Monday, May 6, 2013

An amazing race

This book relates the tale of what was perhaps the original amazing race.  Eighty Days, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World  by Matthew Goodman, tells the story of two young women writers, one a journalist for "World" newspaper and the other a contributor for "The Cosmopolitan" magazine, who leave New York City on November 14, 1889 in an attempt to beat Phineas Fogg's eighty day trip around the world . Phineas was a character dreamed up by Jules Verne but Nellie and Elizabeth are real. Nellie heads east across the Atlantic while Elizabeth is sent west by train at the last minute by her publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, in hopes that she can steal Nellie's thunder.  Both of them have a goal of 75 days or less.

Matthew Goodman does an excellent job of telling the back story of each woman as well as explaining how steam power fueled by coal had become a game changer in travel as well as an industrialized economy.  Nellie, from Pennsylvania, and Elizabeth, a product of the gentrified South and most recently New Orleans, have worked hard and long to earn their positions in New York City as writers.  They are now placed in positions of helping their respective publications increase circulation numbers.

This book is a fun and educational read.  Nellie meets the real Jules Verne in France.  Elizabeth falls in love with the Orient and Japan.  They unknowingly pass one another on the Indian Ocean. The author successfully helps the reader come to know each woman well both through the sharing of their different upbringings and personalities as well as their writings.  Interestingly, we learn that their lives after "the race" have many similar parallels.

I, of course, won't share who won the race around the world, but the story truly is amazing.

1 comment:

Laraine Eddington said...

I'm glad you reminded me about this book. I heard the author interviewed and it sounded like a good read.