The Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer's Search for Meaning in the Great Depression Hardcover – September 18, 2018
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"In The Man Who Walked Backward, Ben Montgomery lovingly assembles a mosaic of the United States and the world between the wars, told through the life of a small-town Texan who refused to accept his miserable lot during the Depression. Montgomery's vivid storytelling resurrects the strange and wonderful Plennie Wingo, a new American Everyman."
―Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night
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A string of bad luck had hit Plennie, thanks to the Depression. Nearly penniless, he hit on an idea. People were doing all kinds of crazy things to break records in a quest for fame. With fame comes money. It seemed as if everything that could be done had been done. Except...no one had walked around the world backward.
Plennie became obsessed. Every day for six months he practiced walking backward. He bought a map and sunglasses with mirrors to see behind him. He was given a cane. He put on his steel heeled shoes and a suit and ticked a notebook in his pocket, and in 1931 he left Texas, walking backward down Main Street on his way toward Dallas. He had picture postcards of himself to sell for income and hoped to find a commercial sponsor.
The Man Who Walked Backward by Ben Montgomery is Plennie's story, which is entertaining and interesting. He meets with great generosity and falls victim to scammers. He is a dreamer and a go-getter, fated to hit brick walls. He is harassed by cops and jailed in a foreign land. An affable man, he made friends who offered him shelter and meals and sometimes cash.
As readers travel with Plennie, we experience the misery and poverty of the Depression. We learn the story of America's growth through the history of the places he passed through, and how we used up and destroyed our vast riches.
Famous events and people are mentioned: the destruction of the buffalo as part of Native American genocide; the destruction of the prairie; towns that boom and bust; lynching and the Klan; Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone; the kidnapping of Charles Lindberg's baby; the rise of Hoovervilles and the Dust Bowl; the growth of the beer industry and Prohibition.
And we travel with Plennie to Germany to experience the rise of Hitler, and across Europe to Turkey. It is unsettling how 1931 America is so familiar: ecological disaster, the destruction of the working class, the rise of a man who knew how to work the crowd, "tailoring his speeches to his audiences" and promising to make Germany great again. "People loved him. those who didn't were scared of those who did."
I found the book fascinating.
I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
By following the exploits of Plennie Wingo, a West Texas character who combines the naivete of Forrest Gump with the hucksterism of P.T. Barnum, Montgomery transports us to a time when economic chaos begins to plunge the world into its most devastating war. Whether Wingo ultimately achieves his quixotic goal is not particularly relevant to the reader's enjoyment of this extended shaggy-dog story. What will remain is the basic decency and generosity of average people willing to help a total stranger complete an impossible task.