Cover image for The man who walked backward : an American dreamer's search for meaning in the Great Depression / Ben Montgomery.
The man who walked backward : an American dreamer's search for meaning in the Great Depression / Ben Montgomery.
Publication Information:

New York, NY : Little, Brown and Co., 2018.
Physical Description:
viii, 291 pages : illustrations, map ; 23 cm
Personal Subject:


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
796.51092 WIN MON Book Adult General Collection
796.51092 WIN MON Book Adult General Collection

On Order



Like most Americans at the time, Plennie Wingo was hit hard by the effects of the Great Depression. When the bank foreclosed on his small restaurant in Abilene, he found himself suddenly penniless with nowhere left to turn. After months of struggling to feed his family on wages he earned digging ditches in the Texas sun, Plennie decided it was time to do something extraordinary -- something to resurrect the spirit of adventure and optimism he felt he'd lost. He decided to walk around the world -- backwards.

In The Man Who Walked Backward , Pulitzer Prize finalist Ben Montgomery charts Plennie's backwards trek across the America that gave rise to Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck, and the New Deal. With the Dust Bowl and Great Depression as a backdrop, Montgomery follows Plennie across the Atlantic through Germany, Bucharest, Turkey, and beyond, and details the daring physical feats, grueling hardships, comical misadventures, and hostile foreign police he encountered along the way. A remarkable and quirky slice of Americana, The Man Who Walked Backward paints a rich and vibrant portrait of a jaw-dropping period of history.

Author Notes

Ben Montgomery is a former enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and founder of the narrative journalism website In 2010, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series called "For Their Own Good," about abuse at Florida's oldest reform school. He lives in Tampa with his three children. He is the author of Grandma Gatewood's Walk .

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Great Depression's rampant unemployment sparked countless record-breaking attempts; Amelia Earhart's famed transatlantic flight, for example, but also desperate novelty acts that captured the public's attention. Montgomery's cheerful narrative focuses on the latter, specifically one perpetrated by the ever-optimistic Plennie Wingo, who, having lost his businesses after being busted for selling alcohol during Prohibition, set out in 1931 to walk backward around the world, hoping that he could cash in by shilling for businesses along his way. Wingo's adventures through the Dust Bowl-ravaged South, Bulgarian archaeological sites, and even 1931 Berlin, which was obsessed with new politician Adolf Hitler, see him stroll backward through many of the era's historically significant events. The small-town Texan had a knack for marketing, but it is his genuine interest in people-regardless of race, color, or religion-that shines through: he befriends a black family in Pennsylvania and serendipitously enjoys tea with Queen Maria of Yugoslavia. Montgomery corroborates Wingo's own written account with multiple news stories from places along the 8,000-mile route, making it all the more striking when discrepancies suddenly arise between Wingo's account of his Turkish adventure, which resulted in a mysterious source of money, and that of the U.S. government, which investigated him over the money. After a year and a half, he returned home claiming success. Writing for casual readers, Montgomery keeps the focus on the human interest narrative, resulting in a light, enjoyable, telling of Wingo's walk backward into the record books. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Montgomery (Grandma Gatewood's Walk) utilizes his background in journalism to illuminate a most intriguing Depression-era character. Texan Plennie Wingo lost his fortune after the 1929 crash. Desperate for a dollar, he took on a bizarre money--making adventure: walking backward across the world. Montgomery follows Wingo's journey through the Dust Bowl and the Hoovervilles, meandering through the American landscape, painting its history and people along the way. Readers will pass through towns that boomed and busted, meet kind strangers who take in a traveler, and imagine big crowds forming to see the man as he walks into town backward. Wielding both the big brush of historical context and the fine comb of biographical detail, Montgomery's text reads as good literature, taking a seemingly peculiar stunt and drawing out the humanity of the man and his era. -VERDICT All American history readers should wander and wonder with Wingo, whose tale is elegantly sketched out here.-Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant P.L., IA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. ix
1 Those Golden Daysp. 3
2 Doing Somethingp. 18
3 Dirt Devils and Detailsp. 36
4 Postcards and Publicityp. 45
5 Where the Grass Grew the Thickestp. 51
6 Round, Spinningp. 62
7 Rubble and Racep. 66
8 Standoff at the Red Riverp. 76
9 Just Human, Same As Youp. 84
10 The Intent Is Sublimep. 97
11 American Dreamp. 103
12 Bone Dry Foreverp. 111
13 Don't Stopp. 128
14 An Ounce of Attentionp. 140
15 Are You Crazy?p. 145
16 Mopery in the Second Degreep. 154
17 Choices and Consequencesp. 162
18 Persevering Pedalistp. 166
19 Bamboozledp. 175
20 Reverse in Wedded Statep. 189
21 Vengeancep. 195
22 Powder Kegp. 203
23 Hinterlandsp. 212
24 A Year on Footp. 218
25 Murder Jailp. 228
26 Going Back, Forward, Uprightp. 238
27 Lone Starp. 248
Epiloguep. 258
Acknowledgmentsp. 275
Bibliographyp. 277
Indexp. 281