Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo is a historical tale of the American road trip. In the summer of 1953, President Harry Truman and his wife, Bess set out from their home in Independence, Missouri, in a 1953 Chrysler. According to Algeo, Truman embarked on the road trip with a goal of blending back into the country as an ordinary American citizen following his presidency. The pair traveled through the rural heartland of the country, journeying into the major cities of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City before heading back west to their home in Missouri. The anecdotes and descriptions of the journey in this book were developed from eyewitness accounts, and from research of oral history interviews and other documents at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Plus, the author, a New York Times columnist, followed much of their original route on his own road trip.
Although there are descriptions of how the Trumans stopped in the finest of hotels during their jaunts through the major cities, the most enjoyable portion of the book follows the former president and first lady as they traveled in rural America. Algeo describes diners in which the couple ate during that hot summer of 1953, and also unpleasant details of some of the decrepit motels in which they stayed which were unsafe, dangerous, and decaying. Harry and Bess Truman traveled without bodyguards or secret service agents. They stopped in the lodgings and eateries where any American person stopped while on the road, and according to the author, President Truman pumped his own gas. The pair were even pulled over for driving too slowly on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.. Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure is a fantastic representation and depiction of a simpler time, without the pressures and inherent indignities imposed by a 24-hour news cycle. The prose is so convincing and accessible that it almost seems like the reader is sitting in the front seat with the Truman’s on their summer vacation.
Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure is perfect for the historian interested in presidents and Americana. Those interested in traveling the roads of the United States will find striking similarities between their own journeys and the journey of the Trumans. This book would make a great read-aloud story on your next road trip. A nice postscript on the story, the author found Harry’s 1953 Chrysler New Yorker sitting in a barn on a Kansas farm, click here for a short video clip.
Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo
Chicago Review Press (May 1, 2009)