherent to the concept, I was put off. I should have counted how many times he repeated the notion that drawing-room dandies and dilettante geologists of the nascent Geological Society were BAD, and the practical, muddy, romanticized "real" geologists like Mr. Smith were where it was at. Tiring.There were brief runs of interesting historical fact and glimpses into Regency life that made it tolerable. It also ended on a cheerful note, which was reassuring.
asteffmann on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This was my second Simon Winchester book (Krakatoa was the first), and I was a little disappointed again. Winchester is a good scientist and historian (and he picks good topics to write about), but I don't care for him much as a writer. Somehow the story he tells seems to lack a driving force. He comes back to certain points or foreshadows certain events time and again - some writers can do that well, but it just seems redundant here. It also takes away from some of the drama he tries to create. In one passage he describes a fossil hall in London's Museum of Natural History, and you can tell he's working his way up to Smith's collection. When he gets there though, he has nothing new to say. William Smith had an incredible fossil collection. He had serious financial difficulties for several years. Both he and his fossils have been overlooked. Important points, but also points that have all been covered in great detail in the preceding 200 pages.Even with Winchester's less-than-perfect writing, "The Map That Changed the World" is an interesting enough read. Worth checking out from the library, or buying from a used book store.