Book review: Eighty Days

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



Narrated by Kathe Mazur

18:57 hours

Eighty Days Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland

Audiobook published by Random House Audio in February 2013
Published in print by Ballantine Books in February 2013
Audiobook received via Audiobook Jukebox

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:


New Authors 2013 2013 Audio Book Challenge


Rating system

Modern times have given women the opportunity to travel by themselves, without a chaperone. I thought this was a rather recent phenomenon. So I was really astounded to meet Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, reporters, who went around the world in 1889.

Eighty Days, of course based on Jules Verne’s famous book, relates their adventures. As a reader, you follow each separately, one eastward one westward, sponsored by a different newspaper, trying to go around the world in less days than Phileas Fogg. Actually, during the trip, one does meet Jules Verne and his wife as she goes through France, and that was a very interesting passage of the book.

I liked very much the vignettes about the different countries they went through; they are not more than vignettes, as the goal of the trip is to break a time record, so they really don’t have much time to explore too much of each country.

But the book is so much more than a trip through countries, it is also a trip through time. What I mean by that is that I really had the impression of exploring a period, an era very much focused on men’s achievements, especially in the journalistic world – there were indeed very few female journalists at the time, and they were relegated to fashion columns or the like. But some were determined to win their place on the front page, and for instance one dared to fake insanity to be admitted in a famous psychiatric hospital of the time, for the sake of seeing from the inside and describing what daily conditions were like there, especially for women. In the 19th century, pretty daring, I think.

I knew nothing about the journalistic world, and I discovered lots of fascinating details. Incidentally, It was very interesting to see how the two newspapers cleverly exploited every aspect of the trip for marketing purposes, including a drawing based on betting on the possible length of the journey. Of course you had to buy the newspaper each time you wanted to send an entry!

The book also follows both women after their feat, and it was interesting to see how both coped with the repercussions of their trip in their daily and professional life.

This book is so rich at so many levels. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in travels, in feminism, or in the world of newspapers.


Kathe Mazur was a good narrator for this type of books. I think she manages beautifully to convey the difference between both women, but maybe her tone of voice gets a bit too flat at times. I think she could have conveyed more enthusiasm sometimes.



On November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly, the crusading young female reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper, left New York City by steamship on a quest to break the record for the fastest trip around the world. Also departing from New York that day—and heading in the opposite direction by train—was a young journalist from The Cosmopolitan magazine, Elizabeth Bisland. Each woman was determined to outdo Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in less than eighty days. The dramatic race that ensued would span twenty-eight thousand miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors’ lives forever.

The two women were a study in contrasts. Nellie Bly was a scrappy, hard-driving, ambitious reporter from Pennsylvania coal country who sought out the most sensational news stories, often going undercover to expose social injustice. Genteel and elegant, Elizabeth Bisland had been born into an aristocratic Southern family, preferred novels and poetry to newspapers, and was widely referred to as the most beautiful woman in metropolitan journalism. Both women, though, were talented writers who had carved out successful careers in the hypercompetitive, male-dominated world of big-city newspapers. Eighty Days brings these trailblazing women to life as they race against time and each other, unaided and alone, ever aware that the slightest delay could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

A vivid real-life re-creation of the race and its aftermath, from its frenzied start to the nail-biting dash at its finish, Eighty Days is history with the heart of a great adventure novel. Here’s the journey that takes us behind the walls of Jules Verne’s Amiens estate, into the back alleys of Hong Kong, onto the grounds of a Ceylon tea plantation, through storm-tossed ocean crossings and mountains blocked by snowdrifts twenty feet deep, and to many more unexpected and exotic locales from London to Yokohama. Along the way, we are treated to fascinating glimpses of everyday life in the late nineteenth century—an era of unprecedented technological advances, newly remade in the image of the steamship, the railroad, and the telegraph. For Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland—two women ahead of their time in every sense of the word—were not only racing around the world. They were also racing through the very heart of the Victorian age. [Goodreads]



Matthew GoodmanMatthew Goodman is the author of two other nonfiction books, The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York and Jewish Food: The World at Table.
The recipient of two MacDowell fellowships and one Yaddo fellowship, he has taught creative writing at numerous universities and workshops.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and children. [Random House Audio]


Devourer of Books
History In The Margins

The Bowery Boys has a great interview of the author!



4 thoughts on “Book review: Eighty Days

  1. Pingback: New Authors Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: 2013 Audio book challenge | Words And Peace

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