The science of geology began to take off at the end of the eighteenth century, as people began to realise the information about the history of the earth which could be obtained by studying the rocks and the fossils they contained. 'The Map that Changed the World' is the story of William Smith, one of the main participants in this revolution in knowledge. It is centred on his creation of the first geological map of Britain, and shows what trials and tribulations he experienced in its making. The book is very readable, and requires no previous knowledge of the subjects covered.
The story of Smith's life has an almost novel-like plot. The man of humble origins works himself up to great things, but then falls into poverty, partly as a result of overreaching himself but partly because of the machinations of others. But things work out OK in the end, as he eventually gets his due recognition. The book also brings out Winchester's love of the English countryside as he retraces some of the journeys made by Smith two centuries before. The book has been criticised for Winchester's somewhat over-enthusiastic telling of the story, but I say 'What's wrong with that?' - the book is an excellent introduction to the history of geology, and there is a list of suggestions for further reading for those who want to go into the subject more deeply.