2013 is the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society. In celebration, the society has publishing several books, including On Assignment with National Geographic: The Inside Story of Legendary Explorers, Photographers, and Adventurers by Mark Collins Jenkins. With such a big title, you might imagine a jumbo coffee table book, but in this case, the volume is compact. (National Geographic 125 Years is a much bigger book.) While the size of On Assignment with National Geographic is small, the anniversary publication is still packed with stories about the history of the society, its monthly magazine, and many of its most famous naturalists, scientists, explorers, and editors.
Readers will readily recognize many names, including its second president Alexander Graham Bell, arctic explorer Richard Byrd, oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, primatologist Jane Goodall, and paleontologist Paul Sereno. Many now mostly forgotten scientists, such as adventurer William Beebe and balloonist William Kepner are also featured.
As I read, I recognized many photos and magazine covers that I have seen over the last fifty plus years. I also realized how National Geographic has documented the mapping of the planet, the disappearance of traditional societies, the evolution of scientific knowledge, and the development of technologies that could not have been imagined at the society's founding. Look at a National Geographic from 100 years ago and you see a radically different world.
Finally, On Assignment with National Geographic lets readers see into the processes of grant funding and publishing the big stories. This quick reading history will interest many of the society's members and fans.
Jenkins, Mark Collins. On Assignment with National Geographic: The Inside Story of Legendary Explorers, Photographers, and Adventurers. National Geographic Society, 2013. 134p. ISBN 9781426210136.