Article: Pico Iyer on the joy of National Geographic

As a four-year-old in Oxford, I had scant chance of knowing what the Himalayas looked like….All we could do was pore over old copies of Tintin in Tibet.

In this article from the Guardian, Pico Iyer considers the enduring appeal of National Geographic magazine and reminisces on the vicarious pleasures of travelling through its pages.

Founded in the United States, National Geographic gave its readers the chance to experience foreign history, culture, wildlife and geography before television, mass tourism, digital photography and Youtube.


First published in 1888 and with a strong emphasis on striking photographic images since 1905, when it published several full page photos of Tibet, countless readers must have nurtured their wanderlust in National Geographic’s pages.

Although the tower of yellow-spined issues stacked behind my bedroom door at my parents’ house has long since gone, I hung on to many of my favourite issues and have never been able to part from the map supplements I still pore over, dreaming of travelling to far off places.

Available only in English until 1995, National Geographic is now published in 40 languages and has a global circulation of nearly 7 million per month.  Having begun as an American window on the world (as well as a mirror on America), it seems as though rest of the world is now also pressed up against the glass and is equally curious.

Pico Iyer’s article was published in the Guardian in 2013 to coincide with National Geographic’s 125th anniversary.  The same year, Taschen published a three volume special edition book showcasing the best of National Geographic’s photos: National Geographic. Around the World in 125 Years, previewed in the video below.



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