My Review of The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Back when I was teaching, one of the courses I taught several times was History of Science, and it is still an interest for me. And so I really liked this book. It tells the story of William Smith, born in England in the late 18th century, and how in his work as a mine surveyor and canal surveyor he started to notice patterns in the arrangement of rocks as holes were dug. Many of these rocks also had fossils, and when the rocks were the same the fossils were the same. And Smith started to see what this meant. His life’s work was drawing the geologic map of England. But he had a hard time of it for a period, in part because he was a commoner, and at the time science was considered only suitable for upper class dilettantes. His work was copied by some of these and passed off as their own, and at one point he was tossed into debtor’s prison. But in the end he got the recognition he deserved and was the first recipient of the Wollaston Medal, the highest award of the Geological Society of London.



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