Laurette A. (Rome, New York)
Reads like fiction only it's not! Part history lesson, part travelog, part adventure story and totally engrossing. Eighty Days is immensely informative and a pleasure to read. While I had heard of Nellie Bly I had never heard of Elisabeth Bisland and I did not know the grand story of their race around the world. Matthew Goodman manages to make this rather lengthy book about them and that race interesting and a great read. I particularly enjoyed learning about the different cultures of the countries they visited. This would make a good choice for a book club discussion.
Robin M. (Newark, DE)
Eighty Days and more
Eighty Days is an enjoyable book, especially for history buffs and lovers of historical fiction. At times the book is written as if telling a grand adventure, and the reader may need to remember that he or she is reading a work of non-fiction. These are the best parts of the book, when one gets caught up in the travels and travails of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland.
At other times the book is a more tedious read, as when the author continues with the ladies' lives well beyond the Eighty Days in the book's title, beciming less interesting as the interval increases.
On the whole, I enjoyed this book for it's telling of a forgotten historical event, or at least one that I do not recall learning about in my history classes in school. I will be suggesting it to my book club the next time we decide to read a non-fiction book.
Viqui G. (State College, PA)
Eighty Days-Two Traveling Women
I was fascinated with the real story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Brisland. I especially liked that the author gave us a thorough background of these young women's childhood and early life leading up to their fame as world travelers. This well researched background makes it easier for the reader to understand how these independent women were able to develop their unique strength of character. This character made it possible for them to embark on a race around the world alone, in 1889, when women generally stayed at home and raised children. The historical detail about life in the 1889 era enriched the book significantly. It really brought the story to life. The only detractor to this fine book is that the author sometimes went overboard with his historical minutia so that the Bly/Brisland story became sidetracked.
Kathleen D. (Hooksett, NH)
Matthew Goodman's very readable "Eighty Days" is an excellent source for anyone interested in women in America's history, particularly young women of today. These are the brave shoulders that helped pave the way for today's women. Especially in respect to Nellie Bly. In addition to Nellie winning "the race", I find her career tremendously inspiring. She was absolutely fearless. Looking further into her investigation of Blackwell's Island, one can certainly judge her mettle. In 1889 Blackwell's was an asylum for insane women--one where any husband, particularly a wealthy one, could conveniently commit his wife. Nellie was determined to get herself committed and expose the horrific abuse occurring there. She took this assignment without any guarantee that her employer Joseph Pulitizer, of the WORLD newspaper, could secure her release! Nellie wrote extensively about the nightmarish plight of the women imprisoned on Blackwell's Island and the exposure resulted in changes. However, those women haunted Nellie all of her life. When one considers Nellie's bravery in this instance, her trip around the world revealed the certainty that she could face any challenge!
William Y. (Lynchburg, VA)
Matthew Goodman, Eighty Days: a review
In 1873, the French Writer Jules Verne penned Around the World in Eighty Days. One of his most popular novels, it did well in the United States and imposed, in many people's minds, a physical time limit on world travel. Thus the title for Matthew Goodman's engrossing new history about that colorful period.
New York City serves as the opening setting of a contest that would quickly capture the imagination of millions everywhere. Home to numerous newspapers, New York editors and publishers vied endlessly to attract more readers with lurid headlines, scandalous stories, and a variety of features. The New York World had the good fortune to have the spirited Nellie Bly as one of its reporters, a rarity in a male-dominated profession. Anxious to make her name, Bly proposed to the World a daring plan: a solo trip around the world in under 80 days, heading east from New York and returning there from the west in, she hoped, 75 days, thereby eclipsing Verne's fictional record.
Many scoffed, but the World knew a good publicity stunt, and at last Bly embarked on her journey in the fall of 1889. Word of her plans had made the rounds, and The Cosmopolitan, a woman's magazine, decided, the same day of Bly's departure, to sponsor one of its writers in a similar venture, but west-to-east. After considerable urging by her editors, Elizabeth Bisland, who until then had quietly written literary pieces for The Cosmopolitan, reluctantly packed her bags and took a west-bound train that evening, just hours behind Bly.
The remainder of Eighty Days chronicles the adventures of the two women, usually in alternating chapters. Goodman writes in a consistently engaging style, not unlike his contemporaries David McCullough and Paul Theroux. He brings in all manner of fascinating details about the cultures and environments the two intrepid travelers experience, but never in a dry or academic way, making it a page-turner from beginning to end. He also pursues a thread throughout his narrative that describes changing American attitudes toward women, especially in the character of Nellie Bly. In the course of the book, a portrait of the All-American Girl—as popularized in the late 19th century—emerges, a plucky, attractive, independent spirit, ready to take on new challenges, but always careful to retain a strong aura of femininity.
Today, Bly and Bisland are mainly forgotten, footnotes in American popular history. But in late 1889 and on into 1890, they were true celebrities. I won't drop in a spoiler here and say who won the race, but millions waited anxiously to read their latest telegraph dispatches from around the world.
A great choice for book clubs that enjoy non-fiction, or for those individual readers that just like a good book, I cannot recommend Eighty Days highly enough.
Wiliam H. (North Yarmouth, Maine)
A race to remember yet long forgotten.
Matthew Goodman's Eighty Days provides a close up of the past as he recounts the spellbinding attempts of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland to break Phileas Fogg's world-circling record set in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days.
The classy pair prove without a doubt they were both winners.
Terri O. (Chapel Hill, NC)
Nonfiction that reads like fiction
Eighty Days is a hugely entertaining account of a now-forgotten race around the world in 1889 between Nellie Bly and Elisabeth Bisland, two young female journalists in New York. Goodman recounts Bly's and Bisland's journeys in alternating chapters, and he does a good job building and maintaining suspense around who ultimately won the race. The book is meticulously researched and offers a fascinating glimpse not only into the lives and personalities of these two women but also into everyday life in the late Victorian era. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travelogues or is interested in the late nineteenth century, as well as those who like adventure novels. This is nonfiction that really does read like fiction!