Around the World in Eighty Days – The True Story

Title: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World
Author: Matthew Goodman
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★☆
Fun Fact: In 1889, 1 out of every 300 people in the world lived in New York City.
Review Summary: An exciting adventure which will immerse you in the time period and introduce you to two fascinating protagonists.

In 1889, two young women set out to accomplish an astounding and previously fictional feat – traveling around the world in under eighty days.  Both women were reporters, sponsored by their respective news papers to race around the world in opposite directions. This book chronicles their incredible adventure, with rich descriptions of the people involved and the places visited. We also get a glimpse of daily life in 1889 and the evolving place of women in American society.

As with most narrative non-fiction, I liked that this book read like an adventure story but with an extra dash of excitement because the events described are real. The author did an admirable job taking advantage of this, spicing up the narrative with seamlessly integrated pictures and quotes.  The descriptions were almost as good as the pictures for letting you see what the protagonists would have seen. There are certainly enough descriptions of the amazing places the two women visited to satisfy any fan of the travel memoir (although the specifics are, of course, about 100 years out of date!). The only complaint I might have with the writing is this: the digressions to talk about specific people often started before we knew how each person connects to the main narrative. This made the beginning of the digressions a little jarring.

I did, however, enjoy these digressions. I prefer narrative non-fiction to be approximately half about events and half about specific people involved, with a dash of social commentary on the side. This book was just the right mix of those elements. The book was made more interesting by the very different personalities of the two women and the different tourist activities they each made time for. These differences meant that even when the two women stopped in the same ports, their stories were never redundant. I found this a light, enjoyable read and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction and adventure stories, as well as readers who enjoy travel memoirs.


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