Take 122 years of National Geographic history and distill the most amazing people, places, and things and you'll get something like Melina Gerosa Bellows' book Nat Geo AMAZING! Together with a new television series on the National Geographic Channel, the book reveals the wacky and whimsical wonders of the world. From the discovery of a 2,300-year-old peat bog mummy to the heart-pounding story of a man escaping the jaws of death in the shark-infested waters of Dangerous Reef, Australia (yes, that's its well-deserved name), to the heartwarming tale of friendship between a tiger and a pig, Nat Geo AMAZING! has it all.
Lovers of the weird and the wonderful - isn't that all of you Neatoramanauts? - rejoice: not only did Neatorama get a glimpse of the book and TV series, we've also got 4 copies of the book to give away (more on that later). First, here are some of the neat things you'll find in Nat Geo AMAZING!
"That's the balance between life and death, and that is where life is"
- Eskil Ronningsbakken
Most of us seek balance in our lives, but few of us have turned it into an art form. Eskil Ronningsbakken is the exception, perfecting it even over troubled waters ... on a tight-rope thousands of feet in the air. Sometimes he is on a bicycle, sometimes he is on his feet; often times he is upside down. Occasionally he glides above solid ground, dangling from a hot air balloon.
"Other people might see this as stupid, but to me it's about being free and able to do what I want in my life," says the Norwegian, who has been performing for the past decade. Ronningsbakken is taking that message to the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, and the young Africans who live there. By teaching them acrobatics, he hopes to inspire lifelong confidence. "As a professional balancer," he explains, "you've got to be able to overcome fear. You've got to be at total peace with yourself."
Taking A Spin
It's every armchair traveler's fantasy: a changing landscape without having to leave the comforts of one's home. Architect David Fisher has designed a 200-apartment building in Dubai where each of the 80 floors rotates individually, taking in the views of the city in a one-hour orbit.
The building is luxurious - a drive-in elevator allows owners of the apartments, which range in price from $3 million to $30 million, to park outside their doors - but it's also smart: Fisher's Dynamic Tower, as it is called, is the first 100 percent self-powered green building with the ability to generate electricity using horizontal wind turbines and solar panels. Those who wish to live here but suffer from motion sickness need not despair: A voice-activated control allows owners to instruct the floors when to take a spin.
Learn To Think Like A Kung Fu Master
"War and peace" takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the 1,500-year-old martial art of Shaolin kung fu. But what seems like a mass of contradictions to a Western mind - except, perhaps to fans of David Carradine in Kung Fu - is perfectly sensible to the monks who practice the discipline.
To wit: Practice meditation to keep your mind quiet at all times, even when breaking an iron bar over your head or using your hand to cut through a two-by-four like a chain saw.
Still deeper: Accept that only through understanding violence can you avoid it. If violence cannot be avoided, parry only with the force initiated by the attacker, in essence taking the intent of harm and "returning it to sender." Even if it's a battle to the death, you are merely avoiding another's attempt to inflict pain on you.
Needless to say, nailing these simple truths means that situations that cause stress to the less enlightened become nonissue for the monks. Take stage fright. The monks pictured here tour the world performing their combination of acrobatics and fighting skills for audiences. Photographer Philipp Horak, who tagged along to document them, said they keep their cool at all times. "You'd think they would have to prep and concentrate before a show," says Horak, "But they go to a Chinese restaurant at 6 p.m., eat so much they feel bad, and then perform."
Shooting The Curl
Ask surfer and photographer Scott Aichner about the allure of riding the waves, and he sounds like a man in love: "You feel at peace with the Earth, and everything is just perfect," he says.
Capturing other people riding the barrel, on the other hand - as he did here with fellow surfer Angelo Lozano in Mexico - is not a mellow experience. Aichner dons a pair of snorkeling fins and then waits - treading water, holding his camera, and hoping for the perfect shot. Being in the right place at the right time - a surfer can ride the barrel for an average of only four seconds - can mean Aichner may stay in the ocean for up to three hours at a time (he trains for these marathon swims by running). The photographer, who has surfed since he was ten years old, says understanding the ocean and the conditions is crucial, since catching the perfect ride (and the perfect picture) depends on all of the elements coming together.
As an artist, Aichner admits he must make personal sacrifices: There are plenty of days he wishes he were the one on the surfboard, rather than bobbing on the surface watching others side the waves. "Surfing is my first love, and photography is my second. But I'm a better photographer than I am a surfer." Still, he jumps at any chance he can to ride the barrel himself, a thrill he admits can be daunting. "It's a controlled fear," he says. "Riding the currents is like merging on to the freeway when there's a semi in front of you and another one behind you. You just get in the flow of things and know everything will work out. Or, you prepare for controlled destruction."
Forget those special glasses with the red and blue lenses - all German artist Edgar Mueller needs to create a 3-D image is a slab of cement and some chalk.
Mueller, who began practicing street art when he was 16, is in a whole different league from those who take to the sidewalk with a piece of chalk. Creating his art for festivals around the world, Mueller works with as many as five assistants and for as long as five days to complete his images. Perspective is everything, both for the artist and the viewers: Stand in the wrong place, and you'll see only streaks of paint. But look from the correct vantage point, and the street will suddenly seem to rise and fall with the images of glaciers, caves, waterfalls, even the apocalypse. "Close one eye when you look," counsels Mueller, "and it's even better."
From the Archives, circa 1920, Vincennes, Indiana
This looks like one hairy situation. A bee-keeper in Vincennes, Indiana, circa 1920, let a swarm of the insects cover his face to demonstrate the peaceful nature of honeybees.
Honeybees, 1 of approximately 20,000 known species of the insect, rarely sting when they are away from their hive. Come too close to their home base, and you risk a swarm: The pheromones released by one bee's sting alert the others to arm themselves for battle. But keepers breed for docility, and stings are infrequent for those who handle their charges with care.
Honeybees, which pollinate about one-third of the food Americans eat - from fruit and vegetables to grains - are on the wane. The White House has 60,000 honey-making bees, but there are only about 1,000 mass honey-producing beekeepers in the United States. Enthusiasts say if amateurs kept even one hive, that would help keep the world buzzing.
Burn and Crash
Greg Carpenter was ten years old when he set his first car on fire. So perhaps it was inevitable that he would grow up to become Dr. Danger, a stuntman and thrill seeker. "I do the flaming car thing real, real good," says Carpenter, also a songwriter.
For this particular act, he ignites a car with 20 to 30 gallons of gas and drives it into a pile of junk cars, exiting at precisely the right moment. But the day this photograph was published, Carpenter performed the same trick with a different result: The car crashed and the seat belt pulverized his intestines. He was given a 5 percent chance of survival, but 21 days later, he was back at work.
"As a child, I used to wonder what I would do in a battle. Would I have hidden, or gone behind enemy lines?" he says. "I think I've figured out I would have gone behind enemy lines."
This somber shot was caught by photographer Monica Szczupider when she was volunteering at Cameroon's Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, which saves chimps orphaned by the bush meat trade. "Because the chimps saw us taking away Dorothy [pictured here], we decided to let them watch as we buried her, so they would perhaps understand she would not be returning," says Szczupider. "Almost all of them have watched their mothers die, so it was the least we could do for them."
Szczupider says that none of the human witnesses were surprised by the fact of the animals' grief, but says, "I was shocked by the manner in which they grieved. Many of them were so quiet. Chimps are so vocal, and easily distracted. To see them so focused on Dorothy, silently, was humbling. It was their grieving process, and it was an honor to be a part of it."
For humans, the grieving process is so painful that simply the act of watching other people go through it elicits our empathy. No wonder, then, that our witnessing this rare sight in the animal kingdom can't help but make us anthropomorphize.
Freezing temperatures, insane heights, the threat of death ... what's not to love? An ice-climbing junkie, Cameron Lawson took this photograph of climbing buddy Tim Wagner dangling from Utah's Upper Bridal Veil Falls. Though he swears that for the experienced it's not as scary as it looks, even Lawson took a fall last year after 20 years of practicing.
"Climbers fall all the time, but with ice climbing, you have spikes on your boots, axes in your hand, and sharp things around your waist, plus the last ice screw that secures you is 20 feet below you, which means you're actually falling 40 feet," he says. Needless to say, "Your relationship with your climbing buddies are really intense, because your life actually depends on them." Tennis, anyone?
It looks like this man is running the wrong way. But for a select few, the eye of the storm is exactly where they want to be.
Engineer Tim Samaras, photographed here by Carsten Peter, is a tornado chaser. Samaras spends months each year searching for the perfect tornado, a meteorological phenomenon still only partially understood by scientists. Driving a van outfitted with six probes designed to measure a tornado's wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature, Samaras hopes to plant his teammates - Peter, Pat Porter, and the rest of a team from National Geographic - in the path of the funnel. For his part, Peter wants to be the first photographer to film the inside of a tornado.
Approximately 1,000 of these destructive rotating columns of air tear through the United States every year, more than any other country in the world. Strong tornadoes can create winds that blow up to 205 miles an hour, their damage paths extending as far as 1 mile wide and 50 miles long. About 40 percent of these are those that touch down in the central Plains states from March through July, when cool, dry air from the Rocky Mountains mingles with warm, damp undercurrents from the Gulf of Mexico.
Samaras and Peter aren't alone in their tornado obsession. A thriving tourist industry devoted to eyewitnessing the storms has grown up in "Tornado Alley," a belt that runs between South Dakota and Texas. Those who want to thrill at the howling winds can book a vacation with companies, such as Storm Chasing Adventure Tours, that bring gawkers to places where the extreme storms are most frequent. Says Stephen Hondanish, a lightning specialist with the National Weather Service whom the team met during their expedition, "Everyone can read weather maps now. The information is shared. We don't hide it. So we all know where to go." But as Anton Seimon, a geographer and storm chaser who traveled with the National Geographic team, says, "The tornado has become the black hole of meteorology. We really don't know how it works."
For Samaras's team, chasing tornadoes has become their own fraught wild-goose chase, with two seasons spent enduring bad weather that was not quite bad enough to qualify for their purposes, prompting Samaras to say, "We should hire ourselves out as storm-prevention people. Everywhere we go, the storms fizzle out." Then, the third spring season, they are finally in the right place at the right time - in this case, Manchester, South Dakota, where a half-mile-wide twister set down on the town of just six people, raising roofs, rearranging walls, displacing sheds, but luckily killing no one. One couple sought refuge in their bathtub; a neighbor was pulled by the winds right through the wall of his trailer home. Resident Rex Geyer lost his two-story farmhouse in a flash. "There was nothing left, no trees, no house, no nothing, "he says. "Just the foundation picked clean."
For Carsten Peter, the moment he had waited for was as dramatic as he had hoped, but equally unsettling. "It's an eerie situation," he says. "First, this beautiful, perfect structure comes towards you and then there's this smooth, rushing noise, and then everything is eaten up - everything. Power poles are sucked up out of the ground, all the steel wires are ripped off the metal fences, and the fences are blown down flat, leaving nothing but a pristine meadow. It's really crazy."
The Incredible Story of the Bond-Like Submersible Car
James Bond seems to have it all: adventure, sophistication .. and in The Spy Who Loved Me, even a car turned submarine. Inspired by that Lotus Esprit, the Swiss company Rinspeed has designed the SQuba, built at a cost of $1.5 million and holding the record for being the first fully submersible car. After the driver dons breathing gear and heads for the deep, this sporty-looking open-topped automobile floats until a door is opened to allow water in to help it sink. On land, the car goes about 77 mph, while it slows to about 3 mph on the surface. Once submerged, the car-boat, which battery powered so it has no emissions, can be driven to a depth of 33 feet at about 1.8 mph, rendering the choice of "sink or swim" irrelevant.
Bonus: Boxing with Cobras
From the Nat Geo AMAZING! TV Series, here's a village in Thailand where the inhabitants not only live side-by-side with king cobras, they also fight them in the ring!
The Book: Nat Geo AMAZING!
Nat Geo Amazing! is National Geographic as you've never seen it before - a celebration of the world's 100 most fascinating people, places, and things, showcased in a large-format, full-color paperback. Nat Geo AMAZING! has no trouble grabbing your attention and never letting go. This 192-page collection of the world's most fascinating information is the must-have companion to the new National Geographic Channel series launched in July 2010.
Available at: Amazon
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About the Author
Melina Gerosa Bellows is the executive vice president of Children’s Publishing at National Geographic. She oversees the Children’s Book Division and serves as editor in chief of National Geographic Kids, the largest children’s magazine in America with a circulation of 1.2 million. The magazine has nearly 20 international editions.
Bellows’ first National Geographic book, “Nat Geo AMAZING! 100 People, Places, and Things That Will Wow You” is the companion book to “Nat Geo AMAZING!”, a 10-part television series that will debut on the National Geographic Channel in July 2010.
Win a Free Copy of the Nat Geo AMAZING! Book
Our friends at the National Geographic are kind enough to provide us with 4 Nat Geo AMAZING! Book. Instruction: To enter, visit the Nat Geo AMAZING! website, watch some amazing video clips (all episodes guide) and then tell us in the comment below your favorite video clip/image/story and why. Four best comments win. One entry per person, please! Good luck!Update 8/5/10 - Turns out I have 5 to give away, so congratulations to Tyson, Samuel, Katherine, sano2pop, and holly4 who got the free book!