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A tale of two brave women

Eighty Days Elizabeth History Making ebook

Eighty Days Elizabeth History Making ebook

On a recent discussion threat for a writer support group that I am a part of, one of the other women took the opportunity of marking Women's History Month by insisting in the most absolute and implacable terms that until American women had the national franchise extended to them in 1920, they were mere helpless chattels, powerless before the courts, economically completely dependent on their menfolk and invisible to society at large ... purest bull-hockey, I know, and I should have argued the point by referencing my copy of this book, which countered just about every claim she made about the condition of women in late 19th century America in telling of the epic round-the-world journeys of two female travelers over the winter of 1889. Both Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were about the same age; both earned a good living in the media hustings of the time, one was a hard-working and hard-charging Northerner, the other a genteel and cultivated Southern lady.

In the publicity stunt of the decade, they were sent by their respective publications to circumnavigate the world and beat the record of 80 days set by Jules Verne's fictional hero, Phineas Fogg. Theoretically, it was at least possible, given the mind-numbingly rapid advances which had been made in the decades following the Civil War. Once it had been the laborious business of six months to cross the United States from the Mississippi River - now it could be done in a week by train. The crossing of the Atlantic by ship now took a week in some comfort on a speedy packet steamer, rather than the six to eight weeks of misery that it had been under sail. Telegrams carried the news instantly. The world had become small - and now Joseph Pulitzer's World newspaper proposed a demonstration by sending his intrepid star female reporter around the world. The magazine Cosmopolitan proposed to make it a real race - and their star reporter Elizabeth Bisland went west by train, even as Nellie Bly caught the steamer east.

The race was on; it made a star of Nellie Bly for a time ... and this is a copiously detailed account of their separate headlong journeys. I personally favor lots of detail in accounts of this kind, although other reviewers have felt bogged down and eventually bored. I did not; and as a record of what it was like to travel the world in 1889 this book is like a five-pound box of mixed artisanal chocolates. There are splendid curiosities, interesting people, events and descriptions everywhere, noted as Miss Bisland and Miss Bly went hurtling past at full speed. Most definitely this book, which I had in advanced edition, needs maps, lots of them and in detail. I hope that the final version does include them.

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7 Responses to “Train Truck”

  • Kyle Ferguson says:

    5 STARS

    I have heard the name Nellie Bly before but did not know anything about her or her famous race around the world. Matthew Goodman did a good job making it feel alive. The back of the book is around 75 pages of acknowledgments,notes and sources of where he got his information from.

    A few days ago I got a surprise in the mail copy of Matthew Goodman's book Eighty days and a copy of Jules Verne book Around the world in eighty days. Which I have heard of but have not read. I am not sure how come I recieved the books. I enter a lot of contests,get books from Librarything,goodreads and Netgalley. I later got a digital copy of Eight Days so I was reading from book to listening on my kindle to reading the book. Either way the story was interesting. I would love to be able to do that even today. Except I would be more like Elizabeth and take more than one dress. Okay I would take pants.

    I think the book showed up both the good and some not so favorable sides of both Nellie and Elizabeth.

    Nellie got the idea to beat Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. A year before her trip. The World Newspaper turned her down than. They decided with two days notice to send her.

    The Cosmopolitan Magazine owner decided to make a race of it and send his own reporter in a race going the oppisite direction. Elizabeth Bisland did not want to go. Just given hours to leave. Nellie was almost done with racing against the clock when she found out that thier was another reporter she was in a race against. Which is not fair to her.
    One thing that Nellie got to do was to meet Jules Verne in his home. The race against his fictional character Fogg made his book sell even more copies and the play about hs book was produced again 11 years after it was closed the last time. I know now that I plan to read Around the World in Eighty Days and other Jules Verne fiction.

    I learned a lot about how different people lived back than and how they traveled. So many things I have picked up that I had no clue about. That England fought a war to make China to let in Opium that they wanted to ship in China to make up trade decifit that they want against Tea

    02/26/2013 PUB. Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine 480 pages ISBN 9780345527264

  • Adrian Conner says:

    When I discovered I was receiving a copy of this book it was like Christmas came early. And I can honestly say it lived up to my expectations! As a fan of Nellie Bly since I was 12, I've read all the other books about her (though some of the newer children's books might've escaped me) and I was pleased to find this book to be such a wealth of new material. Matthew Goodman casts a storyteller's eye over all the information and relates details in such a way that everything about the famous tale feels fresh and reinvigorated.

    Even a Bly fan such as myself had to admit almost no knowledge of Ms. Bisland. Her life makes a wonderful counterpoint to tales of the brash and adventurous Bly. I had no idea, for example, that she was friends with Lafcadio Hern, nor that her journey could've easily out-paced Ms. Bly's. The meteorological knowledge her boss applied in structuring her journey made the race all the more compelling. The fact Ms. Bisland was a reluctant convert to such travels makes her voice quite different from that of Ms. Bly's - and therefore provides a distinctly different view of the period.

    Of these writers, the one that perhaps emerges on top is Matthew Goodman himself. His story-telling skills are on full display here and he shows a good eye for detail. He picks up on the differences that might've jumped out the most to anyone from our era (the Statue of Liberty would still be its original bronze color as Ms. Bly sailed past) and those that would've felt like they could've happened yesterday (the patriotic stirring when an American sees their flag for the first time after weeks away is something any prodigal American could tell you about).

    In short: this book is an excellent primer on the world, New York City, journalism, feminism, the emerging concept of media stardom, and The World (Pulitzer's paper) at a unique time in their respective histories. It is also an engrossing, detailed, fast-paced read.

  • Lila Cantrell says:

    19th century history. World travel. Female journalists. I knew I couldn't go wrong with this brand-new non-fiction release that combines three of my favorite topics to read about. Eighty Days more than fulfilled my expectations - improbably weaving a fast-paced, in-depth and surprisingly moving story out of what could have been a dry recitation of train and steam ship schedules.

    As a kid, I loved re-reading my Abridged Classics version of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. I was seven or eight years old and it was the first time I can recall reading about India and London and a dozen other exotic places. We've lost a lot of that wonder in today's world but in Bly and Bisland's time, Verne's book was an intriguing fantasy. No one had ever circled the world in that short of a time.

    Goodman captures that sense of wonder amongst the general populace and shows how the race was conducted at a unique moment in human history, when advances in steams ships and cross-continental railroads made extensive travel possible and completely changed the way people perceived time and distance. In the age of 14-hour non-stop plane flights, it can be hard to wrap around how revolutionary it was for a person to circle the world in less than eighty days. Good man is quite good at showing the excitement and curiosity surrounding the race.

    A large part of the success of the book is also due to Goodman's strengths as a writer. He's very good at richly describing the cities and seascapes the two journalists saw on their trip. I could see the fishing town by the bay that was Hong Kong in 1889 and French countryside not yet blighted by two world wars and the endlessness of the Pacific Ocean.

    You can hardly make it through journalism school without learning about Nellie Bly - but until now, I had no idea that in the 19th century she was most known for her race around the world. I resisted every urge to look up the result of the race online before reaching the conclusion of the book and found myself rooting instead for Elizabeth Bisland, who seemed to appreciate the opportunity the race gave her to see the world as opposed to the frantic competitiveness of Nellie Bly.

    Some reviews have faulted Goodman for his excessive detail and side-tracks into various aspects of 19th century history that relate to the trip. I don't see why this is a problem - I read historical narratives so that I can be carried away by an engaging story while deepening my knowledge of that moment in history. After reading Eighty Days, I know a bit more about Chinese immigrants, the competitive world of New York City newspapers, how coal powered steamships and the origin of the word rickshaw.

    I was surprised by the moving epilogue and the way it placed the race in the larger context of Bly and Bisland's lives and the burgeoning celebrity culture in late 19th century America. I would strongly encourage fans of historical fiction to pick up this nonfiction narrative. The vivid personalities, the quality of the writing and the excitement of the race make for a story as exciting as any novel.

  • Virgil Cardenas says:

  • Darren Slater says:

    So it turns out that at the same time Nellie Bly raced around the world one way for her newspaper, a rival newspaper sent a rival journalist (also a woman) around the world in the other direction, both attempting to equal or best the feat of the fictional Phileas Fogg. Both made the trip in under eighty days; Bly was a few days faster (possibly in part due to foul play), and therefore she is the one who is better remembered today.

    The book follows both, describing them as individuals and their respective upbringings and then switching from one to the other as they journey (Elizabeth Bisland, at least, never seems to have described this as a "race," though Bly, her paper, and others did). Of the two, Bisland is the more attractive person -- gracious and reserved, where Bly on the other hand positively slanders her counterpart -- but they live parallel lives in significant ways, both before and after the eighty days.

    The book is thoroughly enjoyable, notwithstanding some of the surprisingly long and barely-relevant digressions (about the state of Jules Verne's marriage, for instance, or the significance of the fact that Joseph Pulitzer was a Jew). It will bear re-reading, and passing around to friends.

  • Andrew Garner says:

    This extremely readable and interesting book shines a light on an event which captivated America in the winter of 1889 -- and has since faded into obscurity. In November of that year, the crusading undercover ace reporter Nellie Bly who was a star at Joseph Pulitzer's World newspaper in New York, set out to circumnavigate the world and beat the fictional record set by the Jules Verne character Phileas Fogg in "Around the World in Eighty Days." Bly set out going east across the Atlantic. That same day, another editor from The Cosmopolitan magazine sent another female reporter, Elizabeth Bisand, off in the opposite direction in an attempt to beat both Fogg and Bly.

    I had heard of Nellie Bly -- although I knew little about the extraordinary media interest her trip inspired. I had never heard of Bisland, who faded into total obscurity but is resurrected here by author Matthew Goodman as an attractive personality. Hailing from impoverished Southern aristocracy, she was determined, talented, well-read, civilized and very beautiful. She comes across in the book in many ways as the more attractive personality (one feels that Goodman is a little in love with her) even though she lost the race and thereby her chance to become a footnote in journalistic history.

    The book alternates between chapters on each woman as they experience their adventures, braving horrible ocean storms and boredom on the waves along with headlong rushes to catch ships of trains. But Goodman also interposes many fascinating little asides on the state of the world and society at a time when the globe had suddenly shrunk making such a voyage possible. For instance I learned that before the railroads, there were 27 times zones in the state of Illinois and 38 in Wisconsin. Boston was 12 minutes ahead of New York. It was the railroad companies, not the government, who got together and instituted the four time zones we have today which happened on November 18, 1883.

    One difference between the two women was their attitude to Britain. Bly, a staunch American patriot, resented and disliked the English who then dominated the world (she went as far as the spend World War I volunteering in Austria) while Bisland admired the British greatly. The author also criticizes Bly for failing to take notice of the poor and downtrodden she cvame into contact with during her voyage -- even the stokers who shoveled coal in horrible conditions into the trans-Atlantic steamships and whose average life expectancy in the job was two years. Bly admired the Japanese as "clean" and despised the Chinese as "dirty." She adopted, the author says, an imperial mindset.

    I learned that men believed women, should they enter politics, would bring a particular "feminine spite" to the profession. Bly was not above lying to make her story more dramatic, but what turned her into a national sensation was a contest her newspaper launched to guess to the nearest second the time she would take to complete the journey. Contestants had to tear off a coupon printed in the World and mail it in -- they received 900,000.

    Bly completed her voyage as a national heroine and example of "American pluck and womanhood." The rest of her life was not so easy. Bisland too experienced both happiness and tragedy. But we the readers gain immensely from reading this fascinating story.

  • Angela Strickland says:

    "...start off with a big thrill. Have your hero fall into a deep pit filled with rattlesnakes, and go on to describe his terrors...Keep on getting him, or her, into more such holes, one in each chapter, until they get married..."

    This was the advice that journalist Nellie Bly received from a colleague when she decided to try her hand at writing serial novels for a weekly magazine. It's just possible that author Matthew Goodman also kept that advice in mind while he was writing Eighty Days.

    The main story is the race between two journalists to travel around the world in 1889. It's an exciting set-up and there are plenty of close calls and exciting adventures. Goodman also uses the race as a backdrop to describe the world of 1889.

    Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, had been published in 1872 and seventeen years later, people were still speculating how long it would really take to go around the world by ship and land. In November, 1889, two women set out, hours apart, in opposite directions, to see just how long it would take to circumnavigate the globe.

    Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were both in their twenties, transplants to New York, writing for newspapers. Bly had proposed the idea of going around the world a year before to her reluctant editor. When he finally decided to give Bly the go-ahead, it was with only three days warning. Bisland, on the other hand, who as her paper's literary columnist, had never conceived of such a crazy stunt, was speechless when she was told one morning that she should be on the westbound train that evening for a round the world trip. Although less enthusiastic than Bly, Bisland understood her marching orders and was on the train.

    As Goodman follows the two women on their journeys, he describes steamship travel in first class and in steerage, rail travel and the building of the transcontinental railroad, immigration to America, and tells of the increasing number of women reporters. Paradoxically, Bly and Bisland didn't send many actual reports back to New York and their stories were told by other reporters en route and only after the journey by the travelers themselves.

    Both travelers noted that their journeys were overwhelmingly British - the British Empire was in full force and most of the steamships were British and they stopped in ports controlled by the British. British currency was accepted everywhere, American currency was not. English was spoken everywhere, even in countries where the British did not exert power. Most of the first class passengers were British, though not the passengers in steerage.

    As interesting as the race itself was the aftermath. Goodman tells of two women whose careers and lives changed quite dramatically, and surprisingly, as a result of their travels. Eighty Days is a slice of history that's thoroughly researched and thoroughly enjoyable.

    Also recommended: Eight Women, Two Model Ts, and the American West (Women in the West)

    Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

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