The Map That Changed the World

The Map That Changed the World

William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

Book - 2002
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In 1793, a canal digger named William Smith made a startling discovery. He found that by tracing the placement of fossils, which he uncovered in his excavations, one could follow layers of rocks as they dipped and rose and fell--clear across England and, indeed, clear across the world--making it possible, for the first time ever, to draw a chart of the hidden underside of the earth. Smith spent twenty-two years piecing together the fragments of this unseen universe to create an epochal and remarkably beautiful hand-painted map. But instead of receiving accolades and honors, he ended up in debtors' prison, the victim of plagiarism, and virtually homeless for ten years more.

The Map That Changed the World is a very human tale of endurance and achievement, of one man's dedication in the face of ruin. With a keen eye and thoughtful detail, Simon Winchester unfolds the poignant sacrifice behind this world-changing discovery.

Publisher: New York : HarperCollins, 2002, c2001.
Edition: First Perennial edition
ISBN: 9780006394228
Branch Call Number: 550 .92 Smith -W
Characteristics: xix, 329 pages : illustrations, maps (some color) ; 21 cm.
Additional Contributors: Vannithone, Soun


From the critics

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Jan 19, 2021

This is a wonderful book, well up to Simon Winchester's usual standards of being entertaining and informative at the same time.

A caution: I had the large print edition, and the maps and illustrations are very poorly reproduced, making it very difficult to read and understand some of the map references in the book. I expect the regular print edition would have no such troubles.

May 23, 2016

If the history of geology intrigues you then Martin Rudwick's Earth's Deep History is superior to this effort in all respects. Winchester's book suffers two serious defects: he believes in the great men theory of history and argues that William Smith is one, though his text undermines his argument; and, more perniciously, Winchester asserts that religion was dead set against geological inquiry, which was simply not the case. One can easily cheery pick some outrageous comments in support of such a thesis, but Rudwick's account puts the lie to this tired stereotype.

Mar 30, 2015

An entertaining and brisk-paced history/ biography... among the best aspects are the bottom of page footnotes, which include interesting digressions on numerous things, including Korean mythology.

Apr 21, 2013

Interesting and worthwhile topic, but perhaps over-developed: more detail than necessary.

Jun 25, 2012

Simon Winchester is an incredibly prolific writer, considering how thoroughly researched all his books are. Well, this one is about his own field, geology, but still, he had to wade through all the (not easily attainable) material about William Smith, the undeservedly forgotten genius mapmaker. Kudos to Winchester for drawing attention to this remarkable man in his easy conversational style (although I must say that the book could have done with a little trimming here and there).

May 28, 2012


Aug 09, 2011

Simon Winchester is a gifted writer who has entertained us with such books as “The Meaning of Everything...” (the story of the Oxford English Dictionary), and “Atlantic.
In the Map, we are treated to an investigation of one William Smith who overturned to accepted knowledge of geology to develop on an understanding of the science that is still valid today.
As usual, Winchester spins a beguiling tale that entertains and enlightens at the same time. “The Map…” takes a subject that could be vary arid in the hands of another writer and makes the book a pleasure to read.

Mar 26, 2010

I found the author to have a simplistic writing style that I did not particularly care for. I was looking for something with more depth, and this was not it.

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