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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of…

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

by Timothy Egan

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3,3621682,502 (4.16)507
"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."… (more)
Title:The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
Authors:Timothy Egan
Info:Mariner Books (2006), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:History, Read in 2008

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

Recently added byprivate library, SiriCarpenter, DanDiercks, KS_Library, wolfetr, grove.b, NafizaMaruzeh
  1. 50
    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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Showing 1-5 of 167 (next | show all)
A gripping popular history of the Dust Bowl. Incredible, in many respects, and extremely well written. Highly recommended. ( )
  JBD1 | Sep 14, 2019 |
The story of the Dust Bowl in America. The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Timothy 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, he 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).
  Gmomaj | Feb 8, 2019 |
This would have been an excellent book... had it been shorter. I have learned a great deal about a part of American history that I had no knowledge of. How this environmental and economic catastrophe has come to be, and the experiences of the people who came there and tried to make a living out of nothing, and ended up destroying the earth - without knowing that they were doing it.

There are harsh lessons to be learned - these people had no idea what would happen - the government encouraged farming of the High Plains, and they were just trying to do what farmers do - plant crops. It took a higher influence to get in there - no one in there right mind would have farmed there without government endorsement - and it took a higher influence to climb out of it - the government had to come up with what needed to be done and teach people to do it. There was no way they could have done that on their own.

Therein lies the main drawback of the book - it spends way too much time on how much people suffered and very little on how the problem was actually solved. I felt that Timothy Egan did a lot of (great, and very detailed) research on the subject and wanted it ALL in the book - and disregarded how repetitive it got. Yes, we get it, it was really, really bad. Yes, we get it, it affected a lot of people. Yes, we get it, it was bad in 1933, and 34, and 35, but really, do we need to have the same amount of detail of 36, 37 and 38 as well?

With some editing, and including more context - like how the general depression was affecting America - this would have been a great book. In the middle, it read really well. If it was shorter, it would be a four star book.

I still recommend it - a worthwhile learning experience - just brace yourself for the long descriptions of how bad it was. ( )
  Gezemice | Oct 29, 2018 |
The lessons of this book are simple and are rules we should know by now, but somehow don't:

1. What goes up must come down, whether wheat prices, home prices or dust.

2. Mortgaging the future in hopes that rule number one no longer applies is not a good idea.

3. You can't fool and you should not mess with Mother Nature.

4. We are really good at deluding ourselves that all the rules no longer apply. ( )
  dasam | Jun 21, 2018 |
The subtitle tells it all: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. It’s not about the people who left the Great Plains in the 1930s, but the two-thirds who stayed. These were not folks who lived high on the hog. Instead, they’re naïve “sod-busters” who were sold a bill of goods by the federal government, greedy bankers, the railroads, and others who were out to make a buck off them.

The author zeroes in on a small patch of the Great Plains – primarily in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas – and a handful of people. The author’s main sources were interviews with a few survivors and other descendants of survivors. What a horrible picture they painted: a relentless war against dust, often fatal diseases caused by inhaling dirt, and people who were at the very bottom of the economic pile struggling to survive on arid land that had been abused for decades – and should never have been farmed at all.

The Worst Hard Time was a selection of my public library’s non-fiction book discussion group and it engendered one of the liveliest discussions ever – and the group has been meeting for twenty years! Near the end of the discussion, one of the members said that he was waiting for something positive to come out of the book. He got to the epilogue and hoped that there would be something hopeful there. He was disappointed. No hope, no light at the end of the tunnel.

This was a depressing but enlightening book, well written and sourced. Echoes of the 1930s are being heard today! ( )
  NewsieQ | May 23, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 167 (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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Between the earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out.
— Willa Cather
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.
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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.
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.
Throughout the Great Plains, a visitor passes more nothing than something.
That was Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, day of the worst duster of them all. The storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig; the storm lasted a single afternoon. More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day.
At its peak, the Dust Bowl covered one hundred million acres.
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