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2 Hawthorne Geology- General

The Map That Changed the World


The Map That Changed the World Cover




Chapter One
Escape on the Northbound Stage

The last day of August 1819, a Tuesday, dawned gray, showery, and refreshingly cool in London, promising a welcome end to a weeklong spell of close and muggy weather that seemed to have put all the capital's citizens in a nettlesome, liverish mood.

Anyone trying to hurry along the cobbled and granite-paved streets that day was still certain to be frustrated, despite the improvement in the weather: The crowds! The crush! The dirt! The smell! More than a million people had lately been counted as living within and beyond London's city walls, and each day hundreds more, the morning papers reported, were to be found streaming in from the countryside, bent on joining the new prosperity that all hoped might soon be flowering now that the European wars were over. The city's population was well on the way to doubling itself in less than twenty years. The streets were in consequence filled with a jostling, pullulating, dawdling mass of people. And animals, too: It seemed of little matter to some farmers that there had long been laws to keep them from driving cattle through the center of town'so among the throngs one could spot mangy-looking sheep, more than a few head of cattle, the odd black pig, and of course horses, countless horses, pulling carriages and goods vehicles alike. The stench of their leavings, on a hot week such as this had been, was barely tolerable.

Since it was very early in the morning, there were, of course, fewer crowds than usual. Fewer, that is, except in one or two more notorious spots, where a sad and shabby ritual of the dawn tended to bring out the throngs'and where this story is most appropriately introduced.

The better known of the London sites where the morning masses gathered was in the rabbit warren of lanes that lay near Saint Paul's Cathedral, to the east of where the river Fleet had once run. Halfway along the Fleet Market a passerby would have noted, perhaps with the wry amusement of the metropolitan sophisticate, that crowds had gathered outside a rather noble, high-walled building whose address, according to a written inscription above the tall gateway, was simple: Number Nine.

An onlooker would have been amused because the address was a mere euphemism, the building's real purpose only too well known. The streets to the west of Saint Paul's were one of the two districts of nineteenth-century London where a clutch of the capital's many prisons were concentrated: the Newgate, the Bridewell, the Cold Bath Fields, and the Ludgate jails had all been built nearby, in what in winter were the chill gloom and coal-smoke fogs of the river valley. And Number Nine was the site of the best known of them all, the prince of prisons, the Fleet.

There was another, precisely similar, ghetto of prisons on the south side of the Thames, in the area that, then technically beyond London, was the borough of Southwark: another small huddle of grim, high-walled mansion houses of punishment and restraint'the Clink, the Marshalsea, the Bedlam prison-hospital, and, formidable in appearance and reputation, just like its sister establishment back at Number Nine, the infamous barrackslike monstrosity of the Prison of the King's Bench.

The King's Bench, the nearby Marshalsea, and the Fleet were different from most London prisons. They were very old, for a start, and were privately run according to a set of very strange rituals. They had been instituted for a sole purpose'the holding, for as long as necessary, of men and women who could not or would not pay their bills. These three institutions were debtors' prisons'and the reason that crowds formed around their entrances each sunrise is that, every morning just after dawn, it was the policy of their wardens to free those inmates who had discharged their obligations.

Of the three the Fleet had the most intriguing entranceway. On either side of the gate was a caged window, and above it the motto ?Remember the Poor Debtors, Having No Allowance.? Through the grate could be seen a small and gloomy chamber, with nothing inside except a wooden bench. A doorway beyond, locked and barred from the outside, gave access to the main cellblock. Each day a new impoverished prisoner would be pushed out into the cage'to spend the next twenty-four hours on begging duty, pleading with passersby for money to help in his or her plight. Debtors were obliged to pay for their time in prison; those who turned out to be totally out of funds were forced to go into the grated room and beg.

The crowds outside the Fleet and the King's Bench prisons on that cool August Tuesday morning, and that so interrupted the progress of men of affairs on their ways along the granite setts with which the road in Southwark and Saint Paul's had recently been paved, were there to see a spectacle. Tourists came to the jails to see the beggars; the merely curious'as well as the small press of family and friends (and perhaps some still-unsatisfied creditors)'came to greet with amiable good cheer the small group of inmates who each day would emerge, blinking, into the morning sunlight.

According to the prison records, one of the half dozen prisoners who stepped free from behind the high walls of the King's Bench Prison on that Tuesday morning was a sturdy-looking yeoman whose papers showed him to have come from Oxfordshire, sixty miles west of London. Those few portraits painted of him in his later years, together with a single silhouette fashioned when he was in his dotage, and a bust sculpted in marble more than twenty years later, show him to be somewhat thickset, balding, with a weatherbeaten face...

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Ronald Scheurer, November 15, 2009 (view all comments by Ronald Scheurer)
The Map That Changed the World, Simon Winchester, 2001. While it took a whole army of people to put the OED together, it took only William Smith, basically a canal digger, to put together a geological map of England and Wales in 1815 that allowed at least some human beings to escape the fog of religious dogma and understand a little about their origins.

Smith was born on March 23, 1769, first son of a blacksmith, a bit more than 5,771 years after the earth was created. In England, at that time, what was the start of the industrial revolution had begun, and the underpinnings of the scientific method, observation, deduction, and rational thought, took over some of mythical explanations about the earth, its resources, the origin of life, and ultimately just where humans fit into the natural scheme of things.

Smith’s father died when he was eight years old. His mother remarried. Smith ended up on his step father’s farm where dairymaids used what they thought were stones to weigh newly churned butter. A closer look by curious William held his interest. They were not stones.

Fossils, known as early as the 1730’s, and their implications for religious dogma didn’t mix. But once coal mining started for use in producing steam and heat for developing industries, more fossils were found. Could the earth be more than 4,000 years old? Winnable coal in North Somerset County indicates from modern radiometric dating to have been laid down 310 to 290 million years ago!

Fast forward. Smith spent a lot of time recording layered rock in coal mine shafts. The stratified layers, while they heaved up and down, were fairly consistent with each other. To move coal canals were built. Smith studied the rock formations along their routes. He also spent a lot of time inside of railroad tunnels, recording the uplift and down drift of the rock walls noticing that the layers followed consistent patterns. Bingo! Following the landscape on the surface, Smith drew over the years his geological map of the British Isles.

Fast forward again. What makes the book an interesting read is the trials and tribulations that Smith went through before being recognized for his work against the many odds he faced as common born among the aristocrats.
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Shoshana, October 7, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
While I liked The Map that Changed the World well enough, it was a slow read (about 25 pages a night). I preferred Winchester's OED-related books, perhaps because I'm actually interested in the picky details of dictionary development, and because with a focus on words his Byzantine sentences don't seem out of line. Winchester is somewhat repetitive, which helped to relate events to each other but also diminished any dramatic tension to be found in the story.

I didn't mind the intrusion of the author's story at mid-book; I understood it as an outcropping from a different era than the surrounding narrative, if I may use a geological metaphor. Perhaps the problem was that I gained little sense of William Smith's psychology, which made this more a book about the history of an idea and less about the progenitor of the idea. That's fine, but a less-rich narrative.

Winchester's richness seems typically to reside in his descriptions of the historical context in which the events of his books occurred. At this he is quite masterful. I enjoy Winchester's compulsive need to share amusing tangential or coincidental information in footnotes. He also turns one particularly fine phrase , which may help explain why there is so little of Smith's emotional stratum in this book. Regarding Smith: "He was no great diarist; but once in a while his entries make one wish he had been a better one" (p. 56).
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Product Details

Winchester, Simon
by Simon Winchester
New York, NY
Great britain
Geology, stratigraphic
Earth Sciences - Geology
Europe - Great Britain - General
General History
Edition Number:
1st Perennial ed.
Edition Description:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.02x5.41x.92 in. .68 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Science and Mathematics » Geology » General
Science and Mathematics » Nature Studies » General

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Product details 352 pages Perennial (HarperCollins) - English 9780060931803 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Winchester tends to moralize somewhat too much (how those who disrespected Smith, or, worse yet, tried to steal his ideas, are taken down!), but this is nonetheless a lively book about how evolution came to be understood." (Click here to read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "Winchester's strength is his ability to meld into compelling narrative a host of literary conventions, such as foreshadowing and fictionalized, internal dialogue. With descriptive contemporary visitations to places significant to the story and well-chosen historical detail, he makes immediate not only the magnitude and elegance of Smith's accomplishment, but also the thrill of each of the moments of genius necessary to reach his ultimate conclusion."
"Review" by , "Winchester tells Smith's story, including the dramatic ups and downs of his personal life, in vivid detail. Like the work of Dava Sobel (Longitude, 1995) and Mark Kurlansky (Cod, 1997), this is just the kind of creative nonfiction that elevates a seemingly arcane topic into popular fare."
"Synopsis" by , In 1793, a canal digger named William Smith made a startling discovery. He found that by tracing the placement of fossils, which he uncovered in his excavations, one could follow layers of rocks as they dipped and rose and fell — clear across England and, indeed, clear across the world — making it possible, for the first time ever, to draw a chart of the hidden underside of the earth. Determined to expose what he realized was the landscape's secret fourth dimension, Smith spent twenty-two years piecing together the fragments of this unseen universe to create an epochal and remarkably beautiful hand-painted map. But instead of receiving accolades and honors, he ended up in debtors' prison, the victim of plagiarism, and virtually homeless for ten years more. Finally, in 1831, this quiet genius — now known as the father of modern geology — received the Geological Society of London's highest award and King William IV offered him a lifetime pension.

"The Map That Changed the World is a very human tale of endurance and achievement, of one man's dedication in the face of ruin. With a keen eye and thoughtful detail, Simon Winchester unfolds the poignant sacrifice behind this world-changing discovery.

"Synopsis" by , Winchester tells the fascinating story of an Oxfordshire blacksmith's orphaned son who discovered an unmistakable pattern in the rocks. From this, William Smith developed the first true geographical map following fossils and rock patterns, earning him a place in history as the father of modern geology. Line drawings. Maps throughout, 2 in color.

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