Anyone who knows National Geographic Society or National Geographic Magazine will know the name Grosvenor. “A Man of the World” tracks the course of the fifth Grosvenor to hold court over the Nat Geo. This book will invoke both jealously and sadness as Grosvenor led a life that most of us can only imagine. Born into the NG family, Grosvenor followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father as he took reign during a time of exceptional growth and power of the society itself. I’m guessing that. many of you reading this will have spent at least part of your childhood pouring over the pages of “the yellow magazine.”
But this is also a cautionary tale. Magazines die. Life, Look, etc. They took deep breaths, exhaled for the last time and keeled over with a decadent death rattle. The National Geographic hasn’t died yet but the final few chapters of this book will suck the breath out of the reader as they foreshadow a world where reading anything of length may or may not survive the modern human appetite for instant, microscopic insanity. Or worse yet, television.
I assisted for NG photographers a time or two over the early days of my career. There was something different about the experience. Dropping that name was the proverbial rock in the pond. BOOM. “We are with National Geographic.” Doors would open, paths would clear, and yes, prices would increase. There was resonance.
What I love about this book is the detail of the behind-the-scenes happenings with staff. Some of the folks mentioned are people I either know or people I met. I’ve been inside the NG twice and both times were memorable experiences. Walking those hallowed halls and watching Jodi Cobb edit her chromes was simply fantastic. I also ventured to the NG when Blurb had a new technology that was frankly a decade ahead of its time. Imagine an app that allows you to shoot stills, shoot motion, record audio, and add small copy blocks before embedding that content as mini-multimedia pieces into any platform you wanted. This was prior to social really becoming what it is today, and the magazine said they would never allow anyone in the field to post anything without it first being approved by corporate. (Oh, how things have changed.)
I truly enjoyed this book. Reading about the history of the family, the adventures and the adaptation the society endured to survive in the modern era. And the good news, the NG Society is still killing it. Print, stills, motion, etc. Still churning. I’m sure budgets and timelines are down but they fight continues and that is all we can ask. The way I see it, the NG owes us something. I know, greedy but hear me out. There has to be a bar. Without a bar we get American politics. The lowest of the low. The lies, the cheating, the stealing, the hate. All on display on THIS very day, actually. The NG needs to represent the best of the best otherwise it simply won’t survive. With attention being the currency of our day, someone has to be hold fast. Someone has to buck then trend of instant, hyper-short, inane. For every Tik Tok dirty bomb we need a bomb removal team with yellow borders. Why did people rush home to see the latest issue? They did because they knew the bar was high. The bar wasn’t perfect but it meant something. Those pages are more than a thumb swipe. Get it, read it.
This sounds fantastic! I feel very fortunate that my dad left me leather bound copies of his father’s NG Collection spanning the years 1909 – 1938. Sadly, they sat in a basement for a lot of years so they’re not in the best of shape, but it’s still pretty cool!
By the way, the new Cormack McCarthy book is out. Picked that gem up at the library a few days ago.
The NG influenced as many people as any magazine in history. It was the gold standard for such a long time.
For an alternative / critical account, I highly recommend “Reading National Geographic” by Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins (an anthropologist and a sociologist) – https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/R/bo3697068.html Nearly 30 years old now, but still relevant.
That sounds great.