And what of William Smith, an impoverished Cotswold canal-digger who heroically tramped the English countryside for a decade before creating the first true and truly accurate geological map of anywhere? Smith’s original 1815 map of England and Wales, hanging in the Geological Society in Piccadilly and gazed at by thousands each year (and now temporarily in the Tate Britain gallery as part of a mapping celebration), is revered across the world — not least because it was the first map to allow the prediction of what lay invisible beneath the Earth’s surface. Before Smith, one could only guess where coal, iron or oil might be. After Smith you drew a map of the surface geology and could then work out by extrapolation where the strata of interest might run below, and throw down a shaft, and make millions.
Yet, regrettably, there is no mention of Smith in these pages (save for another of the same name who was a pilot on one of Captain Cook’s expeditions). It is still another flaw, and one that turns what could have been a book every bit as useful as it is amusing into little more than a very slight addition to the literature.