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Book Review: Harry Truman's Big Adventure

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road TripHarry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you look at my bookshelf, there’s an inordinate amount of books about Harry Truman (Plain Speaking, Pietruszka’s 1948, American Gunfight, Killing the Rising Sun). Okay, so some people read about vampires, some read about gunslingers. I read about Harry.

Like Algeo’s other books, he finds another great lost historical nugget. After Ike was sworn in and Harry returned to independence, he and Bess decided to take a road trip to Washington DC. It seems unlikely, even in the 1950s, that Truman could travel without being recognized, and despite Bess’s advice to the same, Harry thought he would give it a try. Of course, he was wrong. Every stop he made created a minor buzz. There’s also a funny story about how he got pulled over by a Pennsylvania cop. This was before social media, so Truman may have had some peace, but every where he showed up, it quickly made it to the press.

Another interesting point to this book was that Truman did not receive a Presidential pension. This probably didn’t worry people as rich as Hoover, or with a Supreme Court job like Taft, private as Coolidge, or those who had passed on in office. This was an issue for Truman. Truman thought it was important to keep the prestige of the office, which solves what modern Presidents would have done- taking symbolic Chairboard positions and lecturing for big bucks. Truman liked to keep an office in Independence and respond to correspondence, which was not cheap.
This is a pretty quick book, and can be read in one or two settings if so inclined. Algeo fills the book out by taking the same route and reporting what he saw. It’s a charming contrast between vacationing in the 50s/60s and modern day. For those like me, we have heard those stories from our parents and grandparents, and that will be soon lost. Algeo meets some of those who met Truman or their descendants.

Along the way, he does what he does best, which is pepper in random trivia. In this case, mostly centering around the interstate system and the hotel/entertainment industry and how it has changed. There’s also plenty of local history in the towns he visited. I eat that stuff up, and if that is the type of book you are interested in, it really is a great book. It is short enough for re-reading, but long enough that you get your money’s worth.

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