A fine, wide-ranging anthology from the pages of one of the world's most popular magazines. National Geographic has for a century cultivated an austere, formal image as a heavily illustrated but scholarly vehicle for conveying knowledge about the planet and its peoples. Its staff, writes former editor-at-large McCarry (Second Sight, 1991) in his good-natured introduction, was considerably less austere, to the point of being eccentric and even somewhat dangerous, qualities that sometimes escaped the printed page. The editors saw to that, imposing the somber personality of the magazine on its contributors; even so, McCarry notes, ``whatever the editorial climate, several generations of Geographic writers doggedly continued to turn out prose that was mostly literate and entertaining.'' After addressing the history of the bare native breast and the quirks of longtime helmsmen Gilbert and Melville Grosvenor (the former instructed an editor never to accept any contribution by one Magoffin, whose ``ways are not our ways''), among other matters, McCarry proceeds to offer a well-considered sampling of material drawn from issues over Geographic's 109-year run. Much of the material is new or very recent, including Barry Lopez's luminous essay on the California desert and David Remnick's perilous travels through the new, mafia-overrun Russia. Other pieces are decades old, but they have historical and literary interest that keeps them from seeming too dated--even when correspondent Theodore Roosevelt refers knowingly to Nairobi, Kenya, as ``a town of perhaps 5,000 to 6,000 people'' and combat journalist David Douglas Duncan easily writes of ``hurling bombs with a mighty shout into Jap faces.'' The mix of old and new, coupled with McCarry's wry commentary, makes for a constantly edifying reader.