N4L 135: "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure"

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By Janet Perry, Janet Perry: blogger, and Nonfiction book lover. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

SUMMARY

Award- winning journalist and six-time author Matthew Algeo brings us Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip. By retracing the Trumans’ 2500-mile journey from Independence, Missouri to the East Coast and back again, Algeo captures the ordinariness of an extraordinary former U.S. President and his wife Bess. Although the Trumans could not reasonably travel incognito, as they had planned, they travel on a tight budget, staying in simple hotels and eating at everyday diners along the way.

Truman, our last citizen-president, uses his road trip to visit old friends as well as to capitalize on the chance to secure a retirement pension for himself and future ex-presidents. He also becomes “the first ex-president to engage in partisan politics in the age of modern mass media.” Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure is a great read-aloud for families who want to understand 1950s American history and all its tangents and contradictions.

LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS

  • With only a high-school diploma, he’s the last American president to not attend college.
  • When Truman leaves the White House in 1953, he has no plan for the rest of his life and his only income is a small army pension of $111.96/month.
  • Truman, a “road scholar,” campaigns vigorously to improve the U.S. transportation system.
  • Truman loves driving (fast), but he gets rusty in while in the White House.
  • In spite of getting many lucrative offers, Truman refuses to “commercialize” the presidency or “exploit or trivialize the office in any way.”
  • The Trumans travel without Secret Service protection.
  • In the early 1950s, no two hotels and motels are alike, and even finding one could be difficult when road-tripping.
  • Cold-War fear and carefree optimism co-exist in the 1950s.
  • Truman, in all practical terms, invents the modern press conference.

QUOTES FROM ALGEO

  • “Harry Truman was the last president to leave the White House and return to something resembling a normal life.”
  • “Harry and Bess Truman’s road trip…marked the end of an era: never again would a former president and the first lady mingle so casually with their fellow citizens.”
  • “The [road] trip was…part of his effort to make the transition…from Mr. President to Mr. Citizen.”
  • “[In Truman’s day,] you worked until you couldn’t work anymore, in which case your family, probably large, provided for you. Or you worked until you died. No gold watches, no pensions, no Social Security.”

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