Reader reviews and comments on Eighty Days, plus links to write your own review.

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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
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2013, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2014, 496 pages

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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 the intrepid spirit of both these women and what they accomplished?

Of course I had heard the name Nellie Bly but truly knew little about her. Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran I was surprised to read what lengths she would go to for a good news story for New York's The World. From buying a baby to expose the slave trade, to feigning insanity to report on the mistreatment of women in Blackwell Island Insane Asylum there was little Bly wouldn't do for an expose. None though would bring her the acclaim and fame of her proposal to beat Jules Vern's 80 day around the world trip. With just a single grip to carry her needs and "dressed in a snugly fitted two-piece garment of dark blue broadcloth trimmed with camel's hair", she sets out on the journey of a life-time. Little did she realize rival magazine, The Cosmopolitan headed by John Brisben Walker, would pit his own candidate, Elizabeth Bisland, against her to circumnavigate the world in less than 80 days. Bly sets out in New York heading across the Atlantic, whereas Bisland's route takes her west across, 8 1/2 hours behind Nellie.

The race was enough to keep my interest but there's so much more for the reader to appreciate. A memoir not only of the women, Bly and Bisland but a period piece of New York and journalism. Nellie Bly's determination and fearless nature help to build a strong foundation for the right for women to hold leadership roles in the workplace.

Riveting narrative non-ficiton.
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, detailing her incredible journey and the marvels she encountered.
This is a great story of an exciting time in our history. It's a Book Club natural! Who won? Really?..... Read the book!!
Carole A. (Denver, CO)

Delightful Days
The few days I read this book were delightful! From beginning to end this book was interesting and enthralling. I have already recommended it to both of my book clubs for inclusion next year as well as to many friends. The research that went into the book and the weaving of the research into the story was, in my opinion, brilliant. The vivid descriptions of travel, people and the character of people was interesting well thought out. If nothing else women readers should appreciate how far women have come! This book is going into my list of favorites. Bravo to Matthew Goodman.
Laurette A. (Rome, New York)

Very enjoyable.
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.
Kathleen D. (Hooksett, NH)

Amazing Women~1889
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.
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!
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.
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