On November 14, 1889, two young female journalists raced against one another, determined to outdo Jules Verne's fictional hero and circle the globe in less than 80 days. The dramatic race that ensued would span 28,000 miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors' lives forever.
Author Matthew Goodman has done excellent research, including, in addition to biographical information about the racing journalists, descriptions of points of interest they visited and sidelights on their trip. An example of one of these sidelights is the story of John J. Jennings, an editor of the New York World newspaper which also employed Bly. Sent to escort her on the last leg of her journey from San Francisco to New York, he was forced by snow and ice to abandon his railroad car and trek perilously across the mountains on skis to fulfill his assignment. Organizing the extensive and disparate information that went into "Eighty Days" must have been difficult, but Goodman has accomplished this masterfully. The book is at once readable, entertaining, engrossing, and informative.
Unlike other reviewers who knew little about Bly and less about Bisland, I knew exactly who they were (and who reached New York first) because fifty-odd years ago I read a children's book about their journeys. I was delighted to encounter this account of their travels and to renew my acquaintance with these two adventuresome women. I would highly recommend "Eighty Days" to readers who are interested in women's history, late-nineteenth-century travel, or biography.
* A description of the world in 1889. Despite apparently ample time spent relaxing on trains and deck chairs, neither Nellie Bly nor Elizabeth Bisland seems to have invested much effort reporting on what they observed as they travelled around the world. What an opportunity wasted! If this is one reason you’re considering reading the book, don’t even bother.
* A deeper admiration for "female womanhood". Though the author claims this was one of the outcomes of the adventure, I can't say I was terribly impressed by either women. Their arrangements were made solely by men, and when last-minute changes had to be made, often it was men who saw to this as well. In short, pretty much all our intrepid "globe-girdlers" had to do was show up at the right stations at the right times. Not exactly a bold statement of female intelligence or resourcefulness.
* A deeper understanding of what made Nellie Bly "tick". The author seems content to take her at her word, but I found this highly unsatisfying as Nellie Bly was above all a storyteller, not above tailoring the details of her story to suit her audience; therefore, we really can't trust what she says about herself or her motives. Would have loved insight into the extent to which her legitimate boldness stemmed from journalistic zeal, a risk-taking nature, a determination to defy stereotype, and/or simple necessity – she was the family’s sole breadwinner, after all.
It would appear that this is one of those instances where the myth really does trump reality, a fact that Matthew Goodman cannot entirely overcome despite his narrative zeal. Indeed, maybe a little LESS narrative zeal might have been more appropriate. Feel like the author spent way too much time speculating what the women were "probably" feeling at each step along the way, which irked me because his speculations appeared to be based on guesswork rather than any actual data and because his “speculations” often felt stale and stereotypical.
Ironically, I now find myself both overwhelmed with detail about the journey itself, but craving to know more about the true sentiments and sensations of the women who undertook it.
The book shifts back and forth between Bly and Bisland, but as their journey progresses Goodman sees fit to fill in the background of the story, giving their trip context, which is good and very interesting, but it overwhelms the story of the two women at times.
You learn quite a lot about women in journalism, the newspapers of New York City and their owners and editors; steamship lines and their owners and ships and schedules and crossing times and about railroads not only in America, but in Europe as well, including the outfitting of railroad cars, the service onboard and the history of the rail companies.
You learn how much coal a steamship uses and how much a train uses. You learn about the Chinese laborers who built the railroads in America, the anti-Chinese feelings in America and the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act. You learn about Pittsburgh and New Orleans. You meet Joseph Pulitzer in America and Jules Verne in France. And, you experience the pervasive influence of the British Empire throughout the world.
The only information I would have like to have had, but which wasn't there, was a map showing the routes of the two women as well as the route of Phileas Fogg in Verne's novel.
As the book progresses you also learn about the character of the two women.
Since the day I acquired one of the McLoughlin Brothers 'Round the World with Nellie Bly' games, Bly has always held a fascination for me. I had never even heard of Elizabeth Bisland yet, when I read "Eighty Days", I found Bisland to be the one I was cheering for. It was Bisland who seemed to most appreciate the variety that the world showed her. It was she who most appreciated the experience the trip had offered her.
Not leaving any details of the story untold, Goodman also tells us about the lives of these two women after the race is over from 1890 to their deaths in 1922 (Bly) and 1929 (Bisland).
The book is informative, well researched, carefully documented and thorough with numerous photographs. It is an excellent treatment of this amazing event in our history that so few people know about. What this book is not however, is a compelling book that reads like an adventure novel. It is not "Around the World in 80 Days in a Skirt".
Eighty Days is full of trivia about the state of the British Empire in 1889, the changing status of women (especially women in the workplace), travel accommodations of the Late Victorian period, and the amazing variety of people and places seen in 'eighty days'. One of Goodman's strengths is that he fills his text with sumptuous detail, adding a 'just like you were there!' experience to the suspense of the race. The reader cares more about the journey than the conclusion.
I enjoyed the personages encountered by the reporters more than the reporters themselves. Goodman takes extended asides from the main narrative of the two women, which probably improves the book considerably. Neither of the two female reporters are thoroughly likeable, so the revolving cast of secondary characters provides relief from their stories.
Goodman's use of a variety of primary source material (all cited at the back) ratchets up the quality of this book as a nonfiction resource on travel or Victorian society, but sometimes his interest in preserving the informative quality creates some very boring asides largely irrelevant to the narrative. On the whole though, this was an entertaining work.
Alternate chapters describe Bly and Bisland's experiences as they circuit the world, Bly in a race against the fictional Phileas Fogg and Bisland in a race against Bly's time. (For weeks Nellie Bly was unaware that another woman was attempting to beat her time.) Readers are treated to occasional side trips into background information about trains, steamships, or the history of particular locations without losing the momentum of the race against the calendar.
The women had a lot in common, but their personalities were very different. It may be hard for most readers not to pick a favorite. I would prefer Elizabeth Bisland as a travel companion. Nellie Bly had some rough edges to her personality and shaded the truth when it suited her. I would have grown tired of her company long before the end of the journey.
Both women wrote accounts of their journeys, and Goodman used both books as sources for his own account of their trips. However, he also had access to contemporary newspaper accounts and information from archival materials of which Bly and Bisland had no knowledge. In this case, the whole (Goodman's book) really is greater than the sum of its parts (Bly's and Bisland's accounts). Highly recommended for readers with an interest in the Gilded Age, the history of journalism and women journalists, and all armchair travelers.
This review is based on an electronic advanced readers copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
Highly recommend for any history lover!
In November 1889. the New York World added a bit of a complication in sending a young woman reporter called Nellie Bly across the globe. Competition among the New York media meant that another newspaper sent its own female reporter called Elizabeth Bisland on the journey but in the opposite direction. The story's excitement suffers from the fact that both trips were rather uneventful. The two women were essentially like parcels on steamers whose location is tracked across the globe. The only minor mishaps occur during the transfers.
The book is well written, though I would have preferred if the author had let the women speak more themselves instead of summing up and commenting on them. Let the sources talk - these are reporters after all. While the two ladies traveled across the globe, their mode of transport did not allow them to discover it, most of the time was spent in first class on the most modern steam ships of their day.
Even a Bly fan such as myself had to admit almost no knowledge of Ms. Bisland. Her life makes a wonderful counterpoint to the tales of the brash and adventurous Bly. I had no idea, for example, that she was friends with Lafcadio Hern, nor that her journey could've easily out-paced Ms. Bly's. The meteorlogical knowledge her boss applied in structuring her journey made the race all the more compelling. The fact Ms. Bisland was a relcutant convert to such travels makes her voice quite different from that of Ms. Bly's - and therefore provides a distinctly different lense through which to view the period.
Of these writers, the one that perhaps emerges on top is Matthew Goodman himself. His story-telling skills are on full display here and he shows a good eye for detail. He picks up on the differences that might've jumped out the most to anyone from our era (the Statue of Liberty would still be its original bronze color as Ms. Bly sailed past) and those that would've felt like they could've happened yesterday (the patriotic stirring when an American sees their flag for the first time after weeks away is something any prodigal American could tell you about).
In short: this book is an excellent primer on the world, New York City, journalism, feminism, the emerging concept of media stardom, and The World (Pulitzer's paper) at a unique time in their respective histories. It is also an engrossing, detailed, fast-paced read.
The story is fine. The writing bogged down. It got to be a drudge. Details are good. There were just so many that it because a real slog to get through the book.
If you want a lot of information about these two and their trips, this would definitely provide that. However, be ready for a long, slow read.
I did, however, enjoy these digressions. I prefer narrative non-fiction to be approximately half about events and half about specific people involved, with a dash of social commentary on the side. This book was just the right mix of those elements. The book was made more interesting by the very different personalities of the two women and the different tourist activities they each made time for. These differences meant that even when the two women stopped in the same ports, their stories were never redundant. I found this a light, enjoyable read and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction and adventure stories, as well as readers who enjoy travel memoirs.
While Goodman takes some necessary side trips, he mainly follows the path of Bly and Bisland in alternating chapters. It’s an intriguing combination of travelogue and social history, showing how women were treated in work and travel, and American view to citizens of foreign countries.
The differences and parallels between Bly & Bisland’s journeys are surprising. Bly heads east and Bisland west, thinking to avoid the winter storms in the western U.S. Both encounter very harsh winter storms, with Bly facing 15-20 foot snowdrifts that force a change of route, and Bisland facing hurricane force winds that slow the ship down significantly.
The journeys were widely publicized in large part thanks to a contest by the World for a trip around the world, in which almost a million entries were sent in. This contest did force the public’s attention away from Bisland.
Who won? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out. But it shouldn’t take Eighty Days.
Definitely will re-read and recommend to friends!
What made the experience of reading this book even better was the fact that when I received it, I didn't anticipate enjoying it. Wasn't my subject matter of choice, cover looked boring, I don't know. But boy, was I wrong. Eighty Days is fascinating read that gives you a wonderful glimpse of the late 19th century. It touches on a variety of socio-political issues such as British colonialism and views on women, and it really helps you understand how very different the world was back then - no airplanes, only trains and steamships, no internet or television, just telegrams and newspapers. I enjoyed the writing style immensely. Even though this book isn't much of a thriller, at some points I could not stop turning the pages because I absolutely needed to know what happened next; Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland went through some pretty harrowing experiences (this book reads like fiction sometimes even though it's not!) I'm so glad that the experiences of these two extraordinary women are being showcased once again. I'm making all my friends read this book ASAP!
This review was based on an advanced reader's edition.
I have heard the name Nellie Bly before but did not know anything about her or her famous race around the world. Matthew Goodman did a good job making it feel alive. The back of the book is around 75 pages of acknowledgments,notes and sources of where he got his information from.
A few days ago I got a surprise in the mail copy of Matthew Goodman's book Eighty days and a copy of Jules Verne book Around the world in eighty days. Which I have heard of but have not read. I am not sure how come I recieved the books. I enter a lot of contests,get books from Librarything,goodreads and Netgalley. I later got a digital copy of Eight Days so I was reading from book to listening on my kindle to reading the book. Either way the story was interesting. I would love to be able to do that even today. Except I would be more like Elizabeth and take more than one dress. Okay I would take pants.
I think the book showed up both the good and some not so favorable sides of both Nellie and Elizabeth.
Nellie got the idea to beat Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. A year before her trip. The World Newspaper turned her down than. They decided with two days notice to send her.
The Cosmopolitan Magazine owner decided to make a race of it and send his own reporter in a race going the oppisite direction. Elizabeth Bisland did not want to go. Just given hours to leave. Nellie was almost done with racing against the clock when she found out that thier was another reporter she was in a race against. Which is not fair to her.
One thing that Nellie got to do was to meet Jules Verne in his home. The race against his fictional character Fogg made his book sell even more copies and the play about hs book was produced again 11 years after it was closed the last time. I know now that I plan to read Around the World in Eighty Days and other Jules Verne fiction.
I learned a lot about how different people lived back than and how they traveled. So many things I have picked up that I had no clue about. That England fought a war to make China to let in Opium that they wanted to ship in China to make up trade decifit that they want against Tea
02/26/2013 PUB. Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine 480 pages ISBN 9780345527264
Description taken off Netgalley.com
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.
The two women were a study in contrasts. Nellie Bly was a scrappy, hard-driving, ambitious reporter from Pennsylvania coal country who sought out the most sensational news stories, often going undercover to expose social injustice. Genteel and elegant, Elizabeth Bisland had been born into an aristocratic Southern family, preferred novels and poetry to newspapers, and was widely referred to as the most beautiful woman in metropolitan journalism. Both women, though, were talented writers who had carved out successful careers in the hypercompetitive, male-dominated world of big-city newspapers. Eighty Days brings these trailblazing women to life as they race against time and each other, unaided and alone, ever aware that the slightest delay could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
A vivid real-life re-creation of the race and its aftermath, from its frenzied start to the nail-biting dash at its finish, Eighty Days is history with the heart of a great adventure novel. Here’s the journey that takes us behind the walls of Jules Verne’s Amiens estate, into the back alleys of Hong Kong, onto the grounds of a Ceylon tea plantation, through storm-tossed ocean crossings and mountains blocked by snowdrifts twenty feet deep, and to many more unexpected and exotic locales from London to Yokohama. Along the way, we are treated to fascinating glimpses of everyday life in the late nineteenth century—an era of unprecedented technological advances, newly remade in the image of the steamship, the railroad, and the telegraph. For Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland—two women ahead of their time in every sense of the word—were not only racing around the world. They were also racing through the very heart of the Victorian age.
Matthew Goodman is the author of two other nonfiction books, The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York and Jewish Food: The World at Table. The recipient of two MacDowell fellowships and one Yaddo fellowship, he has taught creative writing at numerous universities and workshops. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and children.
A note on this edition: I read an advance reader's copy, which is an uncorrected proof. Most of the time these books are nearly identical to the final publication, but in this case there were a number of placeholder images and the index was completely blank. I'll have to pick up a copy when it's released to see what that map of Ceylon at the beginning of every chapter is really supposed to be.
When I think back about the book as a whole, it seemed that maybe half of the book was dedicated to the actual race while another half was about the historical context and geography of the different areas. These were interesting but I felt they definitely weighed the book down. The author also followed the women what seemed like an extensive amount of time, both after the race finished and in the Epilogue. It seemed like the author grew attached to both characters and did not want the show to end and seemed to drag the ending out. One other minor issue I had was that the author seemed to favor Bly. I found the passages describing her to be much livelier and interesting while I found myself a bit adrift when reading about Bisland.
Regardless of the weight, I found this to be a very entertaining historical fiction with even a bit of suspense at the very end. The author does an excellent job of taking an interesting side note in history and expanding on it to make an interesting view into that era. It did make me think about tourism today and how much has really changed, especially the American national pride.
Sometimes I dislike reading historical books or biographies because in their closing they remind me of the end we all must face. The rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, the loved and the reviled. We all travel paths that that lead to one end. It is only how we travel those paths that will make any difference. This is a great read not just for the excitement of the race, but also for the insight into two young women and the effect the race would have on the rest of their lives. Book provided for review by Amazon Vine.