Published: August 2006

Tom Abercrombie

Abercrombie Arabia

A Geographic Life

Some people dream of exotic adventures with National Geographic. Thomas J. Abercrombie lived that dream.

By Don Belt
National Geographic Senior Editor
Photograph by Tom Abercrombie

"Shortly after the National Geographic Society began publishing its journal more than a century ago, founder Alexander Graham Bell was asked what subject matter his new periodical would include. His reply: 'The world and all that is in it'—a tantalizingly broad mandate. Down through the years Lynn and I tried hard to follow it. We worked on every one of the continents and left wakes across the seven seas. The Geographic was witness to a century—arguably the most telling in human history—and we were fortunate to have spent nearly half of it there. Ours is a story—a picture story—of two people before whom was spread out the greatest of treasures: our planet Earth. For four decades we traveled aboard that magic carpet with the yellow border.

"Much of that world has changed since our days in the field—not always for the better. Many of the smiles we captured are no more—bleached by tourism, stricken with war, and battered by revolution. Multi-faith Lebanon is torn by sectarian anger; Saudi Arabia is constrained more than ever, as a government of wealthy princes faces off against its more fanatic citizens; Cambodia struggles to rid itself of a decades-long nightmare; Afghanistan bleeds from foreign invasions and its own medieval fundamentalists; Iran remains at loggerheads with the West; and Iraq lies in ashes. So, in a sense, my work records history as much as geography. As has often been said: The past is another country."


—Tom Abercrombie
May 2005
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