Rated of 5
by 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.
Rated of 5
by Wiliam H. (North Yarmouth, Maine) Eighty Days
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.
Rated of 5
by 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!
Rated of 5
by Michael P. (San Marcos, CA) Educational and enjoyable
There's nothing better for me than a book that makes history come alive. This book succeeds. The author has a marvelous ability to take dry facts and turn them into an engrossing story that let me feel like I was in the midst of the world in 1889.
My only criticism is that I wanted to know how the outcome would have changed had Bly waited for the rails to be cleared of snow. Regardless, a great read. Definitely recommended.
Rated of 5
by Sarah R. (Chattanooga, Tennessee) Eighty Days
Matthew Goodman's writing is magic! He transforms historic documents into a fast-paced fascinating story that introduces the reader to Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland during the colorful era of the late 1880s. Both are single women taking on the challenges of New York City. Each is a talented writer and well qualified as a professional journalist. Newsrooms, however, are a male domain, and editors are proud of that. How these women overcome this obstacle unveils their creativity, tenacity, and talent. Nellie Bly is Yankee ready to make a difference in the world and Elizabeth Bisland is confident in her Southern style.
Prompted by Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg, Bly sells the "World" newspaper on her imaginative story idea. Since Fogg circled the globe in eighty days; she explains that she can beat his record. At the "Cosmopolitan" magazine, Bisland's editor sees potential for a wager in the race, and he decides to sponsor her participation. But the real competitor in this race is time.
Newspaper and magazine readerships grow handsomely as the race begins and continues. Editors are pleased as Bly circles the globe from the east and Bisland from the west. But the ultimate winner today is the reader, who can follow such exotic travels from an easy chair at home.
The sights and sounds reported by these two amazing women offer excitement and insight as they open the door to the 20th century, and they find their way into the male dominated world of journalism.
Rated of 5
by Marylou C. (Winfield, IL) Book Club Material
I knew after reading the first page that this book was a keeper. And I was right. Not only is the story fascinating, but the historical facts contained within make one aware of how fortunate we are to be able to travel as we do today.
Learning about life, issues, events and travel in the late 1800's is sure to stir the interest of the reader. This factual book reads like a well written novel and holds your interest totally, except for some parts when the author gets too in-depth with the miniscule facts that add nothing to the story.
One might think the author was being paid by the word, but since the story is so spellbinding, you don't realize it until you've finished the chapter. This book tells the modern reader what it was like for journalist, especially female ones, to cope with the editors, foreign countries and travel of yesteryear
Encourage your book club to read and share their thoughts on this book. Questions could include, would you have done it then and would you do it today and which woman did you find yourself cheering on.
But I still think it should have been about 50 pages shorter.
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