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

This book was a delightful journey around the world with the lovely Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland. It was the first book in a very long time that retained its five-star rating almost from the very beginning. While it does have some flaws, I adored the storytelling style and history that was covered. This may have been because I was the perfect target audience for a book like this, but even if I hadn't been, I have a feeling I still would have had high praises for this.

 

I think the biggest compliment I can give the book is that it gives equal time to both Bly and Bisland--we get two biography chapters on each, then an alternating-chapter-focus on their travels. The wrap up does contain a bit more about

Bly, but I can't really complain about that, since she ended up winning the "race"

(show spoiler)

but the remaining biographical information is also fairly even. I was afraid that since Bly was the more famous of the two that she would get all the spotlight, and Bisland would take a backseat. Definitely not the case with this, though, which made me very happy.

 

The book goes incredibly in-depth into each journey, not just encompassing the places they went and the thoughts that they had, but going off on historical tangents about the countries they visited and the ships or trains they travelled on. There's also some interesting journalism history interspersed as well, both when Bly and Bisland are introduced as well as to keep the reader up to date with how people back in the States were eagerly following the race through the papers. Even parts of the journey where you would think nothing much would happen, Goodman covers it, but in an interesting, engaging style. I honestly was not bored for more than a paragraph here and there--I wanted to know every little detail. Goodman also quotes a lot from the women's journals and memoirs about the trips, which adds great characterization to it all--they aren't flat historical figures, they're real people.

 

Of course, the book isn't without some issues that would probably nag other readers who aren't as engaged in the story or topic. The "race" actually wasn't a race at all, but rather a publicity stunt that Bly came up with, and that Bisland's boss jumped on just after Bly set off. The two never met, and Bly never knew she had a competitor until about halfway through her trip. So "race" is probably is a bit misleading. The tangents that Goodman goes off on may not appeal to everyone either. They are all well written, but if you aren't interested (or willing to be) in ALL THE HISTORY!!!1!, then you'll probably end up skim reading some lengthier tangents. It might simply be too in-depth for some.

 

However, I was easily able to overlook these issues, and enjoy the entire ride, start to finish. It's one of the few books that I wish I had actually bought, instead of borrowed from the library, so I would be able to constantly reread it. I would honestly recommend this to anybody--there's something in here for pretty much everyone, and it gives an excellent picture of both women's incredible accomplishments.