MAP is 3/5 because half of it is geology and most people are not fascinated by geology. so, it's a weaker Winchester book although apparently the crowd disagrees and rates it 3rd in overall popularity. in fact, according to GR, it's half as popular as Krakatoa and twice or even four times the Winchester back catalogue.
SW is eminently readable, and although I'm just about finished all the paperbacks stacked up on my bookshelf, Noble Lordships is proving sort of a slog. so I guess I get to summarize Simon Winchester in this review.
the thing about SW is that he's that bright kid with thick glasses eager about geology while everyone else is starting to get pimples and become interested in the other sex. there's a quality of innocence in S. Winchester that accounts for his wide-ranging academic interest, and allows him to be so fascinated in the OED, for example, that he wrote two books about it. it takes a special person to write a book about, well, rocks, and to research the stories, intrigues, and culture of the time. S.W. both a scientific mind and a good writer, is a unique constellation of talents. so the eccentric sweep of his works and his lifetime in journalism both combine to create an ouevre that is both remarkable and composed of extremely quick reads.
a lot of writers who have multiple specialties (whether it be they write medical thrillers on the one hand and travel fiction on the other) are only appealing in one genre. Simon Winchester is a strong travel writer and he's strong in the historical academia he also specializes in. even this 3 wasn't horrible-- you just skipped the geology sections and went on to the drama and culture parts. I strongly recommend this great author to the reading public.