Weekend Reads: Eighty Days

Hi, everyone.  This week, I thought I’d share a non-fiction piece about women’s roles throughout history.  Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World is the story of two very different female journalists taking on the challenge from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.

Here is my review:

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would guess that most people are familiar with intrepid woman journalist Nellie Bly, investigative reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s “World” newspaper in the late 19th Century. I would also guess that most people, including myself, are unfamiliar with Elizabeth Bisland, who wrote for “The Cosmopolitan.”

Yet, both of these women set out to break the record created by Jules Vern’s Phileas Fogg in the fictional “Around the World in 80 Days.” Therein is the story of this book.

When Bly first proposes to make the trip around the world, her editor scoffs at the notion that a woman could do that — specifically because he thinks they need too many steamer trunks. Bly decides she can make the trip with one dress, a coat, a hat and a gripsack containing paper, pens and underthings.

Within an hour of her setting off, Bisland’s editor contacts her and says, in effect, “You need to do this, too, and you have to beat her time. Get going!” Bisland takes a steamer trunk with her so that she can feel that she has the correct number of dresses and so on.

Thus, the journeys begin and already the stage is set to compare and contrast the two women’s attitudes.

Matthew Goodman’s book incorporates a great deal of research (there are nearly 100 pages of end notes), including letters and articles written by both women during their journey. Bly headed east and Bisland headed west, and both of them documented their experiences with a good degree of care.

It would have been very easy to make this a dry travelogue, but Goodman’s work brings the very different personalities of the two journalists to the forefront and allows us to see the equally different ways in which they viewed the people and places met on their travels.

This book is entertaining and informative at the same time, and gives us an insight into the roles and expectations placed on women during the time period.

View all my reviews


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