Douglas Pitt is a man obsessed. Laughed at, mocked, and dismissed at every turn, Pitt has dedicated the best part of an unremarkable academic career attempting to prove the genius of Samuel Highgate Syme (b.1794, Baltimore, soldier, geologist, inventor). Pitt's postulation is simple enough: Syme, through some fault, wrong-doing, conspiracy or mischance, has not been credited with the recognition he deserves for hitting upon a key discovery in the advance of modern science - the theory of continental drift. Lacking the crucial last piece of the puzzle to convince his peers and normalize his family life, Pitt's emotional equilibrium is stabilised in a magical stroke of fortune when he uncovers a contemporary manuscript written by a fledgling German scientist, Friedrich Muller, which recounts a year (1821) in the company of the irrepressible Syme. Switching between these beguiling and colourful narratives, The Syme Papers takes the reader on an odyssey into the heart of Maryland and Virginia in the 1820s by way of London and Texas today. An epic stew of intellectual procrastination, early nineteenth-century picaresque and late twentieth-century angst, it is a novel of genius and failure, of a man who thought he could prove the world was hollow, and in the glorious process of discovery, broke his own heart. Teeming with comic detail and fierce intelligence, The Syme Papers recreates a time when to question the world and the origins of creation was the greatest project a scientist could undertake.
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