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Explorers House: National Geographic and the World It Made Hardcover – October 21, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alexander Graham Bell didn't just invent the phone: he cofounded one of the world's great magazines. Bell and Gardiner Hubbard, a blue-blood Bostonian, launched the National Geographic Society in 1888. That fall, its journal first appeared, shedding light on subjects like volcanism and botany and establishing itself as an authority in scientific and technical arcana. The organization grew, but the magazine stalled until Gilbert H. Grosvenor, a young schoolteacher, signed on as editor, and the stories of the Grosvenor family and the magazine have been linked ever since. The organization and magazine grew steadily over the years, with more people, places and things for its members to discover. However, the magazine's growth often overshadowed subagendas of racism, sexism and conservatism within its offices, according to Poole. The 1950s and '60s brought rapid changes, as previously glossed-over subjects—domestic poverty, life under communism, apartheid—finally appeared in full color. Poole, recently retired as National Geographic's executive editor, maintains objectivity without sacrificing scope and detail; the book has been built with all the painstaking care you'd expect from a National Geographic article (and thus, it's also a bit abstruse). Recent magazine troubles, chronicled in the last chapter, may not interest everyone, but then, back in 1888, who besides Alexander Graham Bell knew a beetle's wing structure would be so fascinating? Photos.
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–In 1888, Gardiner Greene Hubbard and selected associates decided to start a group that would meet regularly to share views and then share that knowledge. Thus the National Geographic Society came into being. In 1898, upon Hubbard's death and at the insistence of his widow and of his daughter, Mabel Hubbard Bell, Alexander Graham Bell took over the organization. He picked Gilbert H. Grosvenor to follow him. The Grosvenor family became the lineage that would control the organization to the present day. Poole's book is the combined story of the evolution of the NGS, its publications and forays into various other media, and the struggle to keep the organization viable and on the cutting edge of important information for readers everywhere. Much of the volume necessarily deals with the complicated lives of the Grosvenors. Poole offers insight on selected NGS-sponsored explorations, especially Robert Peary's, and the politics that surrounded them. Small black-and-white photos, mainly of people, serve as markers to the chapters. Poole's uncomplicated writing offers a clear history, and his book leaves readers with an appreciative understanding of the often-overlooked marvel of how the society came to be and what it continues to offer.–Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 375 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (October 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200327
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200328
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,427,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert M. Poole is an editor and writer whose assignments for Smithsonian and National Geographic have taken him around the world. A native of North Carolina and a veteran journalist, his stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Smithsonian. In 2001 he retired as executive editor of National Geographic after a 21 year career. He is the author of Explorers House: National Geographic and the World It Made, published by the Penguin Press. He is a contributing editor at Smithsonian and lives in Virginia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Long on February 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
They've nearly all died-Colliers, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Holiday, and many other magazines--while National Geographic flourishes. The people who made this happen are the subject of Explorers House by Bob Poole

Though circulation has dipped from a high near 11million, the Geographic still reaches around 7 million domestic subscribers, plus two million in foreign issues, and who knows how many others in dentists' offices.

Former associate editor Poole examines more than a century of Geographic publishing, from a thin magazine nursed by Alexander Graham Bell and his son-in-law, Gilbert H. Grosvenor, to the present megamagazine whose offspring of TV and books and et ceteras are presided over by more than 50 well-compensasted vice-presidents.

The heart of Poole's chronicle is the Grosvenor editorial dynasty--the orderly Gilbert, his brilliant son Melville, and Melville's methodical son Gil, now chairman of the board. The smoldering tiff between Gil and editor Bill Garrett, which ends in Garrett's sudden firing, reads like a thriller. Both men still speak to Poole, a testament to the tale's accuracy.

So much for editors. Over the years staffers and contributors performed sacred, sometimes unique, Geographic feats: Robert Peary makes it to the North Pole, or was it just in the vicinity? Maynard Owen Williams explores Tutankhamen's tomb; Luis Marden dives off Pitcairn Island and discovers the remains of H.M.S. Bounty; Barry Bishop climbs Mt. Everest and loses toes to frostbite.

Gilding no lilies, Poole documents Gilbert Grosvenor's racist attitude toward blacks, as well as his early sympathy for Hitler's Germany.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gabe K on January 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Poole's Explorers House delves into the private, behind-the-scenes world of the National Geographic Society. The author, who retired as Executive Editor of the National Geographic magazine so he could write this unflinching biography, explores the formation of the NGS as a DC-based social club for government scientists, military men, inventors, and the all-important amateurs, and the connections and power of the Hubbard, Bell and Grosvenor families that controlled the organization for over a century (a family tree is included that helps decipher this sometimes confusing web of nepotism).

Poole discusses the member/subscriber scheme that fueled the Society's early days (and they were the first magazine to include subscription cards in their pages), the funding of various expeditions, the emergence of NG as a photographic powerhouse, the stock market crash and its effect on the NGS, their expansion into books, globes, television, and other magazines, and their transformation into a giant corporate entity. He also gives a good look at Alexander Graham Bell, a remarkable and caring man who's vision truly lifted the NGS to greatness.

Poole does not shy away from the NGS's black eyes, including the institutional - and sometimes blatant - racism that existed in one form or another, within the NGS until the 1970s, the Cook/Peary North Pole controversy, and the embarrassing pro-Hitler and Mussolini articles that appeared in NG in the late-1930s.

This book is not, and does not claim to be, about the various adventures funded by the NGS. While some explorations are discussed, this tome is primarily about the men and women who made these adventures possible. In that aspect this book is unique.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Philip W. Henry on May 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
EXPLORERS HOUSE; `NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC AND
THE WORLD IT MADE' By Robert M. Poole

I remember as a kid waiting for the newest issue of National Geographic Magazine to arrive with its distinctive yellow border and its images of impossibly remote and exotic places: not to mention the Barenaked Natives. Many years later, I had the unmitigated temerity to actually APPLY for a job at the National Geographic Society, and received an unctuous and snotty rejection. (One doesn't just "apply" to the Society for work; the Society seeks one out, like Skull and Bones or the CIA which,come to think of it, are one and the same.)

It is that aloof and patrician attitude that Robert Poole explores in "Explorers House."
From its inception, the Society existed in the rarified stratosphere of Society. After all, its motto is:" A Society for the Increase and Diffusion of Geographic Knowledge." That sounds like something Ben Jon son or Cotton Mather might have written. It sure isn't NASCAR.

The insider's perspective of the National Geographic (Poole is the retired Executive Editor) reveals the insular, almost incestuous, relationship between Alexander Graham Bell, the Grosvenors, and the Hubbards, all of whom played major roles in the development of the Society.

The subtitle of the book is revelatory:" National Geographic and the World it made."
Like TIME magazine under Henry Luce's stewardship, the Geographic created the world in its own image.

The Geographic created the myth of Robert Peary (who may or may not have reached the North Pole),and subsidized the research of the Leakey's in Africa. It pumped millions into research.
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