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Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth…

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around… (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Matthew Goodman

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Title:Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World
Authors:Matthew Goodman
Info:Ballantine Books (2013), Hardcover, 480 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:history, 1890's, Nellie Bly, travel

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Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman (2013)


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Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
Eighty Days is a duel/dual -biographical account of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's race around the world. I was only vaguely aware of this popular culture event ca. 1890 but it takes a book to bring historical context into color. Though I wish it was 1/3 as long. There are trite descriptions more in style with fiction presumably making it approachable history. I wouldn't normally mind as history is storytelling, but in this case too much. Still I knew little about Nellie Bly except the name (and she was a reporter) so this is a good introduction, and Elizabeth Bisland who I had never heard of. ( )
  Stbalbach | Feb 3, 2015 |
this was such an enjoyable read - and a perfect book to read during the summer. i really liked being an armchair traveler with bly and bisland on their travels around the world. goodman did a great job presenting the race, and i appreciated that he also included historical context and sidebars on what was going on in the world in 1889 and 1890. as well, goodman provided brief looks at the women's lives post-race. i really did not know a lot about these women, or the race. even though i was aware of the outcome, goodman also did a great job building the suspense - who was going to win??? overall, this was a really well done examination of two interesting women who wanted to be treated as equal to men, not only in their professional careers as journalists, but in the broader sense of their lives in the world.

serious question: has a man ever been described as having 'pluck'?? this is the general consensus on bly (and bisland) - they were plucky. they had pluck! it kept reminding me of mary tyler moore - lou grant, in particular: "you've got spunk...i hate spunk!"

interesting to note that bisland worked for the cosmopolitan. during her tenure, it was quite a serious magazine that, apart for society pages, did thoughtful essays and investigative pieces. quite a stretch from the cosmo we are at today.

as well, women being portrayed in the media at this time (1889-1890) were also shown in regards to their appearance - their looks, clothing, demeanour, what was acceptable or unacceptable for them. and both bly and bisland endured some harsh and unfavourable criticisms sometimes because of how they looked (though both were popularly accepted as attractive women), and other times for how they conducted themselves. (unfair criticisms, to be sure. and bly received harsher judgements than bisland.) so we have been doing a disservice to women for a long, long time. ( )
2 vote DawsonOakes | Jul 22, 2014 |
Goodman tells not just the story of these two women but also immerses the reader into the newly global world of the late 1890s, both the good and the bad.

Goodman starts the book by introducing us to the two women who will race around the world. He does an excellent job using primary source materials to give us both how others saw these women and how they saw themselves. While introducing the women, Goodman also talks at length about the role of women in journalism in the late 1800s and how hard it was for them to break into real reporting. Jumping off from Bisland and Bly, describes how women were blocked from many journalism positions with excuses such as that the newsroom needed to be free to swear and not worry about a lady’s sensibilities. Women were often barred to what was deemed the ladylike journalism of the society pages. The hardest part of being a hardhitting female journalist at the time wasn’t the actual reporting but instead the reception of women in the newsroom. Bisland and Bly and their race came at the beginning of having women journalists do some form of stunt journalism, which is how they started to break into hardhitting journalism. Editors and owners discovered that readers enjoyed reading about women in stunt situations, such as learning how to stunt ride a horse, so this was their way in. Thus, even if the reader dislikes the personalities of either or both of the racers, they come away with some level of respect for them both breaking into the business.

From here, Goodman starts following the women on their race around the world. He takes the different legs of their journeys as a jumping-off point to discuss something historically relevant to that portion of the journey. For instance, during Bly’s trip on the ocean liner to Europe, he discusses how the steamships worked, from the technical aspects of the steam to the class aspects of first class down to steerage. During Bisland’s railroad trip across the United States, he discusses the railroad barons and the building of the transcontinental railroad. Thus, the reader is getting both the story of the race and historical context. It’s a wonderful way to learn, as the historical explanations flesh out the settings around and expectations of the women, and the women lend a sense of realness to the historical situations and settings being described.

After the completion of the trip (and, no, I won’t tell you who won), Goodman explores the impact of the trip on the women’s lives and follows the rest of their lives to their deaths. This part may feel a bit long and irrelevant to some readers, however often when people become famous for doing something, no one talks about the long-lasting impact of that fame or what the rest of their lives are like. Seeing how both women reacted to the trip, their careers, and others puts them in a more complete light, giving the reader a complete picture of what the race did in their lives. This complete picture of both of their lives is something I really appreciated and that also demonstrated that one shouldn’t judge people too fast. They and their lives may turn out differently than you expect at first.

What would have made me love the book is if I had come away feeling like I could respect or look up to either woman. Unfortunately, by the time I heard the full story of both of their lives, I found them both to be so deeply flawed that I couldn’t do that. I respect them for breaking into the newspaper business, and perhaps if I was a journalist myself that would be enough to make me look up to them. But each had a fatal flaw that made this not be a book about two role models but instead a book about two women. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does keep it from being a book I would return to over and over again.

Overall, Goodman does an excellent job using the true story of two female journalists’ race around the world in 1889 to 1890 to build a solid picture of the increasingly global world of that time. The reader will come away both with having learned an incredible true story and details about the 1800s they might not have known before, told in a delightfully compelling manner. Some readers might be a bit bothered by how flawed the two women journalists are or by the fact that the book goes on past the race to tell about the end of their lives in detail. However, these are minor things that do not distract too much from the literary qualities of this historical nonfiction. Recommended to those interested in an easy-to-read, engaging historical nonfiction book focusing in on women’s history. Particularly recommended to modern, women journalists.

Check out my full review: http://wp.me/pp7vL-18i, featuring quotes!

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. ( )
  gaialover | Jul 9, 2014 |
I love books about American history, women, and exploration, so this should have been right up my alley. To some extent, the books delivers what it promises. I now know all about the circumstances that led up to Nellie Bly's legendary quest to break the record Jules Verne established in "80 Days Around the World", I have a deeper understanding of the state of U.S. journalism in the 1880s, and I possess more information than I'll ever need to know about 1880s transportation. On the other hand, here's what the book doesn't deliver:

* A description of the world in 1889. Despite apparently ample time spent relaxing on trains and deck chairs, neither Nellie Bly nor Elizabeth Bisland seems to have invested much effort reporting on what they observed as they travelled around the world. What an opportunity wasted! If this is one reason you’re considering reading the book, don’t even bother.

* A deeper admiration for "female womanhood". Though the author claims this was one of the outcomes of the adventure, I can't say I was terribly impressed by either women. Their arrangements were made solely by men, and when last-minute changes had to be made, often it was men who saw to this as well. In short, pretty much all our intrepid "globe-girdlers" had to do was show up at the right stations at the right times. Not exactly a bold statement of female intelligence or resourcefulness.

* A deeper understanding of what made Nellie Bly "tick". The author seems content to take her at her word, but I found this highly unsatisfying as Nellie Bly was above all a storyteller, not above tailoring the details of her story to suit her audience; therefore, we really can't trust what she says about herself or her motives. Would have loved insight into the extent to which her legitimate boldness stemmed from journalistic zeal, a risk-taking nature, a determination to defy stereotype, and/or simple necessity – she was the family’s sole breadwinner, after all.

It would appear that this is one of those instances where the myth really does trump reality, a fact that Matthew Goodman cannot entirely overcome despite his narrative zeal. Indeed, maybe a little LESS narrative zeal might have been more appropriate. Feel like the author spent way too much time speculating what the women were "probably" feeling at each step along the way, which irked me because his "speculations" appeared to be based on guesswork (rather than any actual data) and because they often felt stereotypical and a tad condescending. ("If she's a woman, she must have been worried about her mother, so I'll put that in!" you can almost hear the author thinking.)

Ironically, I now find myself both overwhelmed with detail about the journey itself, but craving to know more about the true sentiments and sensations of the women who undertook it. ( )
1 vote Dorritt | Jun 26, 2014 |
Jules Verne read about the ease of modern steam ship travel that took the strain out of world travel and ran on schedule. "Around the World in Eighty Days" is a great adventure story but even in its day was already history, as anybody rich could simply book a steamer trip from Italy to Ceylon and from there to Hong Kong/Yokohama, then to San Francisco and with the train across the US to pass from New York to Liverpool.

In November 1889. the New York World added a bit of a complication in sending a young woman reporter called Nellie Bly across the globe. Competition among the New York media meant that another newspaper sent its own female reporter called Elizabeth Bisland on the journey but in the opposite direction. The story's excitement suffers from the fact that both trips were rather uneventful. The two women were essentially like parcels on steamers whose location is tracked across the globe. The only minor mishaps occur during the transfers.

The book is well written, though I would have preferred if the author had let the women speak more themselves instead of summing up and commenting on them. Let the sources talk - these are reporters after all. While the two ladies traveled across the globe, their mode of transport did not allow them to discover it, most of the time was spent in first class on the most modern steam ships of their day. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Jan 31, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
A richly detailed double narrative of the adventures of two young women journalists in a race against time, each striving to be the first to travel around the world in 75 days, outdoing the fictional Phileas Fogg’s 80 days...The author also examines the shenanigans of the press, the vicissitudes of travel and the global power of the British Empire in the Victorian era.
added by mysterymax | editKirkus Reviews (Jan 31, 2013)

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Sample Pictures from Eighty Days

Picture One
A drawing of “the rival tourists” that appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

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Picture Two
Nellie Bly in her distinctive traveling outfit.

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On November 14, 1889, two young female journalists raced against one another, determined to outdo Jules Verne's fictional hero and circle the globe in less than 80 days. The dramatic race that ensued would span 28,000 miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors' lives forever.… (more)

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