“EIGHTY DAYS: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World,” by Matthew Goodman, Ballantine Books, $16, 379 pages (nf)
Two women with different backgrounds had to go to great lengths to break into the journalism industry in the 1880s. But for Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, getting that foot in the door was only the first step of what would soon become a frenzied race around the globe.
Bly often went undercover to write investigative articles for the World newspaper. Bisland wrote on literature and society events for The Cosmopolitan (then a very different publication from what it is today).
In an effort to increase circulation, the World sent Bly to try to match or beat the time of Phileas Fogg's fictional trip around the world in Jules Verne's popular novel "Around the World in Eighty Days."
Recognizing the publicity and revenue such a stunt could draw, The Cosmopolitan dispatched Bisland to travel in the opposite direction, with hopes of beating not only Fogg's time but also Bly's.
In "Eighty Days," Matthew Goodman gives readers the chance to accompany both women on their exciting voyages and provides a wealth of knowledge about not only their own pasts and personalities but also the myriad places and peoples they encounter.
The chapters alternate between Bly and Bisland while building suspense and not spoiling the outcome for those unfamiliar with the race. The book has clean language and no violence or sexual themes. It balances what could at times seem a deluge of historical information with an engaging narrative to keep things moving.