Book Review: The Man Who Walked Backwards

The Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer's Search for Meaning in the Great DepressionThe Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer’s Search for Meaning in the Great Depression by Ben Montgomery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ben Mongomery’s new book was a must read for me. He’s the author of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail, a book that I rated as my #1 read in 2014. Mongomery was a finalist for the Pulitizer Prize in 2010. I’m a long distance backpacker, and I relish stories about long adventures powered by foot.

The book is about Plennie Wingo, who was crushed economically by the Great Depression of 1929. With no jobs available to him, and with a wife and daughter to support, Wingo came up with a crazy idea- walking around the world. When he realized that someone had follow up on that stunt, he really got creative and decided to walk it backwards. Through practice, determination, and a pair of glasses that had side mirrors on them that allowed him to periscope what was behind him, Wingo managed to get himself up to 3 m.p.h.

Wingo eventually made it across all the USA ( in two separate trips), but was stopped short in Europe, after he left Hamburg and found himself jailed in Instanbul.

The book depicts life in the USA after the Great Depression, where a quarter still bought a lot. yet a dollar was hard to find . Wingo struggled more than expected in getting through the USA, where he was stopped numerous times by the police who told him it was illegal to walk backwards. He was no stranger to jails, or to con men who put forth the veneer of wealth and friendship to extract what meager funds he did beg up through wearing advertising signs and selling 25 cent postcards of his walk. Many folks also did help him, offering beds, meals, and even some cash surprises.

I thought I ordered a copy of his book through my local library, but I received the 8CD audiobook instead. I have a ” new” used car and had never even considered playing an audiobook through the stereo. I recommend this audiobook. It is unabridged, and very well read, included lively dialogue aided by differing voice patterns by the reader. A bonus CD has 17 pages of maps and photos that brought the book to life.

The book is a great reminder, along with Mongomery’s excellent Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, that major adventures are available to evereryman and everywoman. Taking that first step out of the door is the hardest thing anyone can do, and after that, you build up a momentum that who knows what can happen!

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