Pros: A wealth of knowledge, for all ages and interests! Perfect learning tool for young children.
Cons: Issues have gotten thinner since the 60's. Other than that, NONE.
I have been reading National Geographic magazines since I was a young boy. My family has a massive collection of National Geographic's dating back to the 1940's. When I was young, I could spend hours sitting and reading issues from the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's and 1980's, with articles about the Mercury and Apollo space programs, the World's Fair in New York and later in Montreal, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, the United States' first sucessful summit of Mount Everest, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and many other fascinating and historic events. Each issue is a time capsule in and of itself.
Time for my own stack of Yellow Magazines
Soon, it was time for me to move out on my own. One of my college graduation gifts was a subscription to National Geographic. Now I've been able to start my own collection, with the first issue coming in June 2002. Hopefully I'll be able to save these magazines for my grandchildren the same way my grandparents saved them for me. They are an amazing learning tool.
For the magazine itself, no other magazine is as distinguishable as National Geographic. The bright yellow cover and binding make is stand out from all other magazines. In every issue, there is an article (or two or three or four) which totally captivate me, whether it be a pictoral of the Grand Tetons, an article on Urban Sprawl, or an article on Human Surveillance in the Information Age. Of course, along with the articles, the photographs are the best in the world. No other publication captures life as National Geographic does. This magazine could not be what it is without it's stellar photography. My hat goes off to the National Geographic Society for consistently maintaining the best photography staff possible.
For instance, this year we have marked the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's summit of Mount Everest. National Geographic devoted practically an entire issue to mark the occasion, including an interview with Sir Hillary 50 years later, and a map showing the various routes that expeditions have taken up Mount Everest. One of the more interesting pictures of the article showed a graph of ascents and descents made by the men at Everest Base Camp during Sir Hillary's summit attempt. It looks like a heartrate monitor, with sharp peaks and valleys. It shows each climbing party and their progress up the mountain. This was shown in many steps to acclimatize themselves to the high altitude. The tallest peak, of course, being the successful summit attempt by Hillary and Tenzing.
Also in 2003, National Geographic marked the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers sucessful powered flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Again, the entire magazine was devoted to the event, with articles on the Wright Brothers and the possible advances to be made in powered flight over the next 100 years. The best part of this issue for me, however, was a picture of a B-2 Stealth Bomber, taken from the right side. It is a perfect side angle, and it shows the bulbous-ness of the front of the long-range bomber, along with the sleekness and the wings taper off to points at the rear.
Another feature which National Geographic has been including in each issue for the past few years is Zip USA. Each month, the magazine travels to a small town or large metropolis in the US characterized by it's zip code. For example, there have been articles on the granite carvers in Barre, VT, and an article on the riverboat postal service in Detroit. A brief but interesting look into the sometimes small and sometimes not-so-small towns of the United States.
At the end of the magazine, there is usually a photograph taken from long ago which had never been published in National Geographic. The one previously-unpublished photograph I remember is two men standing around a newly polished mirror glass which is destined for the Palomar Observatory in San Diego. The mirror had been polished to a perfect concave at Corning Glass Works in Corning, New York. The picture showed the rear lattice work of the mirror, which provides structural rigidity to the mirror glass. Fascinating, but it is what I've come to expect from this outstanding publication.
One last bit of information - certain issues include foldout maps which are inserted in the magazine. Known also for their photographs, National Geographic is first and foremost known for their spectacular maps. If you have ever seen a National Geographic World Atlas, then you know what I'm talking about. If you've never seen one of these Atlas' please go to your local public library and look at one. The detail of the maps is outstanding. The maps included in the magazines are fantastic as well. I can remember staring endlessly at a map of the world's ocean floors, included in an issue from the late 1980's or early 1990's. I was amazed at how the depths varied and how the ocean floor was contoured. I still have this map and to this day I am still enamored with the detail. Truly amazing.
I plan on being a lifetime contributor to the National Geographic Society. If they keep rewarding me with a monthly magazine of this caliber, I feel like I can't do enough to support them.
(On a side note...) Another very very entertaining part of reading old magazines, especially those from the 50's and 60's, are the advertisements. There were not as many as there are today, but you would regularly see ads for amazing color TV's, Chevrolet Corvettes for an MSRP of $3,700 or some ridiculous amount of money, and old Frigidaire (frost-free!!) refrigerators. Again, this proves that each issue is a time capsule in and of itself.