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. Read more...
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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.
Praise for "Eighty Days"
"What a story What an extraordinary historical adventure "--Amanda Foreman, author of "A World on Fire"
"A fun, fast, page-turning action-adventure . . . the exhilarating journey of two pioneering women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, as they race around the globe."--Karen Abbott, author of "American Rose"
" A] marvelous tale of adventure . . . The story of these two pioneering women unfolds amid the excitement, setbacks, crises, missed opportunities and a global trek unlike any other in its time. . . . Why would you want to miss out on the incredible journey that takes you to the finish line page after nail-biting page?"--"Chicago Sun-Times" (Best Books of the Year)
"In a stunning feat of narrative nonfiction, Matthew Goodman brings the nineteenth century to life, tracing the history of two intrepid journalists as they tackled two male-dominated fields--world travel and journalism--in an era of incredible momentum. Jules Verne, train and ship travel, and international snapshots are included as Goodman laces biography with history in a book that has something for everyone."--Minneapolis" Star Tribune"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-10-22
- Reviewer: Staff
Two pioneering women hurtle across the globe—and into a changing future—in this stimulating true-life adventure story. Historian Goodman (The Sun and the Moon) follows the 1889 voyages of Nellie Bly, a New York World reporter who embarked on a headline-grabbing assignment to circumnavigate the world in a record-setting 75 days, emulating Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days, and Elisabeth Brisland, a literary essayist press-ganged by her magazine’s owner into racing Bly around the world in the opposite direction. Goodman vividly recreates their stormy, sea-sick travels and exotic Eastern ports of call while examining the revolutionary 19th-century culture of journeying: the proliferating webs of railways and luxury steamships; the swaggering might of the British Empire that guaranteed safe passage; Westerners’ sense of wonder at encountering unfamiliar peoples—and their casually bigoted sense of entitlement to rule over them. He also draws fascinating portraits of two self-made women who captured America’s imagination by defying its gender stereotypes. (When her editors balked at sending a woman, Bly vowed to beat any man sent in her place.) 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. Photos. (Mar.)
Forging new paths for women everywhere
A popular bumper sticker theorizes that well-behaved women rarely make history. While it’s true that sometimes swimming against the current is the only way to get where you’re headed, three new books show women making history in a variety of ways, from globetrotting, to taking on mysterious jobs, to smashing through political barriers—even if their behavior was sometimes less than ladylike.
In 1889, Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days was hot stuff. So hot, in fact, that two New York publications sent female reporters on trips around the world to try and beat fictional character Phileas Fogg’s time. Matthew Goodman’s Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World recreates the race and shows how it shaped the women’s lives afterward. It’s also a dazzling tour of the world at a time when travel routes were just opening up; a look at sensationalist journalism and pop culture in pre-Kardashian America; and a testimony to how hard women had to fight to get work and achieve respect as journalists.
Bly perfected the art of traveling light for the sake of convenience, then went on a shopping spree in Singapore, after which she was saddled with a cantankerous monkey she named McGinty. Bisland, who agreed to race against Bly with less than one day’s notice, didn’t like the publicity that came with the challenge and squirmed at being hauled in rickshaws and sedan chairs, but she was otherwise a fearless competitor who continued to travel for the rest of her life. Their stories should inspire both writers and travelers today: If you finish this without laying out your own version of Nellie Bly’s one-bag, no-hassles travel case, don’t complain the next time you’re dinged $25 for an extra suitcase. She was vastly ahead of her time.
The Girls of Atomic City details a story that seems impossible yet was true. Author Denise Kiernan brings a novelist’s voice to her thoroughly researched look at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a small city that housed 75,000 people, used as much power as New York City, yet didn’t exist on any map. During World War II, numerous women were recruited to work in Oak Ridge but were never told what their jobs were; each job was isolated from the others so a complete picture couldn’t be formed. All they knew was that they were working to help bring a swift end to the war. By the time anyone had figured it out, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been decimated and the war was over.
The story of the town is impressive and occasionally funny: Women disembarking from cars for the first time sank to their knees in mud, since there were no sidewalks built, and one resident persuaded a worker to make her contraband biscuit tins from scrap metal so as to avoid the cafeteria’s sub-par chow. There was camaraderie among the workers, yet everyone felt ambivalent about what they created and how it was ultimately used. Kiernan gives no easy answers, but the stories of the women will resonate with readers. If someone offered you double what you’re making now, would you jump on a train with no further information? That took guts.
It’s great to look back and find undiscovered stories in our past, but the experiences of those who are still with us have much to offer as we go forward. Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice is Mary Robinson’s memoir. The first female president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights traces her political roots back to an early and radical questioning of her Catholic upbringing. Continually working and fighting for full inclusion on behalf of the poor and marginalized, she became a vocal opponent of U.S. President George W. Bush’s policies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When journalists questioned her outspoken stance and willingness to jeopardize her U.N. job, she writes, “I replied that this was the job; it was better to do the job than try to keep it.”
Robinson is unsparing about mistakes she’s made in her political career, and unfailingly gracious and grateful to her friends and family in these pages, which puts her tougher stances in perspective. A critical thinker and fine writer, her life story is a pleasure to read, and one that will certainly inspire generations of leaders to come.