Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

 

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A butterfly catcher on Bacan island, Indonesia, sorts his specimens, which he’ll sell in Bali. From there the butterflies are exported throughout Asia and on to collectors worldwide. From “Inside the murky world of butterfly catchers,” August 2018.

Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

 

National Geographic's best stories of 2018

From an epic and misguided attempt to summit K2 to a behind-the-scenes look at the man who literally unlocks the Vatican’s doors every morning, these are National Geographic editors’ favorite reads of the year.

Editors look back at the best National Geographic writing and storytelling of 2018. Here are some of their favorites.

"The idea of trading butterflies sounds quaint, almost Victorian. But in evocative language tailored to the delicate subject, Matthew Teague braids the perilous work of Indonesia’s butterfly hunters with reminders of his beloved wife, who died of cancer." -Peter Gwin, Senior Editor, Exploration and Adventure

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Two cavers swim in a pool at the deepest point of the world's deepest cave as team leader Pavel Demidov climbs up a rope. This pool rests at 7,257 feet (2,212 meters) below the surface. From “Epic flood sends cavers scrambling for their lives,” October 2018.

"From its gripping first sentence, this story grabs your attention and never lets go. It's a heart-pounding adventure whose main character—a rushing flood that threatens to kill a team of cavers in a remote region in the country of Georgia—is described in terrifying detail, but fortunately the team never meets it head-on." -David Brindley, Managing Editor

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Sputnik, the first satellite placed in orbit around the Earth. From “Dear Sputnik,” October 2018.

"With lyrical prose and a dry wit, renowned Russian journalist Anatoly Zak shares his personal memories of growing up with Sputnik and how it shaped his life and career." -Victoria Jaggard, Senior Editor, Science and Innovation

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"The real privilege is being able, every day, to walk through this and each day learn something new," says Gianni Crea, head key keeper of the Vatican Museums. "You’re walking through history and you read lessons that all the popes to this date have preserved." From “Meet the man with keys to the Vatican,” July 2018.

“Gulnaz Khan takes readers behind the scenes with Gianni Crea, head key keeper of the Vatican Museums. Crea begins each day in a bunker surrounded by thousands of keys that provide access to one of the world’s most visited and treasured collections. Khan’s narrative reminds us that art—in this case, Michelangelo's masterfully painted ceiling—has an enduring power to unite people regardless of faith.” -Christine Blau, Editorial Manager, Travel

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Sixteen hours into a transplant operation at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, surgeons finish the intricate task of removing the face from an organ donor. Awed by the sight and by the gravity of their work, the team falls suddenly silent as staff members document the face in between its two lives. The surgeons would spend 15 more hours attaching the face to Katie Stubblefield. From “Story of a face,” September 2018.

"Writer Joanna Connors and photographers Maggie Steeber and Lynn Johnson take readers into uncharted territory. The story of Katie Stubblefield’s face transplant opens with an unforgettable scene—a face on a medical tray. Nearly 9,000 words later, we remain captivated by this tale of hardship, resilience, and inspiration." -Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief

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A Bocon toadfish seems to pose for the camera. From “How 'ugly' toadfish compose their own strange love songs,” May 2018.

"There are grunts, boops, and whistles. Jason Bittel writes with humor and scientific precision about a slimy, squishy fish’s attempts to woo a partner." -Rachael Bale, Senior Editor, Animals

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Two closed-circuit television system operators monitor the control room, where they can watch images from the extensive camera network in the borough of Islington, London. The city's video surveillance helped solve the deadly 2005 terrorist bombings, which killed 52 people. From “They are watching you—and everything else on the planet,” February 2018.

“Do you have any idea how closely you are being monitored? More times than you realize, someone is watching you. This story by Robert Draper looks at this intrusive world we live in and its impact on our privacy. More than a hundred million new surveillance cameras are sold every year. The heavens are laced with more than 1,700 satellites that photograph the entire world, the skies are filling with millions of picture-taking drones, and nearly six billion people are walking around with cell-phone cameras.” -John Hoeffel, Executive Editor, Science

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Adélie colonies along the Antarctic peninsula’s western shores have collapsed as waters have warmed. But here on the peninsula’s northeast tip, winds and ocean currents keep waters a little cooler, and Adélies are thriving. From “The big meltdown,” November 2018.

"Craig Welch did a great job pulling together a huge topic—rapid change at the bottom of the world from global warming—into a compelling narrative. The character of Dion Poncet, who was born and spent most of his life in the region, served as a wonderful, human way into the story. Dion has seen many changes over the years in Antarctica, and he helps the reader see them through his eyes. Craig's story puts together complex topics of melting ice, rising seas, shifting weather and currents, and changes in animal patterns, all with a sense of the big picture.” -Brian Clark Howard, Senior Editor, Environment

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An Arabian show horse peers over its door at the Seeb Royal Cavalry in Muscat, Oman. From “Riding the horse that ruled the world: A true Arabian tale,” 2018.

"Peter Gwin's tale of riding an Arabian horse in Oman has all the elements of an excellent adventure story come together: destination (a fascinating place and culture rendered vividly through the power of words); discovery (how these horses were perfected in Arabia, prized by Bedouins, and historically significant); diversion (are the author's storytelling strides side notes or central to the story?); and drama (will the author survive his wild ride?). Peter's story does what travel stories should: It makes you want to go there. And something more: It makes you want to go there with him." -George Stone, Editor in Chief, Travel

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Two stars at the popular stunt-fighting smackdowns at the Sanctuary in Hazelton have created an act that makes sport of tensions between the old and the new Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Jason Dougherty wears a U.S. flag bandanna, while the reigning local champion, Marcelino Cabrera, sports trunks displaying the flag of the Dominican Republic. From “As America changes, some anxious whites feel left behind,” April 2018.

“Writer Michele Norris captured the increasing anxiety among whites in the working-class community of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where a booming number of Latino residents has led some whites to feel that their culture and their standing in society are under threat. It's a sentiment Michele also documents in places such as New Orleans, which has been tangled up in debates over the removals of Confederate monuments. Michele's story hits on a theme of ‘privilege lost’ that is at the forefront of today's discussions about race in America. -David Lindsey, Executive Editor, Text

"Neil Shea did a great job weaving a geopolitical and environmental thriller for the current age. With ice melting at the top of the world, nations are jockeying for position in strategic waters, with potentially dire consequences. Neil shines a light on this cold, remote part of the world with writing that is brisk and topical, while providing historical and geographical context to help readers understand how we got here." -Brian Clark Howard, Senior Editor, Environment

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Many people think of Europe as sitting directly across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States, when it is actually farther to the north. From “Why your mental map of the world is (probably) wrong,” November 2018.

"If you think you have a good sense of world geography, this delightful read will likely surprise you. For instance, we all know South America is south of North America. Think again!" -David Brindley, Managing Editor

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Two women revel at a Hindu Holi celebration in Richmond Hill, a Queens, New York, neighborhood popular with people of Indian descent from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. From “How South Asian Americans are building a new American Dream,” September 2018.

“The immigrant experience is an old story, but Yudhijit Bhattacharjee tells a very new and very different version in this story about the stunningly quick rise of South Asian immigrants in America. Largely from India, well-educated, and fluent in English, this fast-growing group has become highly visible, notching significant success in fields like entertainment, science and medicine, high tech, business and now politics.” -John Hoeffel, Executive Editor, Science

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Artur Malek makes his way along the fixed ropes from Camp 1 to Camp 2 on the Cesen Spur route on K2. From “Climber breaks from team, attempts and abandons solo ascent of 'savage mountain,'” February 2018.

"Last December a team of nail-tough Poles set off to Pakistan. They were determined to claim the last remaining great mountaineering challenge: to finally summit K2 in winter. But then all hell broke loose." -Peter Gwin, Senior Editor, Exploration and Adventure

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After sheets of clear plastic trash have been washed in the Buriganga River, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Noorjahan spreads them out to dry, turning them regularly— while also tending to her son, Momo. The plastic will eventually be sold to a recycler. Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the U.S. it’s less than 10 percent. From “We made plastic. We depend on it. Now we’re drowning in it,” June 2018.

"Writer Laura Parker and photographer Randy Olson travel the world to tell the story of plastic, exploring how a lifesaving invention has become a problem of immense proportion in just over two generations. Unlike any single story I’ve read, this one piece, through words, photographs, graphics and maps, helped me understand the scope of the plastic apocalypse — and the complexity of solving it." -Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief