Even if you haven’t read Around the World in Eighty Days, chances are you’ve heard of both the book and its legendary author, Jules Verne. Published nearly 150 years ago, the book was a smash hit in its own time – and it continues to be part of the world’s cultural DNA to this very day. But why? What made this book so special? Why did this book become synonymous with circumnavigating the world like no book had before?
In a time of literary titans the likes of Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Herman Melville, Verne held his own as one the world's best science-fiction writers – before it was cool. How did this book with a fairly simple premise about a man betting half his fortune that he could circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, a feat that only became probable a few years prior, establish its place in literary history alongside every book you were forced to read in middle school? Well, like Mr. Clemens used to say, truth is stranger than fiction.
Timing is Everything
The 1870s was, in many ways, the beginning of the world we think of when we talk about the 20th century. The age of exploration was coming to an end, and while the ability to travel around the world via established trade routes had been a thing for centuries, the ability to actually tour the world was a brand-new concept. But, with the completion of the American Transcontinental Railroad (1869), the opening of the Suez Canal (1869), and the linking of the Indian railways across the sub-continent (1870), it was now possible to not just circle the world, but to do it in style.
While it wasn’t impossible to circle the earth in 80 days, in the late 19th century it was still pretty improbable. But the popularity of Around the World in Eighty Days sparked the imagination of the world. The idea of experiencing the diversity of lands and culture in a matter of months was part of the social consciousness, and it was here to stay. Some intrepid adventurers even took the fictional record as a challenge. The legendary Nellie Bly (seriously, if you don’t know this woman, click on the link – she’s amazing) was one of the first to give it a go in 1889, besting the mark by eight days. Over nearly 150 years since Verne’s book was published, everyone from pilots to cyclists have tried their hand at circling the globe in a single trip.
So why has Around the World in Eighty Days continued to be so popular a century and a half? Maybe it was a case of the right book at the right time? The challenge of it all? Is it just that good? Whatever the case may be, the novel is old enough that free e-book versions can be found all over the internet. Give it a read. And maybe the next time you decide to take a trip, you’ll feel inspired to take the long way home.
For more ideas on where to go and how to get there, be sure to check out our other Olympus Carrington blog posts.