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

Timothy Egan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,053 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 (1,053 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,350 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.


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
351 of 367 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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159 of 166 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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126 of 131 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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137 of 149 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Storm After Storm, After Day February 15, 2007
Format:Paperback
This book is both one of the most interesting histories I've read in a long time and one of the more dull books I've read in the last year. The first 150 pages, when Egan sets the Dust Bowl scene and introduces us to the people he will follow throughout the story are fantastic. The pace is quick, the details are very insightful and I learned a lot about why the Dust Bowl happened and just how devestating it was. Egan successfully makes the dust storms that ravaged the Panhandle area as fightening as they must have been for inhabitants and it is very moving just how horrible it was for the residents who loved their homesteads enough to suffer horribly to stay on them. After about 100 pages of reading about several storms and the terrible conditions, however, the book slows a lot. The storms never get less intense and the writing itself doesn't falter, but after a while the reader become immune to the horror and it just becomes boring reading about storm after storm which never seem to change. I'm sure the monotony and misery of it all that lasted for several years is what the unforunate farmers of the Dust Bowl endured, but it is hard to read after a while and not very enjoyable.

All in all, I think all people who are interested in American history should read at least the first part of the book to learn about what happened in middle-America during the Depression and how horrible it was for those not in cities. I would caution, however, that the book gets quite dull after a while and there are long stretches between interesting details.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
It's a great history lesson of the dust bowl days. Great read.
Published 19 hours ago by Kenneth Ortgies
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent, I only saw one "dust storm" in my life, and it was amazing and very disheartening.
Published 21 hours ago by Robert B.
4.0 out of 5 stars hard times
This should be read by young. People sothey will understand what it was to suffer. Today they live off their family
Published 1 day ago by lance
3.0 out of 5 stars Packed with information and heart-wrenching stories, but a very...
This book really grabbed my attention for the first 100 pages or so with fascinating personal stories tied together very well, but then it seems as though the author wanted the... Read more
Published 2 days ago by NorCalFox
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting! My parents survived the dust bowl days ...
Very interesting! My parents survived the dust bowl days in NM.
Published 2 days ago by G. Kendall
4.0 out of 5 stars An important piece of Americana
Now my questions are answered concerning the dust bowl days. I have many things to ask my mother who lived through this experience in the pan-handle of Texas. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Karen Reed
5.0 out of 5 stars Good solid read about how people and their families dealt with the...
I just finished this book and I highly admire the way Timothy Egan approached this book. He went to the heartland and visited the places where the dust bowl hit the hardest and... Read more
Published 4 days ago by NJ Whitey
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A great book concerning the Dust Bowl.
Published 4 days ago by Susie Wyatt
5.0 out of 5 stars Fill in a huge blank in American History. A must read by Timothy...
Timothy Egan personalizes one of the greatest man-made tragedies of the last century. Without getting 'preachy' about it, there is a great metaphor here for our time with regard... Read more
Published 4 days ago by A. O. Reason
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
An riveting story. As I read it I couldn't help but wonder if it will (or even is) happen again when the fossil water of the Ogallala Aquifer (used for irrigation) runs out.
Published 5 days ago by J. Fitzgerald
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