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The Explorers Club

A Visual Journey Through the Past, Present, and Future of Exploration

Edited by Jeff Wilser
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Hardcover
$35.00 US
7.3"W x 9.29"H x 1.04"D   | 35 oz | 12 per carton
On sale Nov 14, 2023 | 304 Pages | 978-1-9848-5998-3
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Discover the extraordinary history and thrilling frontiers of exploration with this gorgeously illustrated guide from The Explorers Club, the esteemed home of the world's most prominent explorers.

The discovery of the North and South Poles. The summiting of Everest. The moon landing. The (largely unknown) birth of climate change science. These are just some of the stories from The Explorers Club, the organization that, since its inception in 1904, has pushed the envelope of human curiosity.

This guided tour of The Club’s most riveting journeys includes hundreds of photos and fascinating anecdotes about The Club’s distinguished members, including Teddy Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong, and Jane Goodall. From the darkest depths of the ocean to the highest points on Earth and to outer space and beyond, this book shares not just the inspirational history of modern exploration, but also reveals how it has evolved and continues to be relevant—even urgent—today.
“Readers will be invigorated by these tales of against-the-odds grit and determination . . . which are accompanied by striking full-color photos, ship logs, and maps. Armchair adventurers, take note.”Publishers Weekly
The Explorers Club is a multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration and resource conservation. Headquartered in New York City with a community of Chapters around the world, they has been supporting scientific expeditions of all disciplines, and uniting our members in the bonds of good fellowship since 1904.
Introduction

The sign itself isn’t flashy. It’s easy to miss. At 46 East Seventieth Street, just two blocks from Central Park, hangs a plaque that says the explorers club.

Most people stroll right past this humble sign. But some are curious. They might notice a mysterious flag by the doorway—a flag not linked to any nation or city or state. Or they might spot the stained glass windows above, which look like they’re from Windsor Castle. (They are.) Or perhaps they see that the door itself is made of heavy wrought iron, the kind of imposing entrance that’s fit for a fortress.

Then they open the door.

And the moment you set foot inside The Explorers Club, you leave the streets of New York and enter a world that seems to exist in another dimension. It’s a place of history and adventure. A shrine to science and wonder. Over six creaky floors of this Neo-Jacobean mansion—impossibly larger than you would guess from the street—you’ll find a never-ending collection of treasures from the past: sixteenth-century maps, the books of Napoleon, flags from the Apollo astronauts.

And as you roam the halls, you might assume the Club is a kind of museum or dusty monument focused on old glories. There’s a bit of truth to that. The Club is proud of its past and its “Famous Firsts,” as its members have been the first to the North Pole, the first to the South Pole, the first to summit Everest, the first to the deepest point in the ocean, the first to the moon.

But look closer. And step further into the Club.

In the Members’ Lounge, perhaps at the bar, you’ll find something altogether different: modern-day explorers who are laughing, telling stories, exchanging ideas, collaborating, brainstorming, and plotting future missions. These are some of the Club’s 3,400 (and counting) active members—from more than sixty countries—who push the boundaries of human knowledge. They’re the true heartbeat of the Club. Which raises the question, “Just what, exactly, are modern explorers doing? What’s left to explore?” After all, the world is now well-mapped. We all carry a GPS in our pocket. As The Explorers Journal once put it, “Every so often someone asks us, ‘Isn’t exploration a more or less dead profession nowadays?’”

That was written in 1937.

At the time, to many, it seemed that exploration had indeed reached a culde-sac. The globe was complete. Even the North and South Poles had been discovered. What more could we possibly learn?

If explorers had then decided to close up shop, we never would have landed on the moon. We would not understand the scope of the galaxy. We would not have developed much of modern technology. We would not understand climate change.

Exploration wasn’t dead in 1937, but it did evolve. Since the Club was founded in 1904, exploration has shifted from a reckless streak of exploitation to a push for conservation, from a drive to conquer to an eagerness to collaborate, from a celebration of “adventuring” to a commitment to hard science, and from the gates of exclusion to a culture of inclusivity.

This book tells the story of that evolution across three eras of exploration:

Expanding the Maps: Chasing the Dragons
Breaking the Boundaries: Climbing Higher and Diving Deeper
Curiosity in Action: The New Golden Age of Exploration

For the name of the first era, we can thank an Explorers Club member who knew a thing or two about Famous Firsts. That would be John Glenn. In 2013, at the Club’s annual black-tie dinner, the astronaut gave a speech about exploration. He noted that back in the days of old-timey maps—the ones that showed the “known world”—the maps had dark edges on the sides, along with boiling pots of oil and warnings such as “There be dragons here.”

It was the explorer’s job to expand the map and push back the dragon. “Our whole history has been one of dragon-pushing,” Glenn said to his colleagues. “Pushing dragons back off the edge and filling in those gaps on the maps. And that is a key role that The Explorers Club has provided.”

By the 1920s, most of those dragons had been chased and pushed off the map. The globe was complete. Explorers switched their focus to daring experiments in manned balloons, airplanes, submersibles, and finally to rockets and space shuttles. They climbed higher in space, dived deeper in the ocean, and dived deeper into the science. Thus, the second era of exploration: breaking the boundaries by climbing higher, diving deeper.

And now it’s evolving once again.

“We’re entering a new golden age of exploration,” says Richard Garriott, the Club’s forty-fifth president. It’s an era in which Nina Lanza, a NASA scientist, uses a laser-shooting rover to search for life on Mars. For Lanza, exploration is not dead: “To me, exploration is almost synonymous with discovery, and it’s learning about our universe.” She notes that while exploration can still be physical—whether on other planets or deep in the ocean—it can also mean a deeper understanding of how the universe ticks. “Through exploration, we get to broaden the scope of our existence.”

In the new golden era, conservationists like Jane Goodall, Laurie Marker, and Callie Veelenturf study and protect endangered species. Other anthropologists, such as the linguist K. David Harrison, work to preserve indigenous cultures that are rapidly vanishing.

These are just a few of hundreds of examples. By crossing the vertical length of Africa on foot—from Cape Town to Cairo—eco-explorer Mario Rigby highlights cultures that are often misunderstood or overlooked. Justin Dunnavant, an “underwater archaeologist,” dives in the ocean to search for sunken slave ships, exposing truths about our past that help us understand our present. And Ed Lu, a former astronaut, is developing a defense system against extinction-level asteroids.

Exploration is needed for humanity to survive. And in some ways that has always been the mission. “Exploration has always been a survival tactic for human beings. It’s how to find shelter. It’s how to make fire,” says Edith Widder, an oceanographer who’s plumbing the depths of the sea. Her work suggests that bioluminescence—those brilliant underwater displays of fireworks—could be the key to unlocking the mysteries of the carbon cycle, a crucial link to global warming, and what she calls “a big part of the story of life.” It’s a story we need to better understand.

And exploration, ultimately, is how we do more than just survive—it’s how we thrive. It’s how we learn. How we grow and even how we think. The Club defines exploration as “curiosity acted upon,” and this curiosity is part of what makes us human. “Curiosity is our binding theme,” says Ted Janulis, a former Club president. Every explorer is curious about something and they’re driven to understand it. “It could be butterflies. It could be caves or mountains or valleys or the moon.”

All of us are curious. True, perhaps we haven’t been so consumed by curiosity that we climbed into a volcano or circumnavigated the globe in a hot-air balloon, but we all have the instinct. And it’s a trait that can be kindled.

That is why, finally, at its core, this book is meant to awaken the explorer in all of us. The stories of the people in this book can instruct us, teach us, inspire us. Whether a harrowing journey in the Arctic or a perspective-tilting trip to Tanzania or a voyage that could help bring us to Mars, the stories can nudge us to think differently, to restore our childlike wonder, and even to remember what it’s like to dream.

“Everyone is an explorer,” says Milbry Polk, a longtime Club member and author of Women of Discovery. “It’s in our genes. It’s part of the essence of being human.”

All of us are explorers.

So welcome to The Explorers Club.

Photos

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About

Discover the extraordinary history and thrilling frontiers of exploration with this gorgeously illustrated guide from The Explorers Club, the esteemed home of the world's most prominent explorers.

The discovery of the North and South Poles. The summiting of Everest. The moon landing. The (largely unknown) birth of climate change science. These are just some of the stories from The Explorers Club, the organization that, since its inception in 1904, has pushed the envelope of human curiosity.

This guided tour of The Club’s most riveting journeys includes hundreds of photos and fascinating anecdotes about The Club’s distinguished members, including Teddy Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong, and Jane Goodall. From the darkest depths of the ocean to the highest points on Earth and to outer space and beyond, this book shares not just the inspirational history of modern exploration, but also reveals how it has evolved and continues to be relevant—even urgent—today.

Praise

“Readers will be invigorated by these tales of against-the-odds grit and determination . . . which are accompanied by striking full-color photos, ship logs, and maps. Armchair adventurers, take note.”Publishers Weekly

Author

The Explorers Club is a multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration and resource conservation. Headquartered in New York City with a community of Chapters around the world, they has been supporting scientific expeditions of all disciplines, and uniting our members in the bonds of good fellowship since 1904.

Excerpt

Introduction

The sign itself isn’t flashy. It’s easy to miss. At 46 East Seventieth Street, just two blocks from Central Park, hangs a plaque that says the explorers club.

Most people stroll right past this humble sign. But some are curious. They might notice a mysterious flag by the doorway—a flag not linked to any nation or city or state. Or they might spot the stained glass windows above, which look like they’re from Windsor Castle. (They are.) Or perhaps they see that the door itself is made of heavy wrought iron, the kind of imposing entrance that’s fit for a fortress.

Then they open the door.

And the moment you set foot inside The Explorers Club, you leave the streets of New York and enter a world that seems to exist in another dimension. It’s a place of history and adventure. A shrine to science and wonder. Over six creaky floors of this Neo-Jacobean mansion—impossibly larger than you would guess from the street—you’ll find a never-ending collection of treasures from the past: sixteenth-century maps, the books of Napoleon, flags from the Apollo astronauts.

And as you roam the halls, you might assume the Club is a kind of museum or dusty monument focused on old glories. There’s a bit of truth to that. The Club is proud of its past and its “Famous Firsts,” as its members have been the first to the North Pole, the first to the South Pole, the first to summit Everest, the first to the deepest point in the ocean, the first to the moon.

But look closer. And step further into the Club.

In the Members’ Lounge, perhaps at the bar, you’ll find something altogether different: modern-day explorers who are laughing, telling stories, exchanging ideas, collaborating, brainstorming, and plotting future missions. These are some of the Club’s 3,400 (and counting) active members—from more than sixty countries—who push the boundaries of human knowledge. They’re the true heartbeat of the Club. Which raises the question, “Just what, exactly, are modern explorers doing? What’s left to explore?” After all, the world is now well-mapped. We all carry a GPS in our pocket. As The Explorers Journal once put it, “Every so often someone asks us, ‘Isn’t exploration a more or less dead profession nowadays?’”

That was written in 1937.

At the time, to many, it seemed that exploration had indeed reached a culde-sac. The globe was complete. Even the North and South Poles had been discovered. What more could we possibly learn?

If explorers had then decided to close up shop, we never would have landed on the moon. We would not understand the scope of the galaxy. We would not have developed much of modern technology. We would not understand climate change.

Exploration wasn’t dead in 1937, but it did evolve. Since the Club was founded in 1904, exploration has shifted from a reckless streak of exploitation to a push for conservation, from a drive to conquer to an eagerness to collaborate, from a celebration of “adventuring” to a commitment to hard science, and from the gates of exclusion to a culture of inclusivity.

This book tells the story of that evolution across three eras of exploration:

Expanding the Maps: Chasing the Dragons
Breaking the Boundaries: Climbing Higher and Diving Deeper
Curiosity in Action: The New Golden Age of Exploration

For the name of the first era, we can thank an Explorers Club member who knew a thing or two about Famous Firsts. That would be John Glenn. In 2013, at the Club’s annual black-tie dinner, the astronaut gave a speech about exploration. He noted that back in the days of old-timey maps—the ones that showed the “known world”—the maps had dark edges on the sides, along with boiling pots of oil and warnings such as “There be dragons here.”

It was the explorer’s job to expand the map and push back the dragon. “Our whole history has been one of dragon-pushing,” Glenn said to his colleagues. “Pushing dragons back off the edge and filling in those gaps on the maps. And that is a key role that The Explorers Club has provided.”

By the 1920s, most of those dragons had been chased and pushed off the map. The globe was complete. Explorers switched their focus to daring experiments in manned balloons, airplanes, submersibles, and finally to rockets and space shuttles. They climbed higher in space, dived deeper in the ocean, and dived deeper into the science. Thus, the second era of exploration: breaking the boundaries by climbing higher, diving deeper.

And now it’s evolving once again.

“We’re entering a new golden age of exploration,” says Richard Garriott, the Club’s forty-fifth president. It’s an era in which Nina Lanza, a NASA scientist, uses a laser-shooting rover to search for life on Mars. For Lanza, exploration is not dead: “To me, exploration is almost synonymous with discovery, and it’s learning about our universe.” She notes that while exploration can still be physical—whether on other planets or deep in the ocean—it can also mean a deeper understanding of how the universe ticks. “Through exploration, we get to broaden the scope of our existence.”

In the new golden era, conservationists like Jane Goodall, Laurie Marker, and Callie Veelenturf study and protect endangered species. Other anthropologists, such as the linguist K. David Harrison, work to preserve indigenous cultures that are rapidly vanishing.

These are just a few of hundreds of examples. By crossing the vertical length of Africa on foot—from Cape Town to Cairo—eco-explorer Mario Rigby highlights cultures that are often misunderstood or overlooked. Justin Dunnavant, an “underwater archaeologist,” dives in the ocean to search for sunken slave ships, exposing truths about our past that help us understand our present. And Ed Lu, a former astronaut, is developing a defense system against extinction-level asteroids.

Exploration is needed for humanity to survive. And in some ways that has always been the mission. “Exploration has always been a survival tactic for human beings. It’s how to find shelter. It’s how to make fire,” says Edith Widder, an oceanographer who’s plumbing the depths of the sea. Her work suggests that bioluminescence—those brilliant underwater displays of fireworks—could be the key to unlocking the mysteries of the carbon cycle, a crucial link to global warming, and what she calls “a big part of the story of life.” It’s a story we need to better understand.

And exploration, ultimately, is how we do more than just survive—it’s how we thrive. It’s how we learn. How we grow and even how we think. The Club defines exploration as “curiosity acted upon,” and this curiosity is part of what makes us human. “Curiosity is our binding theme,” says Ted Janulis, a former Club president. Every explorer is curious about something and they’re driven to understand it. “It could be butterflies. It could be caves or mountains or valleys or the moon.”

All of us are curious. True, perhaps we haven’t been so consumed by curiosity that we climbed into a volcano or circumnavigated the globe in a hot-air balloon, but we all have the instinct. And it’s a trait that can be kindled.

That is why, finally, at its core, this book is meant to awaken the explorer in all of us. The stories of the people in this book can instruct us, teach us, inspire us. Whether a harrowing journey in the Arctic or a perspective-tilting trip to Tanzania or a voyage that could help bring us to Mars, the stories can nudge us to think differently, to restore our childlike wonder, and even to remember what it’s like to dream.

“Everyone is an explorer,” says Milbry Polk, a longtime Club member and author of Women of Discovery. “It’s in our genes. It’s part of the essence of being human.”

All of us are explorers.

So welcome to The Explorers Club.