Monday, July 8, 2013

"Eighty Days" by Matthew Goodman (2013)

To really understand this book, and what this journey meant at the time, the reader must be made aware of Jules Verne; the first “science-romance” author; and his fabulous writings in the 1870’s, including “Around the World in 80 Days”; and how that book came about. Though the story itself is fantastic; that book involves only technologies which had already been invented; unlike his other works “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, which both relied upon new inventions which were still decades away. His hero, Phileas Fogg, embarks upon his journey as the result of a dare, or wager, made at the local club where he plays whist.

Much to the author’s credit; not only does he supply that background, but he also provides ample background to the story of Ms. Bly, working for the New York World and her race around the world with Elizabeth Bisland, working for Cosmopolitan Magazine. This information really gives an extra dimension to the book, as well as offering a glimpse of what the times were like for women in the days when these two daredevils made their separate journey’s, each traveling around the world in opposite directions.

The feat had been accomplished before, by men who were working their way around the globe. But this was the first trip to be made by a woman, traveling alone, and for the express purpose of traveling, rather than working; though both women were employed in their separate endeavors by their respective publishers.

Embarking from New York; Ms. Bly by steamship to England; and Ms. Bisland by train to San Francisco; the two set off on a journey that each hopes will beat the 80 day’s envisioned in the Jules Verne novel. Filled with all of the charm and mystique of the era, along with wonderful descriptions of what each women saw on her journey, make this book both a history and a travelogue. Some of the countries that these women visited would be erased by the First World War, and some even came back into being after the Cold War. At any rate, the book is crafted in such a way that it would be impossible for any reader to come away from this book without having gained something from the experience.

With women’s rights on the run in the present, sometimes it’s enlightening to look back and relearn the obstacles, and struggles, which women once faced in almost every walk of life. Just ask Nelly Bly; all she wanted to be was a news reporter. If you want to know who won the race you’ll have to read the book, or look it up. I may be many things; but a spoiler is not one of them.

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