The best books on Nellie Bly

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Nellie Bly and why they recommend each book.

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Around the World in Seventy-Two Days

By Nellie Bly,

Book cover of Around the World in Seventy-Two Days

Bly was a brilliant investigative journalist best known in the United States for her exposé of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum based on her feigning of insanity as an undercover patient … until she became even more famous for her circumnavigation of the globe, inspired by Jules Verne’s fictional Around the World in 80 Days. Sponsored and encouraged by Joseph Pulitzer (editor of the tabloid newspaper, The New York World) and written in a witty, breezy style, Bly’s pithily-told tale upends every stereotype of fragile Victorian womanhood; her gutsy candor about her madcap race around what was supposed to be a wholly man’s world still stuns and delights!

Who am I?

As a historian of feminism, I am always on the lookout for sources that reveal women’s voices and interpretation of experiences often imagined as belonging primarily to men. Whether erudite travelogue, personal journey of discovery, or sensationalist narrative of adventure and exploration, books written by women traveling on their own were among the most popular writings published in the Victorian era. Often aimed at justifying the expansion of woman’s proper “sphere,” these books are perhaps even more enthralling to the contemporary reader —since they seem to defy everything we think we know about the constrained lives of women in this era. In addition to illuminating the significant roles that women played in the principal conflicts and international crises of the nineteenth century, these stories of women wading through swamps, joining military campaigns, marching across deserts, up mountains, and through contested lands often armed only with walking sticks, enormous determination, and sheer chutzpah, never fail to fascinate!

I wrote...

Sultan To Sultan - Adventures Among The Masai And Other Tribes Of East Africa

By M. French-Sheldon,

Book cover of Sultan To Sultan - Adventures Among The Masai And Other Tribes Of East Africa

What is my book about?

“The white queen is coming”. In April of 1891, May French-Sheldon—a 44-year-old, white American woman—left her husband back in London while she set out to “conquer” Africa at the head of an expedition of 140 African porters dressed in a ballgown of white silk topped with a tiara and waist-length blonde wig, carrying a whip coiled at her back, two hip pistols, a ceremonial sword, and an alpine staff from which flew a banner emblazoned with the Latin phrase: “noli me tangere” (“touch me not”).

After four months exploring the lakes at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, this flamboyant Victorian-era traveler returned to publish a narrative of her travels in East Africa from “sultan to sultan” illustrating the effectiveness of what she deemed a “womanly” form of (less violent) colonial conquest.

The Autobiography of a Newspaper Girl

By Elizabeth L. Banks,

Book cover of The Autobiography of a Newspaper Girl

When researching the newspaper angle of my book, I was already aware of the exploits of Nellie Bly, the New York-based pioneer of investigative, undercover journalism. But I wanted to try and track down a journalist who had achieved similar feats in late Victorian and Edwardian London. Enter Elizabeth Banks, an American journalist who emigrated to London at the turn of the century, and plied her trade as a freelancer, selling exposes on the lives of parlour maids, laundry workers, and flower sellers to the likes of The Illustrated London News. Pluck doesn’t even come close to covering her bravery and bravado – some memorable details from her book include her smuggling a camping stove into a London hotel because she couldn’t afford the dining room food, and pestering editors up and down Fleet Street to publish her words. She was a true entrepreneurial London woman, at a…

Who am I?

This eclectic soiree of books is pretty symbolic of my reading taste – as long as it’s extraordinary, or larger than real life, I’m there for it. I moved to London when I was 22, to undertake my Masters at Shakespeare’s Globe, and after living in a small village, followed by a small university town, it really did feel like arriving at the centre of the universe. I love books that capture the way the spirit of London – its strange, anarchic, punkish, dangerous, and historic forms – can shape a woman into the person she is meant to be. That was what I wanted to capture with The Hourglass Factory’s heroine Frankie George. 

I wrote...

The Hourglass Factory

By Lucy Ribchester,

Book cover of The Hourglass Factory

What is my book about?

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

Around the World in Eighty Days

By Jules Verne,

Book cover of Around the World in Eighty Days

A classic. A roadmap for anyone who wants to pack up and take on the world. It has everything: planes and ships and elephants, a hot air balloon, an eccentric Englishman with a valet and top hat! Also, it made me laugh, and gave me courage on my own adventures; if Phileas Fogg can escape enraged priests, storms, robbers, Sioux Indians...nothing that happens to me can be as bad as all that.

Who am I?

When I was a child, every year, for Christmas, I would wish for wings, pixie dust, a flying carpet… anything that would make me fly. I will never forget the first time I did: my grandfather and mother took me with them on a trip to Brussels when I was about four. That blue, those clouds, that lightness… I have never stopped chasing them since.

I wrote...

No Land to Light On: A Novel

By Yara Zgheib,

Book cover of No Land to Light On: A Novel

What is my book about?

Hadi and Sama are a young Syrian couple flying high on a whirlwind love, dreaming up a life in the country that brought them together. She had come to Boston years before, chasing dreams of a bigger life; he’d landed there as a sponsored refugee from a bloody civil war. Now, they are giddily awaiting the birth of their son, a boy whose native language would be freedom and belonging. When Sama is five months pregnant, Hadi’s father dies suddenly abroad. Hadi must fly back for the funeral. He leaves America, promising his wife that he’ll only be gone for a few days. On the day of his return, Sama is waiting for him at Boston airport.

His plane lands, but Hadi never walks out of the Arrivals gate. He has been stopped, detained, and deported from the United States. Separated by the travel ban, trapped in a timeless, nightmarish limbo on either side of the world, Sama and Hadi must fight for a way back to each other, and to the life they’d dreamed of together. But does that life exist anymore, or was it only an illusion? 

The Great Reporters

By David Randall,

Book cover of The Great Reporters

This hugely enjoyable book introduced me to the work of Nellie Bly, and for that alone I will forever be in debt to David Randall. Nellie Bly is just one of 13 great reporters discussed – others include William Howard Russell and James Cameron – but it was her exploits that most captured my imagination. She specialised in going undercover to expose wrongdoing, and her targets included those in positions of power responsible for everything from unsafe factory conditions to the inhumane asylums in which women were locked up for suspected insanity. Her stories were written in straightforward language but were genuinely sensational, raising awareness and helping to change social conditions for the better. As Randall concludes: "Nellie Bly was the very antithesis of cynicism."

Who am I?

I’ve worked in and around journalism long enough to know that not all journalists are heroes. Few even aspire to be. But there is something quietly heroic about the daily task of holding the powerful to account, even in democracies where the risk of imprisonment or assassination is less than in more authoritarian states. Here is my selection of books to remind all of us about some of these more heroic aspects of the journalism trade. I hope you find reading them enjoyable and maybe even inspiring.

I wrote...

Journalism: Principles and Practice

By Tony Harcup,

Book cover of Journalism: Principles and Practice

What is my book about?

I was inspired to write this after moving from doing journalism to teaching it, and being disappointed by most of the books on offer. Many academic tomes were full of gobbledebollocks and seemed to look down on mere hacks, while journalists’ own efforts tended towards the unreflective. I wanted to fill the gap by producing a readable book about what journalism is for as well as how to do it. Stories from interviews with journalists, combined with my own experiences and discussion of the scholarly literature, make the book what it is - one that takes entertainment as seriously as ethics.

Eighty Days

By Matthew Goodman,

Book cover of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

Eighty Days takes readers behind the scenes of the lives of Bly and Bisland, two successful women who made a name for themselves during the late 1800s. It reveals the private women behind the public personas during an era when women were expected to mind house and home.

Who am I?

I have loved writing since I was in grade school and after graduating university with a degree in International Affairs I became a journalist. I’ve written six non-fiction books and also teach Journalism at SUNY Purchase.  I’ve always been fascinated about the way one person’s life or one seemingly small episode in history allows us a way to examine the larger picture: whether it was how Fanny Bullock Workman showed what it meant to be a woman in a predominantly male world of mountain climbing or how the deliberate sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the closing days of WWII showed that war is never black and white, that there are layers to people and stories and events that we should always try to consider.

I wrote...

Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

By Cathryn J. Prince,

Book cover of Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

What is my book about?

Fanny Bullock Workman was a complicated and restless woman who defied the rigid Victorian morals she found as restrictive as a corset. With her frizzy brown hair tucked under a topee, Workman was a force on the mountain and off. Instrumental in breaking the British stranglehold on Himalayan mountain climbing, this American woman climbed more peaks than any of her peers and became the first woman to map the far reaches of the Himalayas.

Author and journalist Cathryn J. Prince brings Fanny Bullock Workman to life and deftly shows how she negotiated the male-dominated world of alpine clubs and adventure societies as nimbly as she negotiated the deep crevasses and icy granite walls of the Himalayas. It's the story of the role one woman played in science and exploration, in breaking boundaries and frontiers for women everywhere.

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