Book review: The map that changed the world

The map that changed the world written by Simon Winchester is a fascinating example of the early 1800 period where map making was in its element. The book follows the life of William Smith the son of a blacksmith who may be considered the founder of Geology. For his entire life smith fought to be recognised and in fact to stay in the black.

Smith spent the majority of his life in the pursuit of the map and is known to have travelled extensively through his life. His greatest hindrance was a lack of finance and as such  had to fit his work around his job as a land drainer and engineer.

The book tells of the sampling that smith conducted through his life and how he accessed funding through numerous publications and favours. The book also tells of the darker side of the scientific community of the time who seemed intent on plagiarizing  both his work and ideas. This disrespect for his work led to many of Smiths setbacks during life and later to a short stint in debtors prison. Smith did however eventually receive the credit he was due and receive the first Wollaston Medal for his lifetime achievements.

Smiths final map of the geology of the England as shown below is testament to the skills he has gained during his life in the measurement and depiction of the geology of the country. Though a reasonable number of the final maps where produced, few are now left in regular circulation though one may be seen in the offices of the royal geological society.

The moral story of the map is as powerful as the creation of the map. Holding a lifetime passion for a subject and being able to step back up to the mark when you and your work are mocked will allow you to create and achieve great things. During his life William smith had to fight for any recognition with the aristocrats of the time yet he is now considered one of the greatest men in the history of geology.


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