Author: Simon Winchester
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Date: 2001

Club: Adelaide, S.A. Australia


The lives of “people who have changed the world”, usually in some scientific field, and who do not initially receive the recognition they deserve because of jealously among their peers, has been a recurring literary theme recently. This description applies in “The Map Who Changed The World” to William Smith, the uneducated son of a blacksmith, who is referred to as “the father of English geology”, but who was cheated and reviled before finally having his work acknowledged.

Structurally, we can admire the way Winchester initially set his story in the context of the times, scientifically, socially and economically. This is a well written scientific book which includes many useful footnotes and a glossary, making it accessible to the lay readers. The characterisation is rather superficial, however, being concerned mainly with Smith’s public life. Winchester retains our interest by manipulating the chronology so that the book begins on the low point in Smith’s life and closes on his final recognition and fame, but understandably little personal information is given about him. Some members felt the book was too long and suffered from too much hyperbole. Our reading circle generally enjoyed this book, but it is not for the impatient reader.