My judgement that they would be similar books was correct, but
I didn’t enjoy the history of the invention of stratigraphy as
much as the history of the OED. Maybe because I understand
dictionaries better than I do stratigraphy, or maybe because Simon
Winchester explains them better.
Certainly more pictures would have helped. If you’ve read
about geology, you’ve seen the pictures of layers of rock with
different fossils in the different layers, but some pictures of
what William Smith actually saw in the coal mines and canal excavations would have
helped me imagine what he was actually doing.
I guess this book irritated me the same way (although in lesser
degree) that Soul
of a new machine did. There’s a writer who’s honestly trying
to describe someone who feels passionately about something that
doesn’t even interest most people in the writer’s world, and it
ends up sounding a bit condescending even though I’m sure that’s
That being said, there is a lot of detail in here about the
relationship between the economics of late 18th to early 19th
century England, and why that produced the science of geology as
we know it, even with all the religious opposition to scientific
investigation of the history of the earth. It was because digging canals and
coal mines was the exciting technology of the time that people who
were excited about such things got to see and study the different layers.