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”The best shots are the ones that seem impossible, that simply can’t be done,” says photographer Joel Sartore, a veteran of tough-to-shoot situations like Hurricane Andrew. Such miracles abound in the 113-year-old magazine’s gi-normous (and improbably affordable) best-of compilation. You get, for starters, Jupiter’s dragon-eyed Great Red Spot, a backflipping Bangladeshi buffalo herder, an SUV-size manta ray, shivering Japanese macaques, plus a sulking red-knobbed hornbill. And – would a National Geographic collection be complete without them? – topless native women from a variety of beautiful lands.

Originally posted December 19 2003 — 12:00 AM EST

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