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Author: Matthew Goodman
Summary: On November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly, the crusading young female reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper, left New York City by steamship on a quest to break the record for the fastest trip around the world. Also departing from New York that day—and heading in the opposite direction by train—was a young journalist from The Cosmopolitan magazine, Elizabeth Bisland. Each woman was determined to outdo Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in less than eighty days. The dramatic race that ensued would span twenty-eight thousand miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors’ lives forever.
Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland both pushed the envelope for what woman were permitted to do in the strictly male world of journalism in the late 1880s. They were famous in their day, for their reporting as well as for their race around the world, but are almost forgotten now. Matthew Goodman has tried to remedy that by writing an exhaustive description of both the race and the time period in which they lived. He also briefly outlines the events of the rest of their lives. Unfortunately the story often gets lost beneath the wealth of detail Goodman includes. At times I lost track of Nellie and Elizabeth and felt like I was reading a history tome about life in the last decades of the Victorian era.
I recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a comprehensive analysis of each woman’s trip around the world- or a look at urban life during this period.
Read Also: For a more compelling story about New York in the late 1880s, I would recommend a historical novel (with appearances by lots of characters drawn from real life) by Caleb Carr, particularly The Alienist.
This was great! It is a really engaging nonfiction book following two very interesting women. That alone would be enough for me to recommend it but the author goes further and uses the structure of the race and the movement around the globe to give you all sorts of interesting information: the importance of trains to how we keep time, the impact the telegraph had on the world, bits of British information, etc. You get a fascinating look at what it was like to be a woman at the end of the nineteenth century and a journalist. I particularly liked the descriptions of New York and San Francisco in 1889. At each stop along the way, Matthew Goodman gives you both Nellie and Elizabeth’s opinions and impressions of where they are and the things they see. It was amusing to see how much they differed.
The writing is fast-paced and not pedantic, in keeping with the story of a race. Because the women are moving in opposite directions, it’s difficult to get a feeling for who is going to win but I ended up really caring about the outcome–I was good and didn’t look it up on the internet before I finished. I definitely recommend this (although I really do hate the cover). It would also be a great gift.
Megan V. Bio
In Eighty Days, Matthew Goodman aquatints his readers with the story of Elizabeth Bisland and Nellie Bly’s race to circumnavigate the world. Goodman does an excellent job of painting a picture of what life was like in America during the late 1800s, not only in terms of the struggles and roadblocks women faced in their pursuit of equality with men in the workplace, but of the state of the country post Civil War, and the enormous advances in technology that occurred at that time. The reader is given a wealth of detail about each woman and her surroundings, which enables the reader to feel part of the story, instead of reading like a history book.
I enjoyed learning about Bly and Bisland, and a piece of history I had never heard before. I was caught up in their race and the different approach each woman took to not only venturing on their trip, but in their journalist work.
While Goodman’s Eighty Days is an enjoyable read, it is one that requires time and attention.