TLDR: Well-written and clearly well-researched. I lost some interest toward the end though (the details get a little tedious) and skimmed the last 150 pages. All in all, a great story about an interesting page in our history.
The book tells the story about two women racing around the world in the late 19th century. Their aim is to circumvent the globe in less time than the fictitious Phileas Fogg (from Jules Verne's book Around the World in Eight Days). The book is part travel tale, part history lesson, and part biography. The heroines of the story, in my opinion, are just as interesting as their history-making trips.
Nellie Bly is a muckraking reporter, ever drawn to sensationalism and novelty; Elizabeth Bisland is her counterpart--quiet and prim, coerced into racing against Nellie Bly by her boss at The Cosmopolitan. Although the two women seem vastly different, they both exhibit courage and "pluck" (as people said at the time) as they traversed through seldom-traveled lands, fell ill, and dealt with delays, storms, and obnoxious men. All without cell phones or the internet.
This book is a great reminder that travel in the 19th century was incredibly risky and often unpleasant. The lower class especially experienced the difficulty of travel in the cramped, sweltering, and often germ-ridden belly of the ship. It was not uncommon for people to occasionally die or fall extremely ill during sea voyages at the time. And those were just the passengers. The people with the highest mortality rate on a ship were the workers in the engine room who shoveled coal for grueling, 4-hour shifts in 140 degree (F) heat. To me, this was one of the most interesting parts of Eighty Days--the glimpse into the inner workings of the enormous steam ships that traversed the seas at the time.
Read this book for the adventure, interesting historical details, and superb writing, but skim the end. Although the story is interesting, the last 150 pages or so (right before both women finish their journeys) drag on a bit and get tedious. Do NOT, however, skip the Epilogue. It is a fascinating look at the lives of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland after their fame dies down (much quicker than you might guess) and they struggle to forge new lives for themselves. It's a tragic ending that is also a commentary about the public's whims and short memories.
A four-star book.