Rated Reads

Eighty Days

by Matthew Goodman

Rated: None

Before reading this book, I am pretty sure that I’d heard about Nelly Bly — the plucky, earthy, sensationalist journalist — and her trip around the world in 1889. But if you haven’t, the bottom line is this: Bly got the New York World to fund a trip around the world, racing Jules Verne’s Phineas Fogg’s record. She figured, rightly in the end, that she could beat 80 days. However, one of the main things I learned in this excellent history by Matthew Goldman is that Bly wasn’t the only one traveling around the world. One of the World’s competitors sent its own reporter — Elizabeth Bislund, who in many ways was the opposite of Bly: elegant, refined, pretty, literary — on a trip in the opposite direction, making it a race not only against time, but against each other.

In this thick but highly readable history, Goodman not only thoroughly examines both women — discussing their histories and how they became to be newspaper writers — but also the history of the time. He gave me, as a reader, a sense of this time of anticipation, sitting on the cusp of the modern world. It is this sense of almost-modernity that is encapsulated in the fact that both Bly and Bisland could do something like travel around the world in less than 80 days, by themselves.

I found myself alternating rooting for one or the other (I honestly didn’t know beforehand, though I could guess, which one won the race), finding myself admiring both women. Bly was more plucky, for lack of a better word, going around the world with one suitcase, and had a whole lot more drive than Bisland. Bly also was extremely patriotic: she viewed the world through a U.S.-colored lens, and found everything else lacking, something which grated on me. Bisland was the more open-minded traveler, less determined to “win” and more willing to look at the world on its own terms (which were, admittedly, decidedly British in the 1880s). For that, I think she was better off.

Perhaps most revealing is the epilogue, in which Goodman sketches out the rest of these women’s lives. There is a price for fame, fleeting as it is, and Bly paid it.

It’s an interesting work of history, engaging and well written, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time learning about both this remarkable time and these fascinating women.

Rated: None

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

Comments are closed.

  • Eighty Days
  • by Matthew Goodman
  • Rated: None
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: