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Hard Travellin : The Hobo and his History by Kenneth Allsop

Hard Travellin : The Hobo and his History by Kenneth Allsop


New York : The New American Library, 1967. First Edition. Stated. Hardcover. 448 pages ; photographic illustrations ; 22 cm. $7.95 dust jacket with minimal wear. Pages lightly tanned and unmarked. Binding is firm.

Kenneth Allsop introduces his remarkable new book with a quotation from a Woody Guthrie folk song: "I been hittin' some hard traveling way down the road". It is a study of men who have always travelled hard - the migrant workers of the United States, ranging in time from the seasonal crop hands and drifters of today back to the great age of the railroads which the hobo labourers both built and rode (illegally) across the opening wheat plains and frontier lumber forests. But he traces the urge to hobo deeper, both to its economic origins and its place in the American dream: to keep on the move, to stay independent, to scorn security and routine. He shows, though, that the heroic image of the free, self-sufficient 'knight of the road' is very different from the facts—facts which, even when they have forced themselves upon government and public awareness, have been for the most part pushed aside and ignored. He traveled 9,000 miles through America in his reconstruction of the old hobo routes. He met and talked with a large assortment of contemporary nomads -the rootless, the alienated, the outsiders of the Great Society - seeking their laconic and uncompromising views, finding out how and why they live this way.

This is a vital piece of social history, charting individual and mass migrations across a continent, and drawing from the actual experience of hobos, as well as the official and unofficial records, to assemble a picture known to very few. It illuminates the profound dichotomy in the American attitude towards the loser - and particularly towards the mobile casual worker, needed and romanticized yet hated and feared because of his nonconformism. It examines the violent antagonism towards migrants' unions and also the hobo's creation of his own legend to compensate for his rough and lonely life. Glorified by poets and lyric writers as the one surviving free man, the hobo is revealed in Mr. Allsop's fascinating portrait as being an inevitable byproduct of the American system, the inhabitant of a strange and separate world. It is a harsh, turbulent and often disturbing story that Mr. Allsop documents; but it is an important and extremely vivid one.

Kenneth Allsop was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1920. He began in journalism as an eighteen-year-old cub reporter for a local paper. After serving in the Royal Air Force during the war, he worked for a variety of British magazines, newspapers, and press agencies as a reporter, feature writer, columnist, and foreign correspondent. He has written literary criticism and other articles for such publications as The Spectator, the London Daily Telegraph, Punch, Realities, Venture, The New York Times Book Review, and Book Week, and has published several novels and short stories. His first novel, Adventure Lit Their Star, was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1950.

Mr. Allsop has also specialized as a jazz columnist and student of American affairs. He has visited America many times on journalistic assignments, and his book The Bootleggers, a social history of Prohibition and the gangster, is being produced as a musical on Broadway in April 1968. At present Mr. Allsop is resident commentator on the BBC's nightly current-affairs TV program, "Twenty-Four Hours," book critic for the London Evening News, and a columnist for Nova magazine. He lives in Hertfordshire, England.

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