Our book today is for those of you who took road trips this summer. Or are planning road trips in the future. Or have ever taken a road trip. Or have thought, Thank God we don't go on road trips.
It's Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo.
I don't know why the title of this book isn't Harry and Bess Truman's Excellent Adventure, since Bess was with Harry for all 2,500 miles of their journey, which began June 19, 1953. It was a different way of life: Harry and Bess did not have Secret Service protection, and they weren't hounded by the media, although reporters soon found them out and wrote articles on the whereabouts of the former President and First Lady.
Matthew Algeo retraced the Truman's trip from their home in Independence, Missouri, to the East Coast, in bits and pieces between autumn, 2006, and summer, 2008. As often as he could, he stayed where the Trumans stayed, and he spoke with the people they encountered––or their children.
The Trumans had time for a trip because Harry had retired, but their financial situation left something to be desired. Harry was pretty much broke when he left the presidency. They had bought Bess's brothers' shares in their family home. It was the only house they ever owned, and the only place where they could afford to live.
|219 N. Delaware Street|
The Truman Home
Truman didn't qualify for Social Security; he wasn't in the Senate long enough to receive a congressional pension; presidents didn't yet receive a pension; and Harry wouldn't dream of taking advantage of his former position by giving speeches or endorsing something in exchange for money (are you listening, Bill Clinton?). Algeo writes that Truman's "only income would be a pension for his service as an officer in France during World War I. That pension amounted to $111.96 a month, after taxes." Fortunately, Harry was able to make some money by writing his memoirs.
This windfall allowed the Truman to take a couple of vacations, one to Hawaii, and the other, this road trip, during which President Truman wanted to be treated as plain old Harry Truman. He was pleased, though, that so many people were excited to see him, and they wished him well. He had not been a popular president:
Everywhere he went he was met with welcoming cries: "Hi, Harry!" "Try again in three years!" "We miss you, Harry!" It was hard to believe that barely a year earlier he had been the least popular president in American history. Even Truman himself had a hard time believing it.
Bess and Harry spent some nights in hotels, ate in diners, and stayed some nights with friends who served them a meal. They also visited their daughter Margaret, who lived in New York City. They tried to keep the trip as casual as possible, and this book reflects that relaxed feeling. However, it wasn't a terribly exciting trip. Reading about stops at gas stations and dinner parties with old pals gets a bit old after a while.
I enjoy the interesting information about the Trumans, but I don't consider Algeo a brilliant writer. His work is adequate for this story. If you want a book with unusual information about Harry and Bess Truman, a book you can skim through if you feel like it, then this book is a good choice.
Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Approval.
I can recommend a visit to the Truman library and museum and their home in Independence. It's a fun place to visit. The Trumans lived a simple life. They liked it that way. I must say, however, that their kitchen has just about the ugliest paint job I've ever seen:
Infinities of love,
Hey, I'm crying foul, Janie Junebug! I didn't give you permission to post a picture of my kitchen! :)ReplyDelete
It's interesting that Harry S. Truman had a lower approval rating than did Richard Nixon at the time Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal and that the citizenry grew more fond of Truman in the years following his presidency. In the early and mid 70s, the troubled years of the Watergate investigation that led to Nixon's resignation, Truman emerged (quoting Wiki article) "as a kind of political folk hero, a president who was thought to exemplify an integrity and accountability many observers felt was lacking in the Nixon White House."
I feel lucky to have been around in the early 50s when the Trumans took their road trip. It was indeed a different time. The pace of life was relaxed and people didn't feel the urgent need to stay connected with 100 friends and family members every minute of every day.
Thank you for the book review, dear Janie, and have a safe and happy weekend!
All the candidates like to say they're just like Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan.Delete
Well, I won't invest money in this book, but good for Algeo to love Harry as much as I do and recreate this adventure.ReplyDelete
If you love Harry, then I hope you've visited the library and museum.Delete
Thanks for the info on Harry and Bess...never has been something I would have picked up with interest. You are absolutely right about the kitchen. What were they thinking!!ReplyDelete
They let their daughter Margaret choose the colors when she was young. I think it's supposed to be apple green and cherry red. A friend of mine said they must have loved their daughter a lot to let her use those colors, and they kept them!Delete
A pink kitchen. I like it--but not for a man! Maybe for Barbie. Wait...SENATORS receive a pension? I didn't realize that. I knew Presidents did...ReplyDelete
Members of Congress are vested in the pension plan after five years of service. You should Google it. You'll be shocked by the size of the pensions.Delete
That paint job is horrible but it's not the worst I've ever seen. Why was he such an unpopular president?ReplyDelete
Now, Truman is considered a "near great" or "great" president. When he left office, people were sick of the Korean conflict, angry that he had fired General Douglas McArthur, upset that he seized the country's steel mills to prevent a strike, and he was accused of being "soft" on communism. It was a tough time to be president.Delete
Though I love the retro style, I'm with you, Janie-boo! That is one hideous kitchen (though I'd take that table and make it cute, by cracky!).ReplyDelete
I think old Harry is underrated; I like his homey style. And he could make hats. That is what his administration needed: more hats.
Although he was known as a haberdasher, I don't think he actually made hats, did he? Didn't he and another man own a men's clothing store that failed? I thought people referred to him as a haberdasher to put him down. He's very popular now.Delete
I know he opened Truman & Jacobson haberdashery in 1919. You're right, he probably didn't actually make the hats. It was more of a tailored suit kinda place.Delete
I still think his administration needed more hats.
I've always liked Truman.
All administrations need more hats. Hats can solve our problems.Delete
Thanks for doing the work of reading and reviewing the book. I think I'll skip this one. I'm not convinced, judging by that photo of the lovely house and the fact that he traveled so much after his presidency, that he struggled terribly with finances. Sounds as though the author attempted to make it sound that way.ReplyDelete
Happy weekend, Janie!
The house looks nice in that photo, but it is sometimes described as "ramshackle." It's not all that nice inside. The rooms are small. Margaret Truman Daniel, who grew up in that house, called it "the chilblain palace" because it was so cold. I've read many books about Truman. He really did struggle financially. Selling his memoirs saved the day. He also accepted the occasional favor (his car was probably sold to him at a greatly reduced price, but no one knows for sure), yet he refused to "commercialize" the presidency. When he left office he was offered 100k to endorse a product. He turned it down. If he accepted money for a speaking engagement, he used it to help build his library. Two trips is not a lot of traveling for a person who had the presidency land on his lap before World War II ended.Delete
Correction: Bess and Harry also traveled to Europe in 1956. He and his siblings sold some land they had inherited. Harry said that selling the land kept him from "financial embarrassment."Delete
I looked up the house, too. It's larger than I thought it was. The second floor is off limits to the public, so I mostly remember the kitchen and a small living room with a fireplace. The Trumans didn't own the house until 1952, when Bess's mother died and left them the house. Before Harry was president, they lived in the house with Bess's mother and, for a time, her grandmother.Delete
Interesting. Thanks for the clarification. I respect people who are humble/modest, and I now have more respect for Truman. Thank you, JJ.Delete
One of my favorite things about him is that he was extremely devoted to his family. He was close to his mother, who lived long enough to see her son become president. He adored Bess and Margaret. I'm not sure how he felt about Bess's mother, but I'm sure he was polite to her. She thought he wasn't good enough for her daughter, even when he was president.Delete
It must've been nice for the president not to be trailed by an entourage of security everywhere he went.ReplyDelete
The Trumans did not like the Secret Service. Covering former presidents began before Truman died, though. Bess and Harry didn't let the agents in the house most of the time. I think the agents had an office near the house.Delete
Sorry if this is a double comment---something looked funny when I hit "publish" before:ReplyDelete
It's so strange to think of an ex-president being hard up for money. I do love the idea of them taking a road trip...but yeah, doesn't sound like the most scintillating read. So thanks for giving us the interesting bits here. Maybe the Pepto Bismal color had a soothign effect on their digestive systems???
Carter also left the presidency without much money. He had put his business in a blind trust, and the business failed. He makes money by writing many successful books. He has accepted some favors, too. He used to go hunting with Sam Walton in Sam's private plane. I don't think Carter accepts fees for speaking engagements. I believe the Carters live in the house in Plains that they owned before he became president. I've seen photos of it. It looks pretty modest.Delete
HA! I like Nicki's comment about the Pepto colored paint in the kitchen.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the review, but this sounds like one I may skip. It was nice to think about the days when former presidents didn't have to be followed by a horde of secret servicemen for the rest of their lives, though.
I think the coverage for former presidents began when Kennedy was assassinated. I read (and watch movies) so you don't have to--sometimes.Delete
Amazing that a president had so little income for the remainder of his life. Seeing the Truman Library has always been on my bucket list.ReplyDelete
I enjoy the Truman Library tremendously. The last time we were there, Favorite Young Man was about 12. He recalls Truman's handwritten list of goals for his time in office. It included universal healthcare. He is correct. It was a goal Truman could not achieve. The Trumans were okay financially after he sold his memoirs, and Harry and his two siblings sold the Truman family farm.Delete
I have always been a fan of the "simple life."ReplyDelete
I don't think the kitchen was so bad.
Tone down the green, and it would be fine.
It's definitely a kitchen from a different time period. It will never be changed because the house will stay as it was when Bess Truman died. Their daughter Margaret put the dishes on the table. Otherwise, everything is as Bess had it. I think she lived longer than any other First Lady.Delete
What a cool sounding book!ReplyDelete
Wow, times have changed, huh?
We won't see George and Laura Bush on a road trip, or selling their ranch because they need $.Delete
That kitchen makes me shudder ...ReplyDelete
Not sure if the book's for me, but it sounds very interesting nevertheless.
I've seen it for myself. The green is much worse than it looks in the photo.Delete
First the book sounds interesting I could read such a book, secondly that kitchen oh how I would like a pink kitchen.............really I would..............you don't believe me I wonder why...............ReplyDelete
It's pretty bad with the green. Pink accents could look nice in a kitchen. My kitchen is black and white. My favorite kitchen was one I designed myself. The counters were blue, and the cabinets were oak. It was so pretty.Delete
Wow. No President will ever be able to do that again. It's not just a post-Kennedy matter, either. Truman was the last President before TV took over the world.ReplyDelete
Truman was the first president to have his inauguration televised, but you're right: Kennedy launched the presidential age of TV.Delete
Dear Janie, I read this book during the summer and also visited, with a Minnesota friend who came in July for a few days, the Truman museum (I've been there several times), the Truman home (my first visit), and the Truman farm in Grandview (also my first visit). He was a great man and is ranked as the 6th president when it comes to accomplishments. And of course, he's from Independence where I grew up! Peace.ReplyDelete
I love seeing the houses of famous people. The houses in themselves can be an education.Delete
I'm blinded by that kitchen. I'm shocked at the income of that former president. We just got back from a road trip ourselves. Hey...perhaps I could write "Andi and Phil's Excellent Adventure" and quit my day job.ReplyDelete
Hmm....a blog post will have to do. But this book sounds quite interesting.