The Map That Changed The World
By Simon Winchester
5/10 from 1 review
Disappointing, but I ploughed on to the bitter end
The blurb makes this sound like it’s going to offer an exciting insight into what is widely seen as a dry subject – geology. Sadly, this book did little to live up to the hype that this was “An exciting tale. Winchester is the perfect narrator for this lovely story of success against the odds. One leaves this book enlightened, moved and entertained.” (The Spectator).
After a promising start, full of detail on how young William Smith began his quest and his surveying career, the book veered off all too readily into hyperbole and supposition, full of inconsistencies and lacunae. Influential characters – real people whose lives are recorded at length elsewhere – popped up willy nilly, and promises that their significance would be explained in due course were left unfulfilled as the plot lines snaked around them leaving them just as high and dry as when they had popped up five to fifty pages previously. Others, like William Smith’s wife were only mentioned so as to illustrate his misfortune, rather than to provide greater insight into his life and the path it took.
Minimal character development plus tracing paper-thin historical context made for one dull and disappointing read. I’m left wondering what Dorothy Dunnett or Philippa Gregory would, could, have made of William Smith.