Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip
By Matthew Algeo
Harry Truman left office in 1953, before ex-Presidents had Secret Service protection or pensions. With only his Army pension for income, Harry returned to his Independence, Missouri home to resume life as an ordinary citizen. Harry loved to drive, and was determined (despite his wife’s misgivings) to make a 2500-mile vacation road trip to New York and back. He and Bess set out in their new Chrysler on a journey over America’s back roads (no interstates then), with stops at small-town diners and Mom and Pop motels, during a hell-busting heat spell (no air conditioning in cars then, either).
This book is utterly charming. This is not a 1000-page deep history. What it offers is an intriguing and humorous look at Harry Truman, the 1950s, and road trips in general. It offers fascinating side stories (like Harry’s feud with Dwight D. Eisenhower), details of meals taken (Bess really eats quite a lot of fruit), and a view of what has happened since 1953 to some of the places they visited (one of the motels is now a halfway house for felons). A very satisfying read, and an incitement to read much more about Harry Truman.
Someone Knows My Name
By Hill, Lawrence
This beautifully-written novel, originally published in Canada as The Book of Negroes, has been chosen as the 2009 selection for Canada Reads.
The book opens in London, where a now-old Aminata Diallo is being courted by abolitionists to help plead their cause before Parliament. Through a series of eloquent first-person rememberings, we learn Aminata’s life story: her kidnapping from her African village of Bayo by slavers; her heartbreaking journey across the sea; her role on an indigo plantation near Charleston and subsequent travels. Set in pre- and post-Revolutionary America, this story is rich in historical detail, including the evacuation of free Blacks and slaves to Nova Scotia, a backhanded reward for remaining loyal to the crown during the Revolution. (The Book of Negroes is the account book into which their names were written before the evacuation.) This book is enjoyable on so many levels-as a work of literary fiction, as an exploration of hidden history, as a sweeping saga, and as a tale of semi-triumph. The author gives us a narrator who remains skeptical, defiant, ungrateful, and quite sure of her identity throughout this convincing and arduous yet lovely novel.