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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of…
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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great… (2006)

by Timothy Egan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,5991292,301 (4.18)435
  1. 40
    The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin (lyzadanger)
    lyzadanger: Similar themes: pioneers and farmers facing the wrath of nature in middle America; relatively compelling pop history.
  2. 20
    Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell (vancouverdeb)
    vancouverdeb: A story of immigrant prairie homesteaders in Canada during the 1930's. Tough times.
  3. 10
    Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s by Donald Worster (eromsted)
  4. 10
    Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect That Shaped the American Frontier by Jeffrey A. Lockwood (sjmccreary)
    sjmccreary: another overwhelming hardship for farm families in the plains - also very readable
  5. 00
    Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R. Montgomery (lbeaumont)
  6. 00
    Harpsong by Rilla Askew (GCPLreader)
  7. 01
    Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban (etxgardener, RidgewayGirl)
    etxgardener: If you liked The Worst Hard Time, your love Bad Land which describes the same ezperience in the northern plains.
    RidgewayGirl: A different part of the country, but a similar tale of immigrant farmers and enormous determination.
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» See also 435 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 128 (next | show all)
My family lived this story so I may be a little bit prejudiced toward it. This is a history of people who lived through the Dust Bowl and my family, grandparents and mom, did just that. My mother owns the book but hasn't been able to read it yet because it is too painful. If you aren't familiar with this episode of American history, this was the 30's when the land literally blew away. The farming that had been done had ripped away the centuries old grasses and left the topsoil exposed to the never-ending wind. Then the rains stopped for about 6 years. It was a brutal time and the majority of people who lived in the Dust Bowl moved away. My grandparents stayed and kept their farm through it all. My mom was born in 1934 in a dugout so this history is my family's history.

Timothy Egan did his research well. He has first-hand accounts from many who are my mom's age and older who distinctly remember the Black Dusters coming through town and blocking out the sun. He ties the stories together well. His creation of the atmosphere of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles is masterful. I've spent a lot of time there and he describes it beautifully. I think he is very fair in explaining why the Dust Bowl happened and who was to blame. He doesn't vilify the farmers as some have though they do take blame. They didn't know any better and they were told that they were doing the right thing. He shows the progression of the problem clearly. He does vilify the ones who deserve it, the land speculators. He does an outstanding job of showing the determination and fortitude of the settlers.

Settling the frontier sounds like something that happened 150 years ago but this frontier was being settled in my mom's lifetime and this book is an excellent history of how that part of the Great Plains developed. Some people won't like his story-telling style. It's not linear. He goes back and forth between families and usually has to go back a few years each time he changes families but it's not a hard style to read. For a non-fiction book, this was as compelling as any fictional story I've read lately. I couldn't put it down. ( )
  Mrsbaty | May 11, 2015 |
The Dust Bowl was both a great ecological and a great human disaster and Tim Egan presents each narrative well. Human action--the quest for short-term profit--proved once again to lead to self-destruction. The lesson, alas, is one that has yet to be learned. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
A look at the history of The Great Plains and the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Compelling read at the struggles faced by the people who lived through this period. ( )
  foof2you | Apr 5, 2015 |
Timothy Egan writes fast-paced narrative history. This book presents the horror of the Dust Bowl by tracing the experiences of several people who lived at least partway through it. Egan presents the era as a grinding tragedy that wore people down, killed them, or drove them off the land. The middle chapters, covering the years 1933 through 1938, are the strongest; as a whole, the book argues that the Dust Bowl was a direct result of destruction of the native prairie - whose grass could hold the dirt even during a prolonged drought - by a rush of farmers growing wheat and other commodities in the 1920s.

Frustratingly, the narrative fades away at the end. That may be a stylistic choice, in keeping with the way many residents' lives dried up and blew away; or it may be that, after so many people died or fled, Egan just didn't have enough figures left to show how families emerged from the Dust Bowl years.

The book falls short in a couple other respects as well. First, Egan never really poses or offers an answer for one of the most interesting questions: for the families or individuals that made it through and recovered, why them? Was it statistical dumb luck? Did they go into the Dust Bowl and Depression with slightly more resources, or better social networks?

Finally, Egan doesn't discuss or address the reliability of his primary sources, especially the survivors he interviewed. It's very hard to imagine that those who lived through such a hard time - losing family members to 'dust pneumonia', losing homes and farms, losing whole communities - didn't bear scars that could systemically distort their memories. ( )
  bezoar44 | Dec 7, 2014 |
This was so close to 4 stars for me. However, the first part of the book suffered from what I felt was an "organization" problem. Egan jumped around from person to historic comment to person so much that I never really connected with the families in the book until the very end. I wish he had spent a little more time on one facet or family of the era before moving on to the next (and then back again).

I enjoyed the book otherwise. I had watched a documentary on PBS recently called "The Dust Bowl" and this novel supplemented it well. It's one of the most fascinating "stories" of our history, how ecology and economy collided with politics and greed to create one of the most horrific man-made disasters ever. ( )
  dulcinea14 | Sep 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 128 (next | show all)
The Worst Hard Time," takes the shape of a classic disaster tale. We meet the central characters (the "nesters" who farmed around the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles); dire warnings (against plowing) are voiced but ignored; and then all hell breaks loose. Ten-thousand-foot-high dust storms whip across the landscape, choking people and animals, and eventually laying waste to one of the richest ecosystems on earth.
Racing at 50 miles an hour, the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930's blasted paint off buildings; soil crushed trees, dented cars and drifted into 50-foot dunes. Tsunamis of grasshoppers devoured anything that drought, hail and tornadoes had spared. To the settlers, "it seemed on many days as if a curtain were being drawn across a vast stage at world's end." Families couldn't huddle together for warmth or love: the static electricity would knock them down. Children died of dust pneumonia, and livestock suffocated on dirt, their insides packed with soil. Women hung wet sheets in windows, taped doors and stuffed cracks with rags. None of this really worked. Housecleaning, in this era, was performed with a shovel.

 
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.
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Epigraph
Between the earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. -- Willa Cather
Dedication
To my dad, raised by his widowed mother during the darkest years of the Great Depression, four to a bedroom. Among the many things he picked up from her was this skill: never let the kids see you sweat.
First words
On those days when the wind stops blowing across the face of the southern plains, the land falls into a silence that scares people in the way that a big house can haunt after the lights go out and no one else is there.
Quotations
The banks seldom said no. After Congress passed the Federal Farm Loan Act in 1916, every town with a well and a sheriff had itself a farmland bank - an institution - offering forty-year loans at six percent interest... ...If it was hubris, or "tempting fate" as some of the church ladies said, well, the United States government did not see it that way.

How to explain a place where black dirt fell from the sky, where children died from playing outdoors, where rabbits were clubbed to death by adrenaline-primed nesters still wearing their Sunday-school clothes, where grasshoppers descended on weakened fields and ate everything but doorknobs. . . . America was passing this land by. Its day was done.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618773479, Paperback)

The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since.
Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times).

In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:00 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Presents an oral history of the dust storms that devastated the Great Plains during the Depression, following several families and their communities in their struggle to persevere despite the devastation.

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