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The Map That Changed the World


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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.


One does not expect a biography of the father of modern geology to be simultaneously engaging, repetitive, stimulating, and snobbish, yet this book is all that. Two-hundred years ago, Smith observed that layers of rock were always organized in a specific order and from this observation developed the modern study of systematic geology. However, the focus of this audio is on a life. Son of a blacksmith (as Winchester repeats ad nauseam), Smith apprenticed to a surveyor and was a well-known geology and water-drainage expert before age 30. His desire for intellectual immortality drove him to create a complete geological map of England, which took him 14 years. His reward was bankruptcy, family disasters, and professional oblivion. Such facts seem relatively straightforward; however, the underlying subtext of the book, the frequently reiterated belief that the English class system is to blame for Smith's problems, is both irritating and problematic. By Winchester's own account, the young Smith was a skilled, scientifically well read, socially accepted professional who gradually evolved into a map-obsessed eccentric. The work is also marred by verbally repetitive foreshadowings and verbose tributes to Smith as a member of the scientific pantheon that includes Darwin, Malthus, etc. With all its flaws, this is charming and should be as popular as the author's previous best seller, The Professor and the Madman. He does a more than competent (in fact, highly professional) job of reading his own words. Recommended for all but the smallest public, academic, and secondary school library. I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Adult/High School-In The Professor and the Madman (HarperCollins, 1998), Winchester managed to turn the seemingly dull story of the genesis of a dictionary into an international bestseller. His new book is about the equally unglamorous subject of geology, but he explores far more than the scientific classification of rocks. Once again readers are treated to the captivating life story of an obscure, eccentric man who made, against all odds, a big difference. William Smith led the life of a Charles Dickens character, complete with debtor's prison, sinister aristocratic snobs, intellectual "pilferers," a mentally ill wife, and an understudy nephew (even more destitute than himself) who eventually became professor of geology at Oxford. Smith was a self-educated canal digger with a keen eye, limitless perseverance, and an insatiable curiosity about all things under the topsoil. He had ideas about stratification that no one had before, and he turned those ideas into a masterwork: the world's first true geologic map. His work had huge implications in numerous aspects of early 19th-century life, including religion, commerce, agriculture, politics, and science. Winchester's book has a few flaws: repetition, overstatement of his primary themes, several proofreading lapses (especially near the end). But for the most part, it is an engaging, lively story that will capture the interest of many teens, and not only those who maintain rock or fossil collections.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Winchester, whose previous effort was the bestseller The Professor and the Madman, tells the remarkable story of William Smith, whose geologically correct map of England and Wales, dated 1815, became the bedrock for the modern science of geology. Winchester's strength is his ability to meld into compelling narrative a host of literary conventions, such as foreshadowing and fictionalized, internal dialogue. With descriptive contemporary visitations to places significant to the story and well-chosen historical detail, he makes immediate not only the magnitude and elegance of Smith's accomplishment, but also the thrill of each of the moments of genius necessary to reach his ultimate conclusion. But intellectual discovery is only half this story. Winchester writes with verve and conviction when relating the class and cultural wars that enveloped Smith soon after the publication of his map. It was plagiarized, stolen through the intrigues and machinations of George Bellas Greenough, an immensely wealthy gentleman and a founding member of the Geological Society of London, which, in a spectacular embrace of injustice, initially denied Smith membership. After a brief incarceration in debtor's prison, Smith left London and its scientific circles, not returning until his reputation was resurrected years later, when he became the first recipient of the Wollastan Medal, geology's Nobel Prize. Smith's life provides a terrific plot to frame his contribution to science. Winchester's wonderful account does credit to it. 60 illus. not seen by PW. (Aug. 14) Forecast: HarperCollins will roll this out with the fanfare due an undoubted bestseller, including a nine-city author tour, 15-city NPR campaign and national advertising. The crowning touch, however, is the dust jacket, which unfolds into a full-color replica of the notable map. The first printing is 125,000. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Winchester brings Smith's struggle to life in clear and beautiful language.--New York Times Book Review
"Smith's unsung life provides the perfect backdrop for yet another entertaining intellectual history."--Denver Post

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