Summary and book reviews of Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days

Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

By Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2013,
    480 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2014,
    496 pages.

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Book 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.

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.

Chapter 1
A Free American Girl

Nellie bly was born elizabeth jane cochran in western pennsylvania on May 5, 1864, though confusion about her exact age would persist throughout her life—a good deal of that confusion engineered by Bly herself, for she was never quite as young as she claimed to be. When she began her race around the world, in November of 1889, Bly was twenty-five years old, but estimates of her age among the nation's newspapers ranged from twenty to twenty-four; according to her own newspaper, The World, she was "about twenty-three."

The town in which she grew up, Apollo, Pennsylvania, was a small, nondescript sort of place, not much different from countless other mill towns carved out of hemlock and spruce, unassuming enough that even the author of a history of Apollo felt obliged to explain in the book's foreword, "It is not necessary to be a city of the first class to fill the niche in the hearts of the people or the history of the state. Besides it is ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the book's prologue Matthew Goodman writes, "Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were not only racing around the world; they were also racing through the very heart of the Victorian age." What do you think he meant by this? In what way did Bly and Bisland's race illustrate some of the larger social issues of the time?
  2. In what ways were Elizabeth and Nellie similar, and in what ways were they dissimilar? Did they have differing views of themselves as women, as writers, as Americans? How might this have colored their attitudes about the around-the-world race?
  3. Almost every story of the time mentioned the fact that Nellie Bly carried only a single handbag for her trip around the world. How do you think you would pack for such a ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Part history lesson, part travelogue, part adventure story and totally engrossing. 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.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
What a story! What an extraordinary historical adventure!

Author Blurb Karen Abbott, author of American Rose
Vividly imagined and gorgeously detailed, Eighty Days recounts the exhilarating journey of two pioneering women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, as they race around the globe. Matthew Goodman has crafted a fun, fast, page-turning action-adventure that will make you wish you could carry their bags.

Publishers Weekly

Deftly mixing social history into an absorbing travel epic, Goodman conveys the exuberant dynamism of a very unfusty Victorian era obsessed with speed, power, publicity, and the breaking of every barrier.

Library Journal

A delightful trifle - solid history, though not wide ranging - filled with energizing details. History lovers will eat it up.

Kirkus Reviews

A tad overlong, but entertaining and readable throughout.

Reader Reviews
CarolK

The Race Is On!
Impressed doesn't cover the half of it. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History- Making Race Around the World is one romp of an adventure. A fan of vicarious thrills, this book gave me more than my money's worth. Who could not love ...   Read More

Darshell S. (Warwick, RI)

Eighty Days
This book is a good read. It is very well researched. The facts and history throughout the book are interesting and engaging. It is not dense or boring at all. The race is thrilling and you feel your self rooting for your fave to win. I would ...   Read More

Sharon P. (Jacksonville, FL)

Eighty Days Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisbane's History-Making Race Around the World - Matthew Goodman
What a terrific read! I expect very few of today's readers had any knowledge of an around - the - world race between two young women working for competing newspapers in late 1800's New York City. Each competitor is followed with alternating chapters...   Read More

Ange

slow read of a fast race
The book is very thorough on details which unfortunately made the book a slow and at sometimes cumbersome read. The subject is very interesting about all the trials a woman journalist had to go through to travel around the world but sometimes it felt...   Read More

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Jules Verne: A Man Ahead of His Time

February 8, 2013 would have been Jules Verne's 185th birthday. The acclaimed author is considered the father of science fiction and wrote many novels, some of the most well-known being Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and, of course, Around the World in Eighty Days which plays an important part in Matthew Goodman's Eighty Days.

Two years ago, on Verne's birthday, National Geographic featured eight modern inventions that are surprisingly – or maybe not so surprisingly – similar to inventions created by Verne himself.

Check them out!

1964 3-person submarine AlvinElectric Submarines – Captain Nemo, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, travels the underwater world in ...

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