And unlike its subject’s footsteps, the book is badly balanced. Montgomery takes more than 200 pages to set down Wingo’s personal story and his odyssey until he reaches Germany. Yet he devotes only a dozen or so pages to Wingo’s trek through Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece, and a mere nine to his 1,450-mile California-to-Texas leg. Perhaps this was unavoidable—maybe there just aren’t many good documentary sources describing those parts of Wingo’s trip—but the lopsidedness is striking ... But Montgomery rarely analyzes and integrates this material into any grand narrative. Instead, he unleashes torrents of historical recitation... Montgomery chokes you with not especially fascinating statistics (did you know that when Wingo arrived in Joplin, Missouri, it had 7,468 telephones, 42 churches, and a library filled with 56,708 books?). During these asides, Wingo virtually disappears.
There’s a feel at times that Montgomery is bewitched by the open spaces; his many-paged reverie on the Great Plains and their Indigenous inhabitants ('the Indians submitted and the buffalo rotted and the plains sat empty') seems as if it really belongs in another book. Still, following Wingo’s travels makes for a pleasing enough read ... A minor-episode-in-history yarn that gets spun out a couple of dozen pages too long but that has legs all the same.