I enjoy the history of the earth and the history of societies and this book encapsulates the two rather well. You get a good idea of the time which Smith lived, the ideas that abounded, and the man himself. William Smith reminds me a bit of Tesla in that he was a brilliant, eccentric man who was ambitious, but for some reason didn't finish things that could have solidified his career. Other books will do better to describe in detail the history of the earth via stratigraphy, but few will paint a better picture of how it was dicovered. It's just too bad WIlliam Smith wasn't a better diarist because it would have allowed Winchester to offer more from the mind of a man who's thoughts seem to be as hidden as the fossils he helped to unearth. A nice compliment to this book would be Alan Cutler's "The Seahell on the Mountaintop".
observation, comprehension, re/evolution (cheating a little on that last "word")
The awareness that the earth was much older and dynamic than previously supposed is the crux, and the author does an excellent job placing the key observations within the economic setting of mining coal and digging canal, which he relates to one another very logically and clearly. The less interesting aspect was the class and personal rivalries that slowed acceptance (a little) but mostly threatened the credit due to Smith.
The author takes too much time at the beginning telling us, repeatedly, that the findings were important without actually telling us how or why. Maybe that is necessary in popularized science. He also expects the readers to know English geography better than I do. His personal experience on the beaches during school contribute only marginally to the main story. But the main story is (actually, finally) so important that these amount to quibbles.
I really enjoyed this book but it was very dry and gets down right boring at times but the story is worth the trouble to listen to if you have any interest in maps.
Like the other books from Simon Winchester this book is pleasant, not least because the author reads his books himself. Even though this is a narrative rather than a scientific book I wish he would switch to the metric system instead of referring to feet, inches, pounds and ounces. As a science author he should not support the obsolete empirical system. Today only the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar continue to not use the metric system.
I read the paper version of this book. It is a fascinating account of how one man persevered to change the world's view of geology. If you like geology and the history of science, this is time well spent. I gave it a three since my experience was with the paper version.