The Map that Changed the World
I have become fascinated by European intellectual history from the seventeenth and eighteen centuries. The sciences were flourishing. The modern economic system was just developing. My latest read falls into the end of this period and actually extends into the nineteenth century. It is The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester. It is a biography of William Smith, sometimes called the Father of Geology. Smith was the first to use fossils to date different strata of rock, and he made the first geological map of England.
I understood the basic ideas of geology that were presented, but I felt like I wanted more. It appears that while Smith did go into coal mines and see the strata change and he went down, most of his data for the map depended on observations of outcroppings and the shallow excavations of canal building. I have trouble understanding how his mostly surface observations can yield data that is described.
Since the book was a biography and not a textbook, much of the book discussed Smith battles with the geological establishment to get credit for his work. Much of the battle was due to class conflict. Smith was born of humble origins and the Geological Society was founded by “gentlemen”. Eventually, the leadership of the Geological Society passed to working scientists who honored Smith in his old age.