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on 3 February 2016
This book is brilliant. You don't have to be a historian or a geologist to enjoy it. William Smith was a poor boy who taught himself engineering. As he worked building canals he made great geological discoveries. He produced the first geological map. He suffered from the class system as the aristocrats deliberately tried to put down this self made man. He made poor financial decisions but throughout he was passionate about rocks and persistent about producing first class work.
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on 14 January 2016
A very interesting story that tells the history of the creation of a scientific area. Although I liked the idea and it was certainly very well written, I was a bit underwhelmed by the book. Winchester brings his tale as if it is full of high drama and wonder, yet this contrasts with the actual events and work done by Smith. Although it is clear that an injustice was done to the father of geology, the nature of this injustice and how it was resolved is but a small part of the book. All in all, a very good book that gives a good insight into England in a period of epic change, but not one that I would necessarily recommend to someone without a specific connection to the topic of geology or 19th century England.
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on 10 February 2014
The story of William Smith's discoveries when he was a surveyor employed to use intruments to help him direct railway workers on how much hill could be taken away or tunneling through a hill so that the rail could reasonably run on there. As a child on his father's farm he noticed objects that were commonly in the soil from fossils but he learnt this later and realised that the strata he found in these hundreds of miles of digging were the same strata is some parts of the country but not in others. He began to map them all meticulously and found fossils common to each. Eventually he put them in the building made especially for this in the Rotunda Mueum in Scarborough after creating the first huge map of Great Britain showing all the various strata in the country. It is a facinating story and was not easy for him to be recognised for other richer men wanted his knowledge and fame for themselves. Cynthia Allen McLaglen
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on 25 June 2009
A book on fossils and the establishment of the science of geology - a fascinating and compulsive read - you must be joking!

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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on 2 June 2011
Simon Winchester has woven a splendid story with a dry subject. The book kept me absorbed for a week. Whenever I decided to take a break from reading a chapter my inquisitiveness got over my lethargy and made me to read the book continuously. What made me obsessed with the book though it contained so many scientific jargons and was dealing with a very dry subject? It is nothing but the sheer style of Simon's writing. Few of my colleague readers may wonder why I am so much obsessed with the author's style rather than with the subject. It is not out of place to mention here that what bogged the rustic geologist, Mr.William in his endeavour , is nothing but the art of expression and the style the lack of which stood as an insurmountable obstacle to his producing two volumes which he promised to his subscribers. Mr.Williams, though a genius, was an uneducated rustic, who could not form his thoughts cogently and express them in simple sentences which stood in his way of producing the promised books to his readers. At this juncture I am reminded of the great English Man, Mr.William Cobbet who was a plough man and who taught himself the elementary principles of Grammar which ultimately made him one of the masters of English Prose. Mr.Cobbett, who was practically an English Yeoman, was sympathetic to the rural poor of England, who could not effectively draft petitions to King in clear terms explaining the enormous difficulties faced by them and the relief needed by them from His Majesty. To such poor people Cobbeett was helpful in drafting petitions to the King and Government in clear terms. It is a pity that though England was having a number of literate persons at the e period of William Smith no one came forward to helping him to put his thoughts in an orderly fashion for publishing a book on geology which would have been of immense help to the posterity.

Summing up the whole matter I state that I enjoyed the book very much

With regards

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on 23 March 2016
If you're tolerant of the man's style of writing then go ahead and buy this book. Read some of the other reviews which will warn you of Winchester's style. I find the style almost unreadable in its repetition Good looking book delivered promptly in the condition described. I wouldn't pay full price for this book ever.
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on 10 January 2017
This book tells the compelling story of William Smith, a man of modest birth, but who through intelligence, self-education and observation, revolutionised our understanding of geology and contributed hugely to the foundations of the industrial revolution.
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on 9 December 2015
A broad account of the origins of geological mapping based around a biography of William Smith not written by an historian
rather digressive and condescending to reader - but original,and interesting material. Annoyingly positivistic and atheistical
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on 2 September 2009
For a geologist, this is a must read. To understand what William Smith created at that time and to compare his resulting map with its modern day equivalent is utterly amazing. The man had a vision that was unique, but the book dwells on more than just how the map was constructed. It tells us about William Smith as a man and describes how certain parts of society rejected him because of his humble background. The man was a genius and this book is a first rate very readable account of a forefather of not only British, but also world geology
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on 20 January 2002
If, like me, you thought Simon Winchester could not possibly improve on his best-seller 'The Surgeon of Crowthorne', be prepared to change your mind! This gripping true story of a self-taught man's rise from obscurity by virtue of not only his drive to relentlessly pursue new information on the strata of the earth but his ability to recognise the significance it would have, will captivate and enthral you. Simon Winchester's narrative approach works excellently again, and is this time interwoven with threads from his own background in the study of geology. Far from being daunting, the book is informative and technically interesting to the non-geologist, as it unwinds the twists of fate that life dealt the man responsible for the birth of a science. It serves to lift a genius from academic semi-obscurity and to award him the acknowledgement he undoubtedly deserves.
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