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Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth…

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

by Matthew Goodman

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In November 1889, reporter for New York City paper The World, Nellie Bly, began a trip around the world with plans to beat the fictitious time of Phileas Fogg from [Around the World in Eighty Days]. Unbeknownst to Bly, several hours later Cosmopolitan would send their own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, in the opposite direction on her own round the world trip with the goal of beating Bly. In this beautifully written narrative non-fiction account of the trips of both women, Goodman fantastically evokes the time period, the experiences of the two women, and the larger context for their travel. I found myself utterly fascinated by this small bit of history and enthralled by Goodman's beautiful writing. Highly recommended. ( )
  MickyFine | Jul 28, 2018 |
In 1889, two American women journalists set out to beat Phileas Fogg's fictional around-the-world record time. "Nellie Bly" is a well-known investigative reporter whose work is devoted to uncovering corruption and graft while Elizabeth Bisland is a "Southern girl" who is forced by the financial collapse of her family's southern agricultural holdings to make a living writing literary essays and book reviews while enjoying a genteel cultural life in New York City.

The book moves seamlessly between the narratives of the two journeys, giving us a window on the Victorian world at the same time as it maintains suspense over the outcome of the race and the ultimate success or failure of the two remarkable protagonists.

If you like historical travel of any kind or you are interested in the Victorian period you will definitely find this worth your time.
( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
A delightful book. A nation becomes spellbound by this race and this girl becomes a celebrity - for awhile. And the books takes several interesting side trips to tell about interesting people or things. I didn't want the race to end. ( )
  Luke_Brown | Sep 10, 2016 |
Nelly Bly was, by 1889, already rather famous in New York as not only a muckraking investigative journalist, an unusual enough occupation for a woman of her day, but a very good one. In particular she was well known for spending 10 days undercover as a patient in a womens mental asylum, and exposing the horrors of the treatment within, with resulting massive changes to the system. As a publicity stunt then, the newspaper she worked for sent her off on a round the world trip, attempting to replicate, or even better beat, the fictional trip of Phileas Fogg in the Jules Verne novel.

Not wanting to be outdone, a rival newspaper, with a scant few hours notice, sent it's own lady journalist, Elizabeth Bisland--who far from being a muckraking investigative journalist, was the cultured and very private literary page editor, more accustomed to tea parties and literary salons than mental asylums--on a race with Bly, going the other way around the world.

The story is fascinating for so many reasons. Women journalists in 19th century New York? Travelling unaccompanied and unchaperoned around the entire world? Primarily on public transport no less?

And then there's Bly. Bisland I'd honestly never heard of, but the name Nellie Bly rang a bell. So did the image of her, although I didn't immediately recognise it as her: The checked coat and cap, the leather grip bag, and the blue dress, indeed, I recognised that, and now I know why.

This book is meticulously researched. In fact while reading it, I couldn't figure out why the page count varied by some 25% between different book sites. Turns out, because that's about how much of it is annotations, endnotes, and citations, and some sites were counting those and some weren't.

But it's definitely not dry, as you might expect from the list of citations. In fact it's highly engaging, if prone to little wanderings into side topics. Not only did I learn a lot about both Bly and Bisland, but I also learnt an enormous amount about coal mining in the appalachians, New York, journalism in general, lunatic asylums in the 1880s, the history of Ceylon, Jules Verne and his wife (I can't recall ever having read anything biographical about his wife before anywhere!), the Sikh police force in Hong Kong and... well you get the idea.

The journey itself, and the two women making it, were very much products of their time and society, as were their reactions to events and sights they encountered along the way. Along with the meanderings into peripheral topics, there is a tendency to switch to a very personal narrative point of view (".... she thought"), although the author is clear to point out, these are always based on personal letters and recollections written by the two women themselves.

Also interesting to me is the impression I came out of at the end of the book. At the beginning, Bly seemed to me a brash but brave go-getter, and Bisland a bit of a toff, only going on the trip at all under protest. By the end of it, I had rather a different impression: Bisland comes off as thoughtful and thoroughly interesting, and Bly as a bit of a self-aggrandizing huckster, with a story that changes minute by minute to suit the audience.

I'm pretty sure, if I met them in person, I would have got along with Nellie Bly rather better than Elizabeth Bisland, but reading about them now, a century later, I can't help myself but admire Bisland more.
Go figure.
Anyway,although the meandering style was a little unexpected in the beginning so I confess it took me some time to get past the first third or so. But once I did, I found it a thoroughly fascinating portrait of not just two rather remarkable women, but of a time and place that I personally didn't know a whole lot about.

Images above in the original review:
Nellie Bly in her travelling outfit - she took only one dress on the entire trip, a fact that most (male) journalists found quite astonishing, that a woman could go on a journey of more than a week without a dozen trunks, let alone no trunks at all.
A rather cute Nellie Bly Doll from http://www.thetoyshoppe.com

Some more info:
Nellie Bly Online

Bisland herself, is not nearly as well represented, although both women wrote books about their journeys (and both of which I'm going to make an effort to find a copy of to compare them.)
( )
  krazykiwi | Aug 22, 2016 |
Meticulously researched, vividly written, Goodman's book evokes a whole forgotten world -- 1889 America - as he tells this sweeping tale of the great race around the world to beat Phileas Fogg's fictional 80 day circumlocution -- and incidentally to build the New York World's circulation to over a million. Nellie was a huge pop star for a moment in time, then forgotten, as has been her genteel competitor, Elisabeth Bisland, sponsored by Cosmopolitan Magazine. I enjoyed this truly thrilling piece of American pop history, and I savored each moment I could return to their world. Hats off to a Matthew Goodman, a great popularizer of forgotten history and a brillinat writer. ( )
  ChrisNewton | Mar 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (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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"You have a strange way, Ralph, of proving that the world has grown smaller. So, because you can go around it in three months--" "In eighty days," interrupted Phileas Fogg. --Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days
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She was a young woman in a plaid coat and cap, neither tall nor short, dark nor fair, not quite pretty enough to turn a head: the sort of woman who could, if necessary, lose herself in a crowd.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345527267, Hardcover)

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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