Matthew Goodman's book "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World" tells the story of a publicity stunt that captured the public imagination in nineteenth-century America.
Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper "The World" specialized in lurid and shocking stories that increased sales. But by late 1889, circulation figures were leveling off. The editors wanted to do something big that would sell papers for more than one day.
One of the few female reporters on staff was Nellie Bly, who had become a popular figure through her undercover journalism. Bly got herself committed to an insane asylum to report on the treatment of women there, and went to work in a paper-box factory to reveal poor working conditions.
Bly had suggested undertaking a trip around the world in which she would try to beat the record of eighty days set by Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg. She began that journey on November 14, 1889.
On the morning Bly left on a steamship headed east across the Atlantic, the publisher of "The Cosmopolitan" had an idea. He guessed that heading west across the United States would be a faster route around the world. He contacted Elizabeth Bisland, who was convinced to leave that evening.
The story of these two women and their travels is a fun, fast-paced adventure and reveals much about the world at the time.