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World-changing map charts route to assisting library

Simon Winchester makes an audacious claim about William Smith, whose life he chronicled several years ago in the best seller "The Map That Changed the World."

"The simplest way to prove it is to look inside the book and see why the map was so important," Winchester said in a phone interview from his Manhattan apartment.

The book recounts how Smith, a canal surveyor, crisscrossed England on foot to map the underground of that country. According to Winchester, the map, which was drawn in 1815 and pinpoints the earth's strata and fossils, influenced the work of Charles Darwin.

Winchester -- who also wrote "The Professor and the Madman" -- will appear in Buffalo at fund-raising events in the Central Library.

He was invited to raise awareness of the treasures in the Buffalo & Erie County Library System, as well as to raise money for the libraries.

"The event is all being done through the foundation with private funds," said Anne Leary, executive director of the Library Foundation, which is sponsoring the event. "We have 20 sponsoring agents."

Winchester is waiving his usual speaking fee of $20,000.

He will discuss Smith and his map at a dinner at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on the main floor at the library. At 8 a.m. Thursday in the library auditorium, he will discuss his soon-to-be-published book, "The Crack at the Edge of the World," about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

In conjunction with his appearance, a copy of the map, with color plates showing more detail and notes made by Smith, will be on display until Dec. 31 in the Rare Books Room. Other programs are planned. The library's map is one of the 40 to 100 remaining copies of the 400 reproduced from Smith's 1815 map.

"I would argue that William Smith turned a lot of things on their head with this map, which was a hugely important and very profound development," said Winchester, becoming more animated as he talks about Smith. He described the surveyor as unlettered and impoverished.

"The map is absolutely fabulous," Leary said. "It measures 6 feet wide and 9 feet tall, and we are showing it in its entirety. It's the first true geologic map ever created."

Winchester said Smith gathered information for the map by traversing England on foot, talking to farmers and making scientific measurements that revealed the location of reserves of oil, coal and other mineral wealth.

Winchester, who also lives in Massachusetts and Scotland, was a newspaper reporter for seven years before switching to writing magazine articles and books. He has written for Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic and Smithsonian, and is the author of "Krakatoa" and "The Fracture Zone."

Wednesday dinner and lecture will cost $150 per person or $250 per couple. The price for the breakfast lecture the following day is $35. For information, call the foundation at 858-6393.

Along with the exhibit, the library will sponsor events for children, a lecture series and field trips with the University of Buffalo geology department. Further information is available at


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