To attract readers, Grosvenor would have to change the public’s attitude towards geography, which he knew was regarded “one of the dullest of all subjects, something to inflict upon schoolboys and avoid in later life.” The Society’s key to success, a popular approach to geography, was missing.
He began by studying other geographic journals then being published by geographic societies throughout the world. He next turned to those books in which geography played an important part, books that have endured like Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast, Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, and Herodotus’s travels, written 2000 years before. What was there in Herodotus’s History, Grosvenor wrote, “that gave the book such life that it had survived 20 centuries and was still going strong?” What did those geographic books to which readers had returned again and again have in common?
The answer, Grosvenor became convinced, was that “each with an accurate, eyewitness, first hand account. Each contained simple, straightforward writing – writing that sought to make pictures in the readers mind.”
– The National Geographic Society: 100 Years of Adventure and Discovery pg. 42