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BookBrowse Reviews Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman

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Eighty Days

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

by Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman X
Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2013, 480 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2014, 496 pages

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A vivid recreation of a race around the world, Eighty Days tells the story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland as they journey - one East and one West - to see who can make it first.

Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman is a real winner with BookBrowse readers! 19 out of 21 of them gave it 4 or 5 stars. This is how they describe the book:

Part history lesson, part travelogue, part adventure story and totally engrossing (Laurette A). 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 (Marylou C). 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 (William H).

This book is not only about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, but about the women they represented – and the changing attitudes toward women which they helped bring about:

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 (William Y). Women readers should appreciate how far women have come. (Carole A) 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. But men dominate the newsrooms. How these women overcome this obstacle unveils their creativity, tenacity, and talent. Nellie Bly is a Yankee ready to make a difference in the world and Elizabeth Bisland is confident in her Southern style. But the ultimate winner today is the reader, who can follow such exotic travels from an easy chair at home (Sarah R).

Most readers were impressed with Matthew Goodman's meticulous attention to detail – although some thought he was perhaps too meticulous:

I enjoyed reading the detailed accounts of America at the end of the 19th century and traveling conditions around the world. Having said that, I think that Goodman got lost in too much detail at times like a student who has done an enormous amount of research and wants to include everything (Virginia B). 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 both women's childhoods and early lives leading up to their fame as world travelers. The only detractor to this fine book is that the author sometimes went overboard with his historical minutiae so that the Bly/Brisland story became sidetracked (Viqui G). 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 just drawn out. I do think this would have an interest to someone wanting to learn more about women breaking through barriers (Angela L).

Ultimately, Matthew Goodman pulls together a riveting story that has the bones of a true and fascinating history and the heart of a great adventure:

The reader not only learns about Nellie Bly and her attempt to exceed the travel time of Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days, but also has the pleasure of visiting the world of the 1890s, meeting Joseph Pulitzer, understanding the plight of Chinese workers in America, traveling in luxury trains and boats, seeing beautiful places before industrial pollution took place, and so much more. Phileas Fogg was fictional and his adventures were fun, but Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland live in a real world the reader has the pleasure of visiting (Barbara H). 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 (Michael P). 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. This is nonfiction that really does read like fiction. (Terri O)

Readers are eager to share the book with others:

I highly recommend Eighty Days for people who love to travel, armchair travelers and for the historical information you learn about the 1890s in America. This book covers one of the most revolutionary and inventive times in history. I think book clubs would like this book. An interesting question to pose would be, "Which of these ladies would you like to travel around the globe with?" (Joan V) Book groups will find much to talk about here: women's roles in the 19th century, changes in travel, the role of the railroad, the role of Britain in 19th century world history, and journalism (Andrea S). 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 (Kathleen D). This is a great story of an exciting time in our history. It's a book club natural. Who won? Read the book! (Sharon P)

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in March 2013, and has been updated for the March 2014 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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