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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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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 Preloaded Digital Audio Player 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 Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I love all of Timothy Egan's books.
I did watch the Dust Bowl miniseries first, and they do cover some of the same ground, though with different focuses, but I feel like you get more details from this book.
To be fair, it is rough. There are a few main people that you follow and they are constantly defeated by the land, dying broke, or physically broken, and any chances for renewal and success have to wait for the next generation. Even as things get better, there are indications that we are on the same path, not just in other places, but even right there with the demands on the Oglalla.
That's why it is so timely, and so important. Humans don't change much, and they will keep making the same mistakes over and over again unless information, and education, can change that.
And blow away it did. In one day, an inch of top soil could be (and was) blown away that would take a 1000 years to replace.
Egan tells the stories of people who stayed on during those years rather than packing it all up to move to California. Actually, 2/3 of the people did stay on. And their plight was often tragic.
"Dust Pneumonia" was a disease that killed family members, and cattle often died with their stomachs full of dust.
These dust storms not only devastated the primary areas of drought, wind and starvation, but in some instances the storms veiled Eastern cities, such as New York, Washington DC and even ships out on the Atlantic.
Under the Roosevelt Administration, Hugh Bennet became the visionary that saw the necessity of Farmer's Cooperatives, replanting of the land with grasses brought over from Africa, and other soil conservation plans.
In the 1950's I can remember seeing dust storms rolling over the prairie toward our town. The clouds were black roiling along the horizon, and our Mom's hurried us inside. By the time the storm really hit, it was as dark as night out side, and when the storm was over, a fine silt covered every surface. The window seals, covered with masking tape, and then covered with wet cloths, did not keep the silt out. So our Moms, all who were very clean, set to work setting our homes to rights once again.
The storms I remember were mild compared to what the people endured for ten long years of drought, blighted land, sickness and disaster, but I can still remember the taste of dust in my mouth. The people who survived The Worst Hard Time can remember a belly full of dust and more. These people were tough. And their story is worth reading.
Timothy Egan's dive into the Great Dust Bowl is superb. His precise, narrative writing does much to draw the reader in and make its real-life characters easier to relate to. He gives personalities to these people who refused to bow down to nature and for that they were punished, in a way. But punished not only by the land, but also by their own government. Egan details the slow spiral of the Great Plains from lush prairie land to desiccated, desolate hardpan without a hint of green. He compliments the personal narratives of these farmers with in-depth historical analysis of the towns and the governments working behind the scenes, while also providing a sort of biological analysis of the ecosystem and how it rapidly fell apart.