The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time

The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

Book - 2006
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"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

Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., c2006.
ISBN: 9780618346974
061834697X
9780618773473
0618773479
Call Number: 978.032 EGAN
Characteristics: p. ; cm.
Subjects: Great Plains -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
Great Plains -- History -- 20th century.
Depressions -- 1929.
Depressions -- 1929 -- Great Plains.
Dust storms -- Great Plains -- History -- 20th century.
Droughts -- Great Plains -- History -- 20th century.
Dust Bowl Era, 1931-1939.

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b
belalin
Sep 06, 2017

This is not a particularly well written book, but worth reading nonetheless in order to understand what life was like for farmers affected by the drought in the prairies during the Great Depression. See Doris Waggoner's excellent comment below for more details.

HCL_staff_reviews Dec 01, 2016

This astonishing book recounts the saga of the southern Great Plains during the Depression. The Plains ecosystem gradually had become irreparably damaged from commercial buffalo killing, large-scale cattle ranching and 'sod-busting' wheat farming practices, all of which caused erosion. When severe drought began in 1931, the result was a natural disaster; deep cracks formed in the earth's crust and huge storms darkened the skies as far as New York City; agriculture ceased. Egan focuses on several families and locales to illustrate the courage and luck that was required to survive the Dust Bowl. — Trudi C., Southdale Library

AL_LESLEY Nov 22, 2016

Not too heavy and thus a moving history of the dust bowl. I would use this as an introduction before more in depth reading.

d
DorisWaggoner
Jun 17, 2016

My mother's parents homesteaded in 1907-1910 in SD, on marginal land in the Northern Plains. My mother felt that, inadvertently, her family's hard work contributed to the Dust Bowl. Reading Egan's book, I agree. One of the book's strengths is that he stresses the stories of individuals and families. Almost all migrated to the Southern Plains, and then, no matter what disaster befell them, chose to stay. Sometimes I wanted to shake them and tell them to leave, because not only were they losing their livelihoods, their very lives were at stake. Yet, Egan shows how they retained their dignity as much as did those, like Steinbeck's fictional Joads, who left. The book could have used tighter editing, but then it would have lost some of the sense of the kind of life these people lived--incessant dust storms, ongoing droughts, constant fear for the health of one's children. As I finished it, I mentioned the Dust Bowl to a bright 30 year old friend, who had no idea what I was talking about. That lack of understanding of ecological issues makes this a very important book.

h
HollyDavis022
Mar 11, 2016

Fascinating and still relevant discussion of environmental policy competing with economic policy

i
IV27HUjg
Nov 25, 2015

Mixed feelings about this & prefer the PBS series on the subject. Egan is a gifted author.

lbarkema Jul 01, 2015

Interesting topic that I realized I knew very little about, but it was a bit dry at times and that is why I easily abandoned it to read other books multiple times, and it took me 3 months to finish. Non-fiction readers will definitely enjoy this, but fiction readers who do not normally foray into non-fiction, just remember that it won't be a fast read, but it's written well and you will learn a lot.

sidnawkid Apr 07, 2015

Fascinating information about an unfortunate and tragic era in American history. Makes history come alive through details of the lives of several dust bowl families. Very compelling reading; tough to put down.

c
ckaldahl
Jul 28, 2014

Takes some patience to get into it but you do become attached to the stories.

h
hmcgivney
Apr 14, 2013

Beautifully written, but sometimes hard to read because of the sheer amount of hardship that the dust bowl dwellers had to endure. Eight years of drought, the land in revolt, the Great Depression... it was just awful. I also can't help shaking my head at the sheer hubris of the people to think that plowing up millions of acres of grassland was a good idea, and that wheat prices were only going to go up. It also reminds me that human nature is fundamentally unchanged, and we are repeating some of the same mistakes now.

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