Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Map That Changed the World - Simon Winchester

The Basics: The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Simon Winchester, 2001, 329 pages, paperback

How I found it: Random browsing in the bestsellers section at Chapters (although I don't think it's an actual current bestseller - just one of those "If you liked ____, you'll like this" books). I'd also read Winchester's book on Krakatoa that Greg had.

What it's about: A biography on William Smith, the English father of geology and the guy who invented stratigraphy. (Stratigraphy is where you compare rocks in different layers to tell their age. It's also called relative dating, which I thought was pretty funny in high school.) Apparently this early, white Will Smith was into fossils, but still had a pretty rough life.

Did I like it?: As much as I like geology and geography, and I usually like biographies, this book was a bit dull. It could have been half as long and been more interesting. Winchester also jumps around a lot so I didn't get a real sense of the chronology of Smith's life - which is something I think you should get out of a biography. Apparently Winchester is a trained geologist (at Oxford no less) so he tries to give the reader a little geology lesson as background for the book and it gets really boring (even for me). However, I'm glad I read it as I learned all about early geology and stratigraphy, which I wouldn't have done otherwise.

Will you like it: Probably not. Unless you are a geologist, in which case you might have known about this guy anyway. It wasn't terrible by any means, I just don't really recommend it.

But don't take my word for it: Check out these scathing reader reviews on Amazon and some more favourable editorial reviews.

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