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3849arh (York, UK)

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The Map That Changed the World: The Tale of William Smith and the Birth of a Science
The Map That Changed the World: The Tale of William Smith and the Birth of a Science
by Simon Winchester
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful and timely but with errors indicating poor editing, 3 Feb. 2002
It was a revelation to read about the life of someone so fundamental to the science of geology (and, indeed, England's core position in that history) and to get some background to William Smith's connections with Scarborough of which I was previously only rather vaguely aware (through the Rotunda Museum). Winchester is to be thanked for that and for presenting a biography whose subject has not all-consumingly overtaken his biographer, as so often happens.
But, whilst I mostly enjoyed this account, I was left with an uneasy feeling of a book lacking some final editing - perhaps a fault to be laid more at the publisher's than the author's door. Winchester acknowledges the assistance of students at a writing class in Chicago in checking the final proofs - each was assigned 'a couple of chapters'; what is needed at this stage is someone to read the *whole* carefully to check for inconsistencies and repetitions. Such a check would surely have prevented or modified the repetitiousness of those sections which dealt with the same historical material (Smith's time in the debtors' prison, for example). A tighter, more readable (and shorter) book would have been the result.
Similarly, a check by someone better-versed in the subject matter than one suspects the house editors of biographies can usually be, might have avoided the inconsistent references to, for example, Fuller's Earth (described in two places quite near one another, in terms of its composition, as montmorillonite and smectite - both are correct, and it must be admitted that the glossary helps here). Mid-western readers in their late teens or 20s are also unlikely to have spotted that the stone quarried for the House of Parliament from Anston was not from North Yorkshire as implied on p. 296 - if the quarry was near Bolsover, we are in Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire, although Anston itself is in South Yorkshire (formerly West Riding). They would also question the description of the Rotunda in Scarborough as 'on the town's seafront' (p. 274) - it lies a little way inland, as shown in the accompanying sketch. One last quibble - the Scarborough museum is dignified with the appellation 'City'. Scarborough in Canada may be a city, but not yet the jewel of the North Yorkshire coast, so far as I am aware!

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