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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl [Hardcover]

by Timothy Egan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (986 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 14, 2005 061834697X 978-0618346974 0
"The Worst Hard Time is an epic story of blind hope and endurance almost beyond belief; it is also, as Tim Egan has told it, a riveting tale of bumptious charlatans, conmen, and tricksters, environmental arrogance and hubris, political chicanery, and a ruinous ignorance of nature's ways. Egan has reached across the generations and brought us the people who played out the drama in this devastated land, and uses their voices to tell the story as well as it could ever be told." — Marq de Villiers, author of Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

The dust storms that terrorized America's High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since, and the stories of the people that held on have never been fully told. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist and author Timothy Egan follows a half-dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, going from sod homes to new framed houses to huddling in basements with the windows sealed by damp sheets in a futile effort to keep the dust out. He follows their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black blizzards, crop failure, and the deaths of loved ones. Drawing on the voices of those who stayed and survived—those who, now in their eighties and nineties, will soon carry their memories to the grave—Egan tells a story of endurance and heroism against the backdrop of the Great Depression.

As only great history can, Egan's book captures the very voice of the times: its grit, pathos, and abiding courage. Combining the human drama of Isaac's Storm with the sweep of The American People in the Great Depression, The Worst Hard Time is a lasting and important work of American history.

Timothy Egan is a national enterprise reporter for the New York Times. He is the author of four books and the recipient of several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

“As one who, as a young reporter, survived and reported on the great Dust Bowl disaster, I recommend this book as a dramatic, exciting, and accurate account of that incredible and deadly phenomenon. This is can’t-put-it-down history.” —Walter Cronkite

"The Worst Hard Time is wonderful: ribbed like surf, and battering us with a national epic that ranks second only to the Revolution and the Civil War. Egan knows this and convincingly claims recognition for his subject—as we as a country finally accomplished, first with Lewis and Clark, and then for 'the greatest generation,' many of whose members of course were also survivors of the hardships of the Great Depression. This is a banner, heartfelt but informative book, full of energy, research, and compassion." —Edward Hoagland, author of Compass Points: How I Lived

"Here's a terrific true story—who could put it down? Egan humanizes Dust Bowl history by telling the vivid stories of the families who stayed behind. One loves the people and admires Egan's vigor and sympathy." —Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"The American West got lucky when Tim Egan focused his acute powers of observation on its past and present. Egan's remarkable combination of clear analysis and warm empathy anchors his portrait of the women and men who held on to their places—and held on to their souls—through the nearly unimaginable miseries of the Dust Bowl. This book provides the finest mental exercise for people wanting to deepen, broaden, and strengthen their thinking about the relationship of human beings to this earth." —Patricia N. Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West


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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl + Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Egan tells an extraordinary tale in this visceral account of how America's great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the ferocious plains winds stirred up an endless series of "black blizzards" that were like a biblical plague: "Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains" in what became known as the Dust Bowl. But the plague was man-made, as Egan shows: the plains weren't suited to farming, and plowing up the grass to plant wheat, along with a confluence of economic disaster—the Depression—and natural disaster—eight years of drought—resulted in an ecological and human catastrophe that Egan details with stunning specificity. He grounds his tale in portraits of the people who settled the plains: hardy Americans and immigrants desperate for a piece of land to call their own and lured by the lies of promoters who said the ground was arable. Egan's interviews with survivors produce tales of courage and suffering: Hazel Lucas, for instance, dared to give birth in the midst of the blight only to see her baby die of "dust pneumonia" when her lungs clogged with the airborne dirt. With characters who seem to have sprung from a novel by Sinclair Lewis or Steinbeck, and Egan's powerful writing, this account will long remain in readers' minds. (Dec. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

On April 14, 1935, the biggest dust storm on record descended over five states, from the Dakotas to Amarillo, Texas. People standing a few feet apart could not see each other; if they touched, they risked being knocked over by the static electricity that the dust created in the air. The Dust Bowl was the product of reckless, market-driven farming that had so abused the land that, when dry weather came, the wind lifted up millions of acres of topsoil and whipped it around in "black blizzards," which blew as far east as New York. This ecological disaster rapidly disfigured whole communities. Egan's portraits of the families who stayed behind are sobering and far less familiar than those of the "exodusters" who staggered out of the High Plains. He tells of towns depopulated to this day, a mother who watched her baby die of "dust pneumonia," and farmers who gathered tumbleweed as food for their cattle and, eventually, for their children.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (December 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061834697X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618346974
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (986 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of seven books, most recently Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, named Best of the Month by Amazon.com. His book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won a National Book Award for nonfiction and was named a New York Times Editors' Choice, a New York Times Notable Book, a Washington State Book Award winner, and a Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book. He writes a weekly column, "Opinionator," for the New York Times.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#83 in Books > History
#83 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
348 of 364 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MY BEST READ OF 2005 December 18, 2005
Format:Hardcover
Beyond a doubt, this was the best of the books I read during this past year. Having had many family members who were caught up in this, one of the worst natural (actually it seems it was more man made than natural) disasters to strike our country, made this work of even more interest to me. Mr. Eagan has not only given us a wonderful account of this era in our nations history, he has made it come alive through his exceptional story telling abilities. This is not a dry (no pun intended), academic history of the great depression. Rather it is a history of a group of people who lived through the worst of it, the great dust bowl at the center of our country. These are real people and the author treats them as such. Very few meaningless statistics mar the story line, few government reports are offered or cited to reduce the human suffering to neatly typed pieces of paper. As you read this book, you come to realize that these people are just like you and me. You read and ponder "what if?" The book is quite readable, quite informative and one that I will no doubt give a reread to in the near future. Recommend this one highly!
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160 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The horror...the horror April 23, 2007
Format:Paperback
Absolutely totally bleak. Depressing. Tragic. American experiences in the horrific Dust Bowl of the 1930's as related in "Worst Hard Times" was all of this and more. Yet in the hands of author Timothy Egan the story is compelling and an absolute must read for anyone interested in the Thirties, the Depression or, of course, the Dust Bowl.

The statistics are here as are thorough accounts of the incredible dust storms that devastated a land an its people. Egan puts names to many of those who survived and faces to the names. Here is the success of "The Worst Hard Times," putting the devastating impact of the ecological disaster in human terms.

Meets those who were there. Some still alive today to tell the tale. A tale of abject poverty caused or agitated by Mother Nature reminding us who the mortals are and what fools they often be. For part of the problem was man-made as newcomers to the lands farmed soil that was ideal for ranching, with devastating results. With drought, heat waves and wind the loose soil was soon part of mighty clouds dumping dust everywhere. Into homes, eyes and food and on a couple of occasions to eastern cities including the nation's capital and beyond.

I've read many stories of survival from shipwrecks to Arctic journeys to long marches to epic battles -- "Worst Hard Times" measures up to them all. The human capacity to endure can never be under estimated and it is never better told than in this book.

The heroes are those who persisted against all odds and a Federal Government under Franklin Roosevelt that did not hesitate to help.

There are eccentric interesting characters aplenty and individual stories to tug at the heart strings and to inspire. The landscape may have been bleak but the human spirit was rich and exciting.
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122 of 126 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating June 10, 2007
By K. Row
Format:Paperback
I was raised by German immigrants much like the folks Egan describes in this book. When I was a teenager I was in part frustrated and perplexed by the scars the Depression and Dust Bowl left on them and our household 40 years after it ended. They were frugal people in the extreme. They made a sport of seeing how much money they could put aside with each paycheck. They never, ever spent money on vacations or in movie theaters. Spending money to eat in a restaurant was a huge deal to these people. Grandma insisted on making all of my clothes until I got a job to buy store bought jeans and t-shirts. Grandpa groused mightily if I wanted anything that cost more than $5. They horded everything from nails (new and used) to toilet paper to toothpaste. For the three of us Grandpa put in a massive kitchen garden in the spring, and Grandma canned enough fruits and vegetables to feed the 9th Calvary every autumn.

Whenever I'd tease them about their ways, I'd get a stern look in return and a lecture about living through the Depression in the Dust Bowl. They'd tell me time and again how lucky I was not to have gone through it, and each time my child self would shrug as if to say, "Whatever."

I didn't really "get" the Dust Bowl or the Depression until I read this book. We're all lucky not to have gone through what these folks did. Imagine having to decide which of your children will get to eat dinner. Imagine being forced to slaughter your starving farm animals because there is absolutely nothing left to feed them. Imagine watching your brothers and sisters slowly choke to death on dust.
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158 of 165 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ecological Disaster Of The Great Depression December 24, 2005
Format:Hardcover
2005 has been a banner year for readable histories about natural disasters (see "A Crack in the World : America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906" by Simon Winchester) and natural disasters compounded by a series of catastrophic human errors (see "Curse of the Narrows : The Halifax Disaster of 1917" by Laura MacDonald). Mr Egan's history falls into the latter category with his story of the Dust Bowl during the Depression.

"The Worst Hard Time" traces the horrific consequences of poor farming practices in the Central Plain States during the drought of the 1930's. It is not a dry book about soil samples and weather charts but a living account of the human cost in fighting against tarantulas & seas of grasshoppers eating every plant in their path while struggling against the "duster" storms that blot out the sun. The reader can think of the Dust Bowl storms as the hurricanes of the Plain States. Illustrated with photographs of the poverty of that era, the reader will be shock and angry at the suffering of those farmers who attempted to ride out those storms.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars REVew The WOrst Hard timesI
Enlightening book. I had only heard of this disaster a couple of months ago when watched a documentary on tv. I am sixty eight yrs old and live in Texas. Read more
Published 11 hours ago by reba mcdermand
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Depression
Wonderful book. Could not put it down. It was much, much worse for the people than I ever imagined.
My husband wants to read it as well.
Published 17 hours ago by Walt Hoefer
4.0 out of 5 stars very informative
I enjoyed reading this book, I thought it was very informative. Although it is very depressing reading about just how horrible the conditions of their daily lives were it is an... Read more
Published 2 days ago by pmllos
4.0 out of 5 stars good well written story
The story was written in a easily understandable manner was a lil too simple for my liking but kverall a good story
Published 2 days ago by Paco Herrera
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading for all climate-change deniers
I do not see how anyone could read Mr. Egan’s work and still deny man’s destructive capabilities and its refusal to see that it will happen again. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Malika H.
5.0 out of 5 stars succinct history never let's up
Contemporary ecology and farm practices were shaped by this decade of history. This book exhaustively explores the events that should live in every U.S. Citizens memory.
Published 3 days ago by Todd G. Sutton
5.0 out of 5 stars Dust Bowl Days
Once again Timothy Egan tells history and develops the characters like a great novelist. I read "The Grapes of Wrath" long ago, but I had no idea how severe and hostile... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Victor55
5.0 out of 5 stars Those who forget the past, are they bound to repeat
A VERY WELL WRITTEN BOOK, VERY INTERESTIN ACCOUNT OF A PEOPLE ABUSING MOTHER NATURE AND NOW IT APPEARS THE WORLD AGAIN SEEMS TO BE HELL BENT ON DESTROYING WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT-... Read more
Published 5 days ago by fitzpjo
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read
Well written account, told from the perspective of a half dozen hoesteaders who tried to out last the droght and dust.
Published 5 days ago by Fussy Consumer
5.0 out of 5 stars Infromatve
A very interesting book. I had no idea how destructive this was to both the environment and people in the area. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Joyce Becker
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