Tuesday, June 25, 2013

National Geographic: 125 Years, by Mark Collins Jenkins

Mark Collins Jenkins presents a celebration of the organization behind the world's most recognizable journal in National Geographic: 125 Years: Legendary Photographs, Adventures, and Discoveries that Changed the World. They've come a long way since their founding, and the book traces the development of National Geographic, both through their media and as a supporter of geographical ventures. The book divides the story of the organization roughly into the years it was lead by different people, most notably several generations of the Grosvenor family. In addition to the main narrative, there are plenty of sidelines highlighting the great accomplishments of explorers National Geographic has supported over the years. As it is a celebration, the book focuses on success storiesand the progress of the organization, and it shouldn't be mistaken as a thorough history. I found the tracing of the growth of their media the defining feature of this book, as it notes everything from the first photographic illustration and first monthly issue, to the first cover photograph and color photograph, to the development of their television channel and website. As with any National Geographic publication, the book is full of first-rate photographs.

Mount Everest overall plays a small role in this book, as the film of the 1963 American ascent (which they heavily supported) happened to be the first National Geographic television special. I feel like the editors treated the climb a bit with modern eyes, treating the media rather than the expedition as the great human accomplishment. (See Grosvenor's 1963 Great Adventures with National Geographic, the 75th anniversary celebration book, for an idea of how they saw it at the time.) There are additionally some oblique references to Everest, such as a mention of Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner's climbing the 14 8000-meter peaks.

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