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A description of the global properties of simply-connected spaces that are non-positively curved in the sense of A. D. Alexandrov, and the structure of groups which act on such spaces by isometries. The theory of these objects is developed in a manner accessible to anyone familiar with the rudiments of topology and group theory: non-trivial theorems are proved by concatenating elementary geometric arguments, and many examples are given. Part I provides an introduction to the geometry of geodesic spaces, while Part II develops the basic theory of spaces with upper curvature bounds. More specialized topics, such as complexes of groups, are covered in Part III.