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The Map That Changed the World: A Tale of Rocks, Ruin and Redemption Paperback – 4 Jul 2002
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"A compelling human story" -- Boston Sunday Herald "Well-researched narrative" -- BusinessWeek "Winchester has once again captured the essence of persistence against odds resulting in achievement."--Library Journal (starred review) "Smith's life provides a terrific plot to frame his contribution to science. Winchester's wonderful account does credit to it."--Publishers Weekly (*Starred Review*) "Winchester brings Smith's struggle to life in clear and beautiful language."--New York Times Book Review "A compelling human story"--Boston Sunday Herald Smith s unsung life provides the perfect backdrop for yet another entertaining intellectual history. --Denver Post Winchester masterfully weaves a compelling history. --Newsday "Well-researched narrative"--BusinessWeek "Smith's unsung life provides the perfect backdrop for yet another entertaining intellectual history."--Denver Post "Winchester masterfully weaves a compelling history."--Newsday
Following the hugely successful hardback, this extraordinary tale of the father of modern geology looks set to be the non fiction paperback for 2002. Hidden behind velvet curtains above a stairway in a house in London's Piccadilly is an enormous and beautiful hand-coloured map - the first geological map of anywhere in the world. Its maker was a farmer's son named William Smith. Born in 1769 his life was beset by troubles: he was imprisoned for debt, turned out of his home, his work was plagiarised, his wife went insane and the scientific establishment shunned him. It was not until 1829, when a Yorkshire aristocrat recognised his genius that he was returned to London in triumph. "The Map That Changed the World" is his story.See all Product description
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But Simon Winchester recounts the original thought and breakthrough that William Smith made in the late 1700's that became not just the science of geology but provided the basis that helped Charles Darwin formulate his ideas. And he does it in such an entertaining way.
Andrew Smith's great breakthrough was his realisation that all rocks laid down as sediments at a particular time and in a particular place are laid down with the same characteristics and the same fossils always appear in the same stratigraphical order. Therefore by noting the fossils found, he could forecast the order of strata beneath them and so produce a geological map.
And he went on to geologically map the whole of the British Isles, producing his masterpiece in 1815. He also realised that the more recent strata contained fossils that appeared to be higher forms of life than the fossils in strata lower down and hence provided the evidence that creation was not exactly 6,000 years ago when all species were simultaneously created as was the prevailing belief. Smith recognised and produced the evidence that life far older than mankind had once existed on the planet.
But what makes the book so readable is the story of William Smith's life set in the social history of the time. He was from a lower class who learned his trade as an apprentice land surveyor at the times of the enclosures, then as a mining surveyor and then a surveyor for the canal boom. His theories were developed from his observations and his practical experience.
But not being a member of the aristocracy created an almost insurmountable barrier to the acceptance of his ideas and his involvement in the burgeoning societies for scientific development. But there were well connected doctors / MP's / vicars - Joseph Townsend and Benjamin Richardson - who recognised Smith's brilliance and assisted him to formulate and write down his ideas. And particularly Sir Joseph Banks a prominent member of the aristocracy who sponsored him.
But he remained unrecognised and in deep financial trouble for much of his life - 30 nights in a debtors prison - all his possessions taken - his outstanding fossil collection sold to pay his bills. But fortunately in his old age, the new more enlightened society did recognise him as one of the most significant men of the 19th century and gave him the honours and respect he deserved.
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