Behind the New National Geographic Family Atlas

Anna Brendle
for National Geographic News
December 6, 2002

Did you know that Chinese (Mandarin) is the widest-spoken language, with 885 million speakers? Or that the KVLY TV tower near Fargo, North Dakota, is 2,063 feet tall (629 meters) and is the world's tallest manmade structure? National Geographic's new Family Reference Atlas is packed with this kind of information in addition to more than 500 maps, illustrations, and photographs.

Showcasing the world's 192 countries, the atlas reveals economic, social, political, and cultural information about each nation and its region. The National Geographic Family Reference Atlas includes a geographic timeline spanning 4.5 billion years, maps of the ocean floor, a section on space, and a map of the worldwide distribution of Internet resources.

National Geographic News interviewed Bill Stoehr, President of National Geographic Maps, to find out what's new in this atlas and what the Society hopes to achieve by publishing it.

What makes the new Family Reference Atlas different from a traditional atlas of the world?

The layout of this atlas is completely different than anything we've done before. Imagine a traditional atlas—a book of maps—combined with National Geographic photographs, illustrations and stories. Plus it's smaller and easy for everyone to use.

This is the most up-to-date atlas available today. With any map or atlas, the day it's published is also the day that it becomes out of date because so many things are changing in the world. What's nice today is the ability to have a beautiful volume like the Family Reference Atlas and combine it with the Internet so that users of this book can go to National Geographic's Web site for updates on political boundaries and other changes that occur.

What is the book's strongest feature?

The book has a very large thematic map section, which depicts a wide range of topics such as world population, major religions and languages of the world as well as environmental issues. The idea is to present a wealth of information to people in a way that both engages them and motivates them to learn more about a particular subject.

More than 250 people contributed to this book over this past a year. The acknowledgements includes organizations such as the CIA, World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations. The Family Reference Atlas includes a full range of physical and political maps of the world, and its continents, as well as detailed regional maps. There is also a large section devoted to our oceans and space.

What makes this atlas more family-oriented than National Geographic's traditional atlas of the world?

It's easy to use, starting with the very first page of the atlas where it quickly directs you to your area of interest. It is more than a book of maps. The Family Reference Atlas combines colorful maps with stunning photographs and illustrations. It presents a lot of information all in one place without overwhelming readers. For instance, if you turn to one of the political maps of a particular region, you will see that it is surrounded by detailed maps as well as information specific to that region and the countries in it. This book was designed to appeal to middle school students and grandparents alike. It is truly a family product designed to stimulate the imagination.

National Geographic recently released the Roper survey of geographic literacy which illustrated Americans' poor knowledge of geography. National Geographic Society president John Fahey said it is a cultural crisis that Americans are so unfamiliar with the world around them. What is your reaction to the survey?

Continued on Next Page >>


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