Thursday, March 9, 2017

Harry & Bess's Excellent Adventure: Review

I'm absolutely convinced that Matthew Algeo missed a great marketing tool by NOT titling his book Harry & Bess's Excellent Adventure (full stop). I mean, just look at that cover there on the right. Harry & Bess Truman look like they're ready for shenanigans, don't you think? Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip just sounds so normal and researched and boring.

So...Harry Truman was the last President who didn't leave the White House with a cargo of Secret Service to follow him around and protect him. He didn't have a pension. He was expected to lead a fairly public life and yet pay for it all himself. It cost him $10,000 in a single year for postage to respond to his official mail. When he was invited to Philadelphia in 1953 to give a speech regarding anticipated defense spending cuts (he wasn't in favor), he decided to load his car with traveling gear, bring along his co-pilot, Bess, and set off on a cross-country journey. 

Truman loved cars and he loved driving cars. He loved driving them fast--to Bess's dismay. She agreed to the road trip with one caveat: Harry must keep his speed under the limit. Harry hoped to make the trip as a civilian--no fanfare, just him and Bess enjoying a road trip vacation. Unfortunately, even in the years before instant internet access, his face was too well-known and the couple made few stops without having fellow diners or motel customers lined up for autographs--or to just shake the Ex-President's hand. But the Trumans were always gracious to those seeking a few minutes of their time and they soon learned that folks had started missing Harry almost the moment he walked out of the White House. He left office with a low approval rating (22%), but he was repeatedly asked along the way to think about running for another term. 

My husband and I enjoy taking road trips (especially on Route 66), so it was interesting to read about Harry Truman's love for the road. The best of the book is the first hand reports from families who hosted or met the Trumans along the way. Algeo attempted to recreate the journey and this might have been more effective if so many of his stops hadn't been derailed by restaurants and hotels having either been torn down completely or converted for other uses. Several of the stops could have been more interesting if he had planned better--he could have visited restaurants that were closed when he stopped by, for instance. Overall, a fairly interesting read which can be finished in a single sitting.  ★★

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