The title: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World
The author: Matthew Goodman
Publication: Ballantine Books, 2013
Got it from: The library
I was MIA in April because I was buried deep in five books I was book-talking for a library program (and all of you librarians know how nerve-wracking book talks are). One of the books was Matthew Goodman's Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World.
Now, I did read Jules Verne's book a few years ago, and I think Nellie Bly is pretty boss, so how did I not know that she once raced around the world? If you don't know Nellie Bly, look her up - she was a scrappy female reporter in Gilded Age New York who did some pretty awesome things. (She also has her own mystery series, which will show up here in future reviews). In 1889, she set out to beat the record set by the fictional Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days and circumnavigate the globe in 75 days. Meanwhile, another reporter, Elizabeth Bisland (a literary critic who was none too pleased to be told she had to travel in a moment's notice) also set out to race against her, albeit in the opposite direction.
It was the perfect age to travel in. Both of the ladies had rich newspaper companies paying their first-class fares the whole way around, and Britain was at the height of its empire. They barely had to step foot off British soil, even though they stopped at ports around the world to change transportation. Nellie Bly headed east, suffered horrible seasickness on the Atlantic, met Jules Verne in France, bought a monkey in Ceylon, and fended off would-be suitors who thought she was rich. Elizabeth Bisland went west, encountered a hair-raising train trip through the Rockies, charmed everyone on board her Pacific steamer and fell in love with Japan. Both women got a bit cranky (as you do when you're traveling at breakneck speed for over seventy days) but only one ultimately emerged triumphant, breaking the world record and becoming a national heroine.
This book isn't a quick read. There's a lot of dense text and tons and tons of historical detail that interrupts the narrative of the race itself. If you don't mind that sort of thing and are curious about what the world looked like in the late 19th century (at least through the eyes of two kinda racist but good-hearted women), you'll love Eighty Days.