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Simon Winchester has carved a unique niche for himself in nonfiction publishing: peculiar 19th-century characters with magnificent obsessions. His 1998 book, The Professor and the Madman, documented the torment of Dr. W.C. Minor, who helped create the Oxford English Dictionary. In a similar vein, Winchester’s latest, The Map That Changed the World, surveys the life of Englishman William Smith—the creator of modern geology—who, among other things, paved the way for Darwin and others whose ideas about the origin of the Earth were at odds with biblical accounts. Thanks to Winchester’s masterful storytelling, we get to know the world Smith lived in (most Europeans believed that the world began on Monday, Oct. 23, 4004 BCE); the details of his family life (his wife was said to be a nymphomaniac); and his impressive trend of upward mobility (from debtor’s prison to membership in the Geological Society of London). Winchester appears at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Robin Dougherty)