"NELLIE BLY: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist" by Brooke Kroeger
Kirkus Star

"NELLIE BLY: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist"

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A meticulously researched, consistently entertaining biography of the legendary turn-of-the-century journalist whose true adventures far outstripped the boundaries of myth. For this first full-scale treatment of Bly, former United Press International reporter Kroeger reaches through a web of half-truths (many courtesy of the subject herself) and scanty facts to uncover the complex path of ""a life not so much lived as waged."" Born near Pittsburgh in 1864, Elizabeth Jane Cochran began her career with an extraordinary stroke of luck -- the editor of The Pittsburgh Dispatch, fascinated by her spirited letter rebuking a columnist who urged women to stay at home, gave the untrained 20- year-old a position and, in the fashion of the day, a catchy life-long pseudonym. But it was her own initiative that secured lasting fame. Deciding to scale the walls of newspaper capital New York, with her sights set on Joseph Pulitzer's splashy The World, Bly quickly became a leading investigative reporter in a business still largely closed to women. National celebrity came with an effort to better Jules Verne's fictional Phileas Fogg by going around the world in 75 days. Her relentlessly self-referential but charming and uninhibited style made Bly, in Kroeger's estimation, perhaps the first ""gonzo"" journalist. Reborn as an enlightened manufacturer after a curious elopement with a millionaire industrialist 40 years her senior, Bly mastered technology sufficiently to pick up 25 patents in her own name. Financial ruin drew the now-widowed Bly to Austria to report from the front lines of WW I, and a final foray into New York journalism, just prior to her death at 57, cast Bly as a passionate advocate for downtrodden women and children. While skillfully conveying the outlines of an astounding life, Kroeger, hampered by a lack of intimate detail, never manages to make Bly a fully three-dimensional character -- although, as she amply demonstrates, four or five dimensions would seem more appropriate. Inspiring reading for those searching out a feminist role model -- or just a breathless ride through an incredible life.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Times Books