Strata: IntroductionA copy of the front of STRATA William Smith's Geological Maps. TThe cover is a dark blue with colourful excerpts of the geological maps along the spine and on the corners. Over this is a white frame with rosegold reports across the top and "STRATA: William Smith's Geological Maps Review" on the bottom.

Welcome to my review for STRATA: William Smith’s Geological Maps! I received this book from the publisher Thames and Hudson in exchange for an honest review. My great thanks to Katie Hambly and Raynell Macdonald. The focus of this stunning volume is, naturally, Smith’s 1815 hand-coloured map. The map is officially called: A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland. There is too, a wealth of information about the life and times of Smith, and the significance of his work. In combination, this makes Strata the definitive book on Smith and his work.

It is an absolutely beautiful book! Thorough research, engaging writing, imaginative presentation and the highest production standards. An absolute must for every Earth Scientist (amateur or professional). It’s also a rare treat for lovers of maps, history and beautiful books. It is available to purchase as a large hardback. If you don’t already have a copy, I recommend you put it at the top of your Christmas list!


My Thoughts on STRATA

A page from inside STRATA showing the full series of William Smith geological maps of England, Wales and part of Scotland.Content

My favourite thing about this book is how full a picture it presents of Smith’s work! Not just the maps themselves – which are stunningly reproduced to show all the detail – but the wealth of information about Smith’s life and significance of his work. STRATA is a real team effort with content provided by experts from learned organisations such as the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the History of Geology Group.

The volume opens with a foreword from Robert MacFarlane describing the nature of geology and the significance of Smith’s work as a terranaut. This is followed by an Introduction by Douglas Palmer which sets Smith’s mapping in context of geological knowledge at the time. The different sections of Smith’s map are then presented and each section is interwoven with a chapter detailing an aspect of Smith’s life. The chapters are: Apprentice, Mineral Prospector (both by Peter Wrigley), Field Work (by Dave Williams), Cartographer (by Tom Sharpe), Fossil Collector (by Jill Darrell and Diana Clements), Well Sinker (by John Mather) and Mentor (by John Henry).

*** to see more of the content of this book, you can watch this video I made. Press the “play” symbol once you click through the link (sound optional) ***


The text is accompanied by a weath of photographic material. This includes full page photographs of the Smith fossil collection, archive material (diaries, letters), field sketches and portraits. There are also useful tables and charts. All of the text is written in an accessible and engaging style; this makes it suitable for non-experts as well as professional geologists.

A photograph of some of the fossils from Smith's collection  a photograph of the geological map for the county of Durham in North East England

STRATA’s production values are very high. The volume iA photo of the end papers from STRATA with the accompanying bookmarks large, measuring approximately, 42 cms high and 27 cms wide. At over 250 pages it is quite hefty. The paper stock is excellent quality and the photographs and maps are beautifully reproduced. There is also a card included which can serve a bookmark, it’s handy because it has the succession of strata on one side and the stratigraphic layers and corresponding colours on the reverse. Fans of pretty endpapers will not be disappointed, as you can see from this image; the endpaper design perfectly complements the historic ‘feel’ of the subject.


Cover Blurb for STRATA

A white marble background with a quote in black written on it. The quote reads: The definitive book on Smith and his work. Absolutely beautiful; thorough research, engaging writing, imginative presentation and the highest production values. A must for Earth Scientists and a treat for lovers of maps, history and beautiful books. Underneather the quote are the words: Dr Sabina Michnowicz www.rosegoldreports.comThis sumptuous and comprehensive evaluation showcases Smith’s 1815 hand-coloured map, A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland, and illustrates the story of his career, from apprentice to fossil collector and from his 1799 geological map of Bath and table of strata to his detailed stratigraphical county maps.

The introduction places Smith’s work in the context of earlier, concurrent and subsequent ideas regarding the structure and natural processes of the earth.

The book is then organized into four geographical sections, each beginning with four sheets from the 1815 strata map, accompanied by related geological cross sections and county maps (1819 24), and is followed by displays of Sowerby’s fossil illustrations (1816 19) organized by strata. Interleaved between the sections are essays by leading academics that explore the aims of Smith’s work, its application in the fields of mining, agriculture, cartography, fossil collecting and hydrology, and its influence on biostratigraphical theories and the science of geology.

Concluding the volume are reflections on Smith’s later work as an itinerant geologist and surveyor, plagiarism by his rival President of the Geological Society, George Bellas Greenough receipt of the first Wollaston Medal in 1831 in recognition of his achievements, and the influence of his geological mapping and biostratigraphical theories on the sciences, culminating in the establishment of the modern geological timescale.


Do you have your copy of STRATA yet? Is this the most exciting book to be published in 2020? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Are you a fan of nature and science? If so, you may wish to also read my review on The Little Book of Orchids or my other book reviews.

This Post Has 12 Comments

    1. Sabina Michnowicz

      Thanks Kerri! I agree the pictures really are incredible! An amazing achievement given how long ago it was done without any of our modern gadgets like GPS.

  1. James

    Thanks for this thorough review! Book looks spectacular and the essays sound fascinating. I remember the Smith map anniversary celebrations but was unable to see the map for myself. I’ve just ordered Strata and will enjoy taking in all their detail over the festive break.

    1. Sabina Michnowicz

      Thank you James, I too enjoyed the anniversary celebrations and it gave me a real enthusiasm for these maps. I hope you love your copy just as much as I do – one to treasure for sure!

  2. Seb

    It looks absolutely stunning! It’s always nice when a book can be both educational/informative and just pretty to look at when you haven’t got the headspace for more.

    1. Sabina Michnowicz

      Very true! Lots of information here but also lots of lovely pictures, a great coffee table book you can dip in and out of.

  3. Jenny

    Lovely post and thanks for including photos! They’re really useful for getting a feel of what the book offers.

    1. Sabina Michnowicz

      That’s so kind of you to say Jenny, thank you! It’s a stunning book and I really wanted to get that across.

  4. Debbie

    Wow! Looks gorgeous and I’m not even into fossils! My friend is in her 2nd year of a geology degree and this would be a perfect birthday gift if a few of us club together. Thanks for showcasing this, looks fantastic for those into geology.

    1. Sabina Michnowicz

      Thanks for your lovely comment Debbie, this is such a kind idea, it would make a great present for any geologist!

  5. John

    We doing online lectures for our degree students but will buy this for when we’re all able to be back in person. Looks a fantastic teaching resource!

    1. Sabina Michnowicz

      It’s a great size for teaching actually, you can easily have several students looking at it because of it’s large size and great print quality. Decidedly a great addition to the departmental library and one that looks great on display too.

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