- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 25th anniversary edition (September 30, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195174887
- ISBN-13: 978-0195174885
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.7 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 45 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s 25th anniversary Edition
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"An exciting, provocative, and stimulating study.... It has much to say to historians, environmentalists, and public policy makers."--American Historical Review
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About the Author
Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas and the author of A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell.
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Yet, for all its thorough analysis, vivid imagery, and scholarly importance, Dust Bowl is often distractingly heavy-handed (Mind you—this review is coming from as staunch an environmentalist as you will meet.). It is telling that the book’s introductory quote comes from Karl Marx, with whom Worster shared a penchant for historical fatalism. Turn-of-the-century capitalism, Worster would argue, was (and in many ways still is) on a collision course with the natural limits of ecology, and this inevitable disaster manifested most clearly in the “Great American Desert” (p. 81) during the 1930s. But the notion of Culture, to which Worster points as the explanatory variable in our downfall—variously, a “capitalist ethos” (p. 96), or a set of “bourgeois values” (p. 136)—leaves no room for human agency and leaves this reader wondering: Are we looking at the issue critically or just commiserating? At best, Worster’s line of reasoning is accurate but extremely depressing. At worst, it is nihilistic and somewhat offensive (Note how often he uses the word “cling” in regards to traditional practices.). Indeed, Worster cautions in his preface that his argument “will not be acceptable to many plainsmen” (p. vii). I would take that sentiment further and suggest that it may not be acceptable to really anyone who has hope for the future.
Since the publication of Dust Bowl, environmental historians have been engaged in a delicate tap dance with the most pressing issue facing our species: environmental degradation. Worster chose to focus on our most egregious ecological transgression and thus succeeded in demonstrating where we have gone spectacularly wrong. However, if, upon reflection, we are left at a loss for who “we” really are—except as an expression of some nebulous, overbearing idea of economics and Culture—then we would do well to reassess or perhaps look elsewhere.