In The Map That Changed the World, Simon Winchester offers a biography of William Smith and the story of Smith's pioneering work in the field of geology. Smith, fascinated by fossils as a boy, noticed as a young man the layers of rock in outcroppings in the English countryside. These layers, he found, seemed always to be in the same order and this knowledge helped him locate coal for wealthy landowners. In the coal mines he visited, he carefully observed the layers of rock as he went down, adding to his knowledge of the strata. His involvement with canal building gave him even more opportunities to study layers of rock and the fossils in them. He was the first to use fossils as a marker to help identify a particular rock layer. After more than fifteen years of fieldwork, he completed his beautiful map of the rock strata of England, Wales and part of Scotland. Smith's map changed the scientific understanding of the age of the earth, proving it to be much older than anyone had previously supposed. Smith produced 400 copies of the map, each six by nine feet and colored by hand, in hopes of selling them. However, plagiarism of his work and imprisonment for debt were two of the difficulties he faced before finally getting recognition for his discoveries.
Simon Winchester is the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman. He has also published articles in Conde Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. He studied geology at Oxford, which explains his obvious love for the subject matter of this book.
Reviewed by mc, 10/01. Other reviews by mc.