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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… (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Timothy Egan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8651502,021 (4.16)465
Member:neurp
Title:The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
Authors:Timothy Egan
Info:Mariner Books (2006), Edition: 1St Edition, Paperback, 340 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:history, america

Work details

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan (2006)

  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 465 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
Anyone who thinks man can't change his environment and global climate change is a hoax should read this. Man HAS changed the environment and in just a matter of years. Fortunately the right people were on hand who could determine what went wrong and they figured out how to reverse the damage.

I fear this will not happen with climate change. Hugh Hammond Bennett, where are you now?
  barefootcowgirl | Jul 29, 2016 |
Anyone who's read The Grapes of Wrath knows about the Dust Bowl — an area of the southern Great Plains that dried up and blew away during an extreme drought in the 1930s, leading to a mass exodus of former homesteaders, including Steinbeck's fictional Joad family.

Egan digs into this historical period to trace the series of unfortunate events that led to the dreadful conditions of the Dust Bowl, and uses diaries, contemporary news accounts, and modern interviews with survivors to put a human face on a vast phenomenon. Even though the so-called natural disaster had largely man-made origins, it's impossible not to feel empathy and sorrow for the people who were caught in a hellscape where almost no rain fell for years and the land itself picked up and moved itself by the ton. The stories of "black blizzards" of dirt and dust, and the horrific medical conditions that the constantly blowing dust wrought on both human and beast, were heartbreaking. I can't imagine surviving such conditions, and many people didn't, but the ones who did were scarred forever, both physically and psychologically. A powerful tale of unintended consequences and the folly of trying to impose human will on nature. ( )
  rosalita | Jul 24, 2016 |
Excellent history of the Dust Bowl era. Extremely readable and loaded w/ good background material. The only downfall is the author's jumping from person to person and it became difficult to keep people straight at times. Otherwise, excellent! ( )
  untraveller | Jul 5, 2016 |
I have a little history with both the author and the narrator of this audiobook. When I was looking for something awesome on which to spend the credit burning a hole in my pocket, I looked at my "five-star" shelf and saw [book:Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher], a Netgalley book which I loved a few years ago. When I did a search on Audible, turns out this, which I'd recently bought in a sale, was the same author. That moved it well up the queue.

So, if I didn't buy it because of the author, why did I? Well, the subject matter is of interest, of course – it's a kind of a blank spot in my knowledge, except for that other Netgalley book from a few years ago, Sarah Zettel's [book:Dust Girl] (which was terrifying in places).

But mainly it was because of the narrator: Patrick Lawlor, possibly my perfect Puck. I'll come back to that.

This was an extraordinary story. I feel "story" is a perfect word for this, because the whole situation is science fictional in scope – if the "dusters" and "snusters" were in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel they would fit right in. It all feels like it can't possibly be true. It's hard to wrap my head around a non-fictional world where "black snow" is a thing, people have to daily sweep not only their floor but their table and every other surface in their home, and can't leave a soup pot uncovered for any time at all. It was all such a perfect setup for perfect misery: terrible hot and dry weather, combined with commodity prices which encouraged more and more agriculture which led to more and more grassland disappearing, plus new technology allowing more efficient farming … And it lasted for agonizing years.

My lasting impressions of the people who lived through this horror are two-sided: on one hand, I'm awed by their persistence and fortitude. Some went mad – but most just kept trying. And trying. And trying. And that leads me to the other hand: I can't understand why. Why, why would you stay, and force your family to stay, in a place where it was hazardous to simply breathe the air, where food is becoming harder and harder to get, and where things have worsened past the point where that one good solid rain you long for so would make things better? I understand the investment of time and money, blood and sweat and tears and all, that people put into their farms. If everyone involved had been men or women on their own trying to make a go of it I might adapt. Of course it would be horrible to leave. And many of the places where farmers might have moved were, to put it mildly, unwelcoming. But the place was trying to kill them – and often succeeding. The stories of the children who died because they couldn't help but inhale sand made me a little angry with those who lingered past what I thought of as the point of sanity.

The fact that I became emotionally invested in the story is an indication of how well it was told. The focus is mainly on one small town and its people, with a great deal of reliance on newspapers and personal journals and letters, so that in addition to the massive scale of the disaster – and it was massive – I came away with a clear understanding of the thing on a personal level. The climate of the country (continent?) was altered; a child died. The stock market crashed; a boy persisted in his education despite the elements doing their damnedest to keep him from attending school. This is how history should be told: it affects a nation, and it affects the individuals who make up the nation.

Story time, children – pull up a cushion and settle down… Or, you know, skip the rest if you aren't interested. I'll understand.

Long long ago, in a shire just far enough away, I went to the New York Renaissance Faire. Back then, when it was awesome, the Faire featured a full-length Shakespeare play every year, devoting three hours on their Globe Stage each day to its most appropriate use. The first time I saw one (ah – it was 1993), they did A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it was … perfect. Seriously. The stage was bare; the props were minimal; music was provided by an appropriately Renaissance-instrumented little band of players; costume and makeup were just enough. And the cast was beautiful. It was the funniest thing I'd seen in years, and set a ridiculously high bar for all subsequent Shakespeare productions, much less productions of The Dream. Did we see it twice? I think we did. I confess: I taped it (audio only) on my little portable recorder, which was against the rules, but I listened to that thing several times, and it made me very happy, and the statute of limitation has to be up by now, right? … I wonder if the tape's survived …Yes! It did! I found it! Woot. Ahem. Anyway. For years afterward, all my friend or I had to say to crack each other up was "Wall", because he was hilarious. Whenever I see a production of MN'sD, as Helena chases her man about, I hear that actress's "Demeeetriuuuuusssss!" And the speech that sticks hardest in my mind (I can still hear it) is Puck's "Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down", where he goes from being the merry wanderer to … a little scary. And amazing.

Puck was played by Patrick Lawlor.

I make it a point to be loyal to people who have given me joy. Patrick Lawlor was part of one of the best Shakespeare productions I've seen in my life, so I was ridiculously excited when I discovered he's an audiobook narrator. This is where, if I used gifs, I'd insert that one of the cat with "grabby hands".

It's lovely when loyalty pays off. ( )
  Stewartry | Jul 4, 2016 |
This is incredibly depressing, but wonderfully written and researched. An excellent, almost first person addition to Depression-era history. ( )
  acf151 | Jun 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (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.
added by kthomp25 | editThe New Yorker
 

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Timothy Eganprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Egan, Timothymain authorall editionsconfirmed
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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.

(summary from another edition)

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