19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book about the Dust Bowl
Looking at the cover, this book seems as if it's going to be something really academic--and it is scholarly and knowledgeable--but it's never academic in the bad sense, in the boring sense.
I read this right after reading Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time," and found this book's descriptions of the devastation caused by the 1930s Dust Bowl to be much more...
Published on October 16, 2007 by Mike Smith
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting history and ideas in a very dry context
In the midst of the Great Depression in the 1930's, the Great Plains states faced the additional hardship of one of the worst environmental disasters commonly known as the Dust Bowl. Traditionally grassland, the area was not well-suited to the kind of extensive farming that preceeded those years. And once the natural grass which held the soil together was gone and the...
Published on April 12, 2007 by J. Green
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book about the Dust Bowl,
I read this right after reading Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time," and found this book's descriptions of the devastation caused by the 1930s Dust Bowl to be much more vivid and gripping, this book's facts to be much quirkier and more interesting, and this book's scope to feel much broader and more widely felt. With "The Worst Hard Time," I got the idea that the whole thing really only affected a handful of counties, which I knew was wrong, but with this book there was no denying just how epic the whole ordeal was.
I loved this book (despite its author's amusing tendency to quote Marx) and consider it to be perhaps the very best book I've read about the Dust Bowl--and I've read a few of them. You should read it, for sure.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most essential book for these times,
Professor Worster, however, views history from a Marxist standpoint, a trait that colors some of his conclusions. While I agree with him that land is frequently viewed by the shortsighted as a commodity to be used and discarded, I feel that the lessons of the Dust Bowl have resulted in safer, drought-resistant patterns of crop farming. However, as Worster adroitly points out, the shifting in agricultural practices in the Southern plains is accompanied by a wasteful use of available underground water, raising a peril of the Dust Bowl's return. So have we really learned anything? Time will tell, and not very long from now.
So far as Professor Worster addresses the socio-economic causes of the reckless destruction of the short-grass prairie ecosystem for quick profit, his discussion is masterful His organization of topics and chronology is excellent, and the reader will not soon forget the horror of living with the dust. The photos of dust storms and their effect are almost nightmarish.
Regardless of one's irritation at the myopia of those who try to farm mrginal land, his is a sympathetic portrait as well, waxing almost lyrical in his discussions of the effects of crop failures on the local populace. The book is copiously reserched and peopled with personal anecdotes of those who lived through the "Dirty Thirties". This narrative includes not only the local citizenry, but contains numerous passages about governmental attempts to allay the crisis.
I recommend this book very highly. I think anyone who likes history, who is concerned about the effects of climatic change, or both, ought to read this book very carefully. It should be an essential part of anyone's library.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family from Center of Dust Bowl,
We still farm there and it seems that the cyclical weathern pattern could be developing for a reoccurance of the same pattern, especially since the water table used for irrigation (so important in that part of the U.S., is decreasing yearly. Randy Miller
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Effective Environmental History,
Donald Worster argues that a close link existed between the Dust Bowl and the capitalist mentality of American society during the early 20th century, as American zeal for wealth and expansion wrought devastating affects on both the land and its people.
In his treatise of the Dust Bowl, Worster focuses on the mindset of American culture both before and during the 1930's. Worster believes that before the Dust Bowl and the years immediately preceding it, the area of the Southern Plains enjoyed relative ecological stability as neither the Indians, nor the primary white farmers following them viewed their environment and land as expendable resources or commodities. However, as the Jeffersonian ideals of agrarian harmony with nature gave way to the destructive and selfish capitalist ideology, the Southern Plains became the victim of economic ambition. Subsistence farming no longer existed in the Southern Plains at the time of the Dust Bowl. Rather, Worster describes an area dominated by massive amounts of machinery, fewer farm laborers, and a construct known as the factory farm based on city assembly lines, business principles, and exploitative ends. As the ill-effects of factory farming came together with a period of significant drought, the resulting dust storms generated not only a environmentally destructive force, but also became a symbol of the filth and disparity of the capitalistic pursuits of American society, a symbol that would leave Americans searching for both a solution and a way to prevent such an incident from occurring again.
Worster describes the delicate ecological reality of the Southern Plains in great detail as he presents the scientific basis necessary to further support his claim of unhindered misuse of the lands by American commercial farming. The author presents the Southern Plains as an untainted grassland community, which remained largely in tact due before the period of great settlement and farming in the area. Worster shows that the commercial farming techniques during the early 20th century stripped the land of not only its productiveness, but also its ability to achieve an organic equilibrium in nature. Due to both governmental and personal economic motivations, American farmers felt compelled to plow, plant, and exploit every free tract across the Southern Plains, a trend only intensified by the importance placed on the American farmer during the period immediately following the onset on the Great Depression. Due to the impeding pressures of capitalism, the plowing of the majority of the land and focusing on planting and increasing production of only a select few cash crops resulted in a great loss in biodiversity in the ecosystem of the Southern Plains. This ecological imbalance would reap widespread devastation in the manifestation of not only the dust storms of the period, but also in the displacement of many who depended upon the land for their livelihood.
In the midst of the Dust Bowl, Worster presents the popularly held and supported proposals for solutions to the problem facing the Southern Plains. Worster provides examples such as the formation of the National Land Use Planning Committee and the conservatism of Roosevelt's New Deal to show the government's efforts to offset the devastation of the Dust Bowl and preventing the recurrence of another such disaster in the future. The author shows that, though the ideas of such prevention and regulation constituted seemingly positive ventures, these strategies proved relatively ineffective in drastically changing farming practice or preventing another such event to occur in the future. Worster presents historical information that exemplifies the attitudes associated with the expansionary, free enterprise oriented, capitalistic American culture, which actively participated in the destruction and exploitation of nature to satiate its ever-growing greed.
In Dust Bowl, Worster presents a well-developed and clear argument for his advocacy of American culture's inseparable tie to capitalism and its affect in the ecological devastation of the Southern Plains. The book not only contains a great deal of specific information, but also artfully ties the Dust Bowl into many underlying themes present in early 20th century America. The book supplements one's understanding of the time periods both before and after the Great Depression and provides insight into the affects of the nation's fallen economy on rural America.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting history and ideas in a very dry context,
This review is from: Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (Paperback)In the midst of the Great Depression in the 1930's, the Great Plains states faced the additional hardship of one of the worst environmental disasters commonly known as the Dust Bowl. Traditionally grassland, the area was not well-suited to the kind of extensive farming that preceeded those years. And once the natural grass which held the soil together was gone and the regular cycle of drought hit, there was nothing to stop the wind from blowing it across the land or into huge dust storms that raged for weeks on end. History usually focuses only on the social and economic effects of the Dust Bowl, but Worster adds the environment into the mix and seeks to find the root cause of this man-made disaster. He opens with a quote from Karl Marx, and although he dismisses that in his newly added Afterword as mere bravado, it seems apparent throughout his writting that he's a Marxist in his beliefs. He places the blame on American culture and Capitalism - not on the people, but the culture that encourages and drives them to create bigger farms and use machinery that more effectively tills the land. He argues that inherent to American culture is this behavior of exploiting the land for profit and only through government intervention and control can we avoid this kind of disaster in the future.
I can agree that the greed of Capitalism is laid bare in this disaster and that the land is probably not suitable to the kind of exessive use that happens there. But I'm not convinced that his Socialist suggestions (which unfortunately are not offered in a very concise or summarized way) are the answer. He seems to dismiss and ignore the inherent problems in Socialism and it's failure to provide for the people under it's rule. Capitalism may not be perfect, but it taps into mankind's natural desire to better one's position through individual efforts, while Socialism in theory recognizes the brotherhood of mankind but fails to provide for even the basic needs of the people (even the author recognizes it is this Capitalist economy that provides food for most of the world). And his suggestions for population control or that the people in that area should go back to bare subsistence farming seems far-fetched. But at least the author is exploring new ideas (or probably just regurgitating old ones from the 60's and 70's), and for that I give him credit.
But while I found many aspects of the book interesting and insightful, overall it's pretty dry reading (pun intended). The statistics become a bit boring and make the book feel excessively academic. The lectures against the evils of American culture were tiresome, and I felt he had a very condescending attitude when discussing the people affected. And I would have enjoyed a better discussion on the natural ecology of the land and it's native plants and animals, which I think would have been more inspiring. But on a personal aside, the one thing that made me realize how boring the book was becoming for me was when I kept losing my place (I'd forget to put the bookmark back where I left off). But when I picked it up again I would read for several pages before I realized that wasn't actually where I left off before. It was like it didn't matter where I read - it all kinda flowed together.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Land Strikes Back,
Dust Bowl is divided into five parts, and the author has a personal interest in the subject and the location of this ecological disaster. The author dedicates this book to his parents, who actually experienced the trauma of leaving the plains for California during the Great Depression. Although the author was born in California, he spent his childhood living on the Great Plains and considers himself "a native son." The first part of the book provides insight into what a dust storm was like, and how this severe wind erosion effected the land, the people, and the nation in general. Part two gives the reader a sense of place, by explaining the chronological physical history of the Great Plains from prehistoric times to the mechanized wheat farming of the early twentieth century. In part three, Worster concentrates his study toward Cimarron County in the Oklahoma panhandle during the "dirty thirties," by describing people's experiences, government programs, and quotes from historical documents. Moving north to Haskell County, Kansas, Worster scrutinizes this region by interpreting economic, political, social, and agricultural trends evidenced by historical data. The final chapters of the book relate the history of the agricultural conservation movement in the United States, describe the delicate balance between all living things in an ecosystem, and illustrate why the "filthy fifties" took place and how other agricultural disasters may appear in the future.
Marilyn Glaser, Student
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent survey, but a bit reductive and agenda-driven,
This review is from: Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (Paperback)Donald Worster examines the history and causes of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, concluding that, ultimately, it was caused by the culture of capitalism. Farmers following the capitalist mantra of increased production at any cost disrupted the ecological balance of the plains region by stripping the land and created the environmental conditions that made the region susceptible to dust storms. Worster writes a well-written and intriguing look into the history of the Dust Bowl, but his book suffers from its reductive and agenda-driven nature.
From the beginning, Worster is not shy about his ultimate purpose. He writes that the most valuable lesson learned from the southern plains "may be...as a model from which we can learn much about the ecological insensitivity of our culture" (4). This culture is the culture of capitalism, a system Worster declares "has a greater resource hunger than others...and less capacity for restraint" (7). This capitalist system created the "business mentality" that led to the main causes of the Dust Bowl: "the alienation of man from the land, its commercialization, and its consequent abuse" (63). The drought was "a necessary factor" for the dust storms, but not a sufficient one (42). Rather, the environmental devastation came from a shared "condition of profound ecological disequilibrium...caused by a fundamentally similar economic order" (62). Ultimately, "it was culture in the main that created the Dust Bowl" (94).
Worster writes that capitalism has an "imperial and commercial" attitude toward the environment, which undermines any notion of maintaining ecological balance (97). He calls this "revolutionary impulse" of man seeking to dominate nature rather than recognizing the dominance of nature, the most "important change in the human condition" of the modern world (95). The only way to restore this equilibrium was to restructure the economic order, something no one was willing to do (209).
Worster, especially in the ending chapters, turns this ostensible history of the Dust Bowl into a social commentary, a criticism of the culture of capitalism. Some of the book seems entirely driven by this agenda. Regardless of one's personal opinion on the matter, the use of history to make a sociological argument fundamentally undermines the objectivity of that history. Facts begin to be cherry-picked to support the argument, rather than the argument flowing from the facts. This is, of course, a danger in any history book that has a thesis, but the hazard is multiplied even further when the author sets out from the beginning to argue for a modern-day agenda. Everything begins to be interpreted in light of present circumstances. In many places, Dust Bowl reads like an anti-capitalist manifesto.
That said, Dust Bowl in the main is good history. The first half of the book especially provides an excellent portrait of what is was really like to live in the midst of the storms and the struggles the people went through. As the book nears the end, however, Worster begins to lose some of his objectivity and his anti-capitalist agenda begins popping up every other page. Dust Bowl is a great book, probably the best on the storms that ravaged the plains in the 1930s, but the reader must always keep in mind the point of view Worster is writing from.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Environmental Disaster,
I think this book does an excellent job of presenting the human side of the dust bowl disaster. He doesn't romanticize the people who lived in that section of the country or their part in the ecological disaster. He describes in a lot of detail what factors led to the disaster. Apparently it was primarily due to both drought and a short sighted desire to strike it rich plowing up grassy prairie to plant wheat. The growing of wheat during the 1910's was especially profitable because of high prices. Unfortunately, the center of the dust bowl was and is highly unsuited for any agricultural practice that leaves the soil fully exposed to wind erosion.
About my only complaint of the book is that it gets a little heavy handed on the idea of an agrarian "utopian" world. When I was younger I liked liberal "utopian" dreams as well. However, I think that human self-interest is never going to fully go away. It's good to appeal to people's idealism, communitarian and environmental values, etc. However, any meaningful solution also needs to be sympathetic to the human beings trying to make a living in this dusty land.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent History, Excellent Reading,
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite grasping others' response to this book,
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This review is from: Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (Paperback)I'm only commenting here because I have read and enjoyed this book and am not at all grasping some of the comments about it on these pages.
First, for a book of American environmental history, it is hardly "dry." The writing is powerful and engaging. But it's a history book. Worster takes us into some of the analysis of why he blames those he blames for the problem, and yes that means talking about some pretty mundane documents and proceedings. I think he does a truly great job of keeping it interesting.
Then there is the "Marxism" issue. Some commenters above suggest that he somehow urges a Soviet-style reform. That is just plain idiotic and wrong. His "Marxism" is simply a choice to examine the ways capitalism -- the desire to encourage and promote markets -- effected and promoted the dust bowl conditions. That's about as far as it goes. There is no homage paid to Lenin in these pages. No call for "Socialist controls." It's just history.
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Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s by Donald Worster (Paperback - September 30, 2004)