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Book Review: The Map That Changed The World, by Simon Winchester
Winchester's biography of William Smith, who produced the first geological map of England in 1815, is highly readable and informative. Smith battled class divisions of the time, which were against him, and suffered financial ruin (perhaps as much through bad judgement as anything else) before gaining the stature Winchester accords him later in life. Of course, this is a one-sided view; there's no-one to put any contrary views in the book, and we always enjoy the story of the outsider battling for recognition by the establishment. As much of interest as the main story are some of Winchester's asides - such as that Britain's inability to feed itself and become a net importer of food dates from the eighteenth century, and was caused not by a rising birth rate but by a declining death rate. Whilst plausible, such statements are not backed up with direct evidence. Many books are overburdened with footnotes; this one has none, so whilst there is a bibliography, it's not possible to trace individual statements. Nevertheless it's a fine lighter read combining biography and popular science history.
Tags: books, history, science
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