In 1793, William Smith, an engineer and canal digger, concluded that rocks were arranged in layers and that each layer contained different fossils unique to it. This was a monumental discovery, as it contradicted existing church beliefs, and it would become the foundation for the science of geology. Smith spent the next 20 years creating the world's first geological map. Still a thing of beauty, this sizeable representation (8' 6') of the underside of England from Wales to the Thames remains a testament to Smith's persistence. Tragically, he did not realize any significant income from his map, and four years after its publication he was sent to debtor's prison. Upon his release, he remained virtually homeless and unemployed for ten years. Not until 1831 was he finally recognized for his great contribution when he was awarded the first Wollaston Medal and given a small lifetime pension by the king. Winchester, the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman, has once again captured the essence of persistence against odds resulting in achievement. His fascinating account will not disappoint. Highly recommended for both academic libraries and public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/01.] Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
How could a map published as late as 1815 have 'changed the world'? Simon Winchester's fascinating book tells the story of William Smith and his literally ground-breaking researches into the stratification of rocks beneath the surfaces of the British Isles, which culminated in the production of a gigantic map which was to have tremendous repercussions for mining and other industries - as well as for science and even religion. Part biography of a self-made man (born the son of a blacksmith), part chapter in the history of the industrial revolution and part story of crucial developments in the new science of geology, Winchester's book also shows how that geology fed into the work of Darwin and others - by definitively revising Biblical accounts of the age of the Earth. It's one of those highly readable non-fiction accounts which cleverly transcends its apparently narrow focus. And it is likely to be as successful as the author's much-acclaimed The Surgeon of Crowthorne.
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.
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.