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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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[A] vivid and gritty piece of forgotten history.
"The Worst Hard Time" provides a sobering, gripping account of a disaster whose wounds are still not fully healed today.
The Worst Hard Time is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction.
The Baltimore Sun
Egan has admirably captured a part of our American experience that should not be forgotten.
The San Francisco Chronicle
Egan is a passionate and accomplished writer...Read this for history, not inspiration or entertainment.
The Denver Post
Egan's account of the Dust Bowl era is a final, terrible rebuke to the policies of America's dying days of frontier expansion.
The Seattle Times
THE WORST HARD TIME is a flat-out masterpiece of historical reportage.
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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.
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.
My parents were children of the of the Depression. During my childhood they told us stories of how that national tragedy affected their childhoods and that of their friends and neighbors. We all probably have read stories and seen photos of the Depression and many of us have read "The Grapes of Wrath" or seen the movie. This book is not about any of that. This book is not about the people that fled the Dust Bowl. This book is about the people that stayed and attempted to exist on next to nothing, literally. Pride and independence prevented them from seeking aid until things went beyond desperate, way beyond. What is also remarkable about this book is to read it now in a time when we live among people that for selfish and political reasons are adamant in their rejection of science and in climate change. The book makes clear that after the government finally addressed the crisis following FDR's election that the cause of the Dust Bowl was man and his ignorance and his greed. Sadly, the people that need to read this history never will as it fails to affirm what they wish to believe and profit by. What this book does affirm is the consequences of man's ignorance and greed when dealing with the forces of nature. To this day the area afflicted by these vices of man has not healed.
The author's story spans primarily the '30's but he delivers a necessary background to set up his story and the lives of those he uses to illustrate the scope of the Dust Bowl tragedy. In his telling of this history he employs the lives of several local residents in and around the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. The stories of these people really humanizes the narrative and magnifies its impact. While weather reports, crops statistics, land cultivation data etc are all helpful and put a scale on the disaster it's reading about the daily lives of people that lived through it that give this book its wow factor. The impact this disaster had on the health of the people living there was something that I never considered. I always thought the limit of the tragedy was in the fertility of the soil blowing away. I did not know that these winds were an almost daily occurrence and that breathable air was a precious commodity and "dust pneumonia" was a virulent killer. Who would ever think a person walking or working outside could be suddenly caught in one of these dust storms and suffocate to death. That the detrimental affect of the Dust Bowl on the health of residents was something that would have required a career of coal mining yet these folks were being afflicted within a few years. This is an extremely compelling history whose worth today is enormous and we should all learn about the Worst Hard Time. I highly recommend this book. (less)