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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World - Matthew Goodman As any history nerd would tell you, the adage that history is written by the victors is boring. Sometimes, the people who lost or ignored or forgotten by history are just as, or very often, more interesting than the figures we celebrate. Unfortunately, this not the case in this book.There was a Tumblr post recently going around about Elizabeth Cochrane aka Nellie Bly, detailing her life and exploits as an investigative journalist, and a lot of the commentators mentioned that they had never heard of Nellie Bly before. (One good thing about growing up in Western Pennsylvania; we champion our rich history because nearly everyone ignores us.) And this book should have been a great exploration of her life and her famous trip. Especially when Elizabeth Bisland comes in. I had never heard of Bisland, and never knew that there was a full-fledged race between the two women. And there are some really good descriptions of the two’s travels around the world and the sites they respectively encounter. (I love the meeting between Nellie Bly and Jules Verne. Verne asks Bly why she’s skipping on a town in India that’s prominently featured in Around the World in 80 Days. Bly responds, “I don’t have time to rescue a young widow.” Verne’s wife rightfully points out that she quite likes the young lady.) However, here is the biggest problem of the book: Goodman tries to build up Bisland as a heroic figure worthy of being on the same level as Bly. Except that there’s a reason why Nellie Bly was written into history books (if she’s mentioned at all). Nellie Bly began her career in investigative journalism, starting with getting thrown out of Mexico when she investigated their politics; this was followed by her breakthrough assignment of going undercover at the insane asylum at Bellevue. Goodman mentions at the end that Bly’s career was only defined by the first 27 years of her life, ending with the trip around the world; and let’s be honest, not a lot of people have accomplished as much as Bly did in that time. And this is not to knock Elizabeth Bisland, but she was a society and literature writer, which was acceptable for a woman reporter at the time. The sole reason Bisland went on her journey was at the behest of her editor, in a grab to do competition with the World. It also doesn’t help that part of Goodman’s attempt to build up Bisland in the reader’s eyes is by knocking Bly’s character—he criticizes Bly for not being conventionally beautiful, or that she’s superstitious or that she lies about her age. They’re not malicious, but Bisland doesn’t get as much of a critical eye. I’m all for championing lesser-known figures of history, especially minority figures, but this book goes about it in the wrong way. I understand what Goodman was doing, but I don’t like the fact that he goes out of his way to lessen an incredibly and deservedly inspirational woman all in the name of “Well, someone else did it.”