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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl Paperback – September 1, 2006


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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl + The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America + Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618773479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618773473
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,077 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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

This is a well written book that is an easy read.
Jana Daniel
As you read this book, you come to realize that these people are just like you and me.
D. Blankenship
Mr. Egan did a great job telling these people's stories.
Jerry Fletcher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

351 of 367 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 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 By C. Hutton on 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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127 of 132 people found the following review helpful By K. Row on June 10, 2007
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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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Gerald Wood Downing on December 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My father Bill Downing, was born on a homestead in Indian territory on April 13th 1906, one of eight children of a dry land farmer and livestock trader who drifted from Iowa to the high plains scratching out a living from virgin grasslands. My mother was born in a dugout close to Delphus switch on the Santa Fe line somewhere near Clovis, New Mexico, Dec. 8th 1910. I was born on July 7th 1935 in Canyon,Texas, three months after Black Sunday. This book came to me like a "ghost from Christmas's past"

When I heard an interview with the author on PBS radio I knew I had been deeply touched by my family heritage. I confess I am a child of the depression and of the dust bowl era.

For me this was a hard book to read but impossible to put down. The stories of the real people and events were at times so imbedded in my heart before I read them that I sometimes had to take time to catch my breath and wash the blow dirt out of my eyes and hair before I could read more.

Timothy Egan did his interviews and research on this historical event very well, and has artfully woven them into a true story of heroism, stubborn persistance, ignorance and individual, governmental and societal greed and incompetence. The combination destroyed the great grasslands of North America and the dreams of millions of families and left a scar on the them both. He has also told the story of those on the farms and in government who asked the questions. "What went wrong?", "Can it be fixed?", and "How do we heal a two-fold disaster?" His window into the government and all levels of politics of the period will inform the reader concerned about government and politics of today.
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