National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2006
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 huts 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 death 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.
Egan captures the very voice of the time, its grit, pathos, and abiding heroism, as only great history can. 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.
Bonus: In partnership with Audible and Playtone, the television and film producer behind the award-winning series Band of Brothers, John Adams, and The Pacific, this audiobook includes an original introduction, written and read by acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns. For more from Audible and Playtone, click here.
©2005 Timothy Egan (P)2006 Tantor Media
"With characters who seem to have sprung from a novel by Sinclair Lewis or Steinbeck, and Egan's powerful writing, this account will long remain in readers' minds." (Publishers Weekly)
The Grapes of Wrath seemed like a hard time, but this story is much, much worse. It's hard to imagine how people could remain living in a place where the elements were so unkind to them. It is a great lesson about Mother Earth's payback when we misuse her bounty.
Out of the 12 books I bought this year, this was my favorite. It's the perfect kind of history book: very informative, but written through the eyes of the people who were there. So you come away with both a detailed yet grand understanding of the Dust Bowl. It's also not one of those history books that reads like dry toast. I couldn't put it down. If you like John Steinbeck's books, you'll love this one. Tim Egan is a great storyteller. This narrarator was also great. I went out of my way to find other books he's read. But I'm not as picky as many listeners are.
This book was incredibly difficult for me to complete. I had heard about the dustbowl but had no idea that people and animals literally suffocated and/or starved over time from the dirt that filled their lungs and bellies. I never knew that the dust clouds reached New York City and Washington, DC. It was also nearly impossible to believe that only 80 years ago, soil conservation was a totally unknown concept. I wanted to scream at the farmers who tore up the prairie "Don't do it! You're ruining your lives and the land!" Nevertheless, I couldn't help but admire the strength and courage of the people who endured. When I finished the book, I wondered when the mistakes we're making now may cause a similar environmental disaster.
Just a really good book. I was wishing he would have had exposed more the negative effects of government involvement in farm policy, but all in all it was a very good book.
My father was from the Texas panhandle region & rode one of the big ranches (Col. Goodnight's) out there as a boy, working w/a remuda, his bed roll in the hoodlum wagon, his dinner served out of the chuck wagon. His father was one of the homesteaders pre-dust bowl & beyond. So the Dust Bowl has always interested me. I'm enjoying the personal narratives of this book; it's like sitting & listening to my dad tell stories again.
As interested as I am in this subject, being a daughter of the West, I am having a very hard time listening to this narrator. He sounds angry, very angry, banging on the words, delivering them like bullets. And he's another anglo that doesn't know how to pronounce Spanish. Llano is said yano, not lano. I certainly won't listen to this narrator again. Ugh.
I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!
I had read Jared Diamond’s harrowing and fascinating book ‘Collapse’, explaining how different populations throughout human history have destroyed their own, previously rich and fertile, environments and brought about their own extinction, but I wasn’t aware that this had happened in America.
The High Plains of the Midwest were originally home to Native Americans and millions of bison. These were slaughtered or driven off the land in favour of cowboys and cattle, damaging the land to some extent, but by no means irreparably. Next came the farmers, encouraged by the government and the offer of homesteads, who ploughed away the grasslands to plant crops. This agriculture intensified with the increasing demand for wheat and the introduction of industrialised farming, until there was hardly any grassland left.
At this stage there didn’t appear to be a problem, until the drought came along. The drought lasted several years and in the early period crops failed, then, worse, all the topsoil dried out and began to be blown into the sky to form colossal dust storms. Topsoil that had taken thousands of years to accumulate was lost in a few years and was deposited all over the USA and beyond.
The toll in human suffering was horrendous. People became bankrupt and starved, or died of ‘dust pneumonia’. Livestock went blind and died of lack of food or with intestines clogged with dirt.
This environmental disaster coincided with the great economic depression of the 30s to produce a grim double whammy of misery. Many people abandoned their land in a diaspora known as the ‘Exodust’, but some mega-hardy people stayed and held on to what they had, suffering immense hardship, despite the Roosevelt government’s considerable efforts to support the people and regenerate the land.
The book carries an obvious and ominous message of warning to us all about the way we are overpopulating and over-exploiting the World today, with similar consequences being quite possible. But a reader choosing to overlook this theme can still appreciate this powerful insight into the lives of the people who stuck it out in frightful, arid, baking conditions. Whilst it is awful to see how these people suffered, it is uplifting to appreciate their courage and doggedness.
Very interesting story about the role humans played in creating the dust bowl, why it lasted so long, and how to keep it from happening again.
Likes: Cozy mysteries (cats a plus), personal memoirs,not too dark fantasy, books about the brain. Dislikes: Torture, animal cruelty.
The Dust Bowl is fascinating. I cannot imagine why they don't go into this in school. In addition to the dramatic stories about the physical conditions of the dust bowl, there is the lesson you can teach about respecting the environment. I knew there were dust storms but the details of these things amazed me. They must have looked like the end of the world. I am captivated by stories of other people's terrible lives and this book was full of that. It is hard not to feel fortunate when comparing yourself to some guy who was a mourner at a funeral then got caught outside not far from his own home and couldn't find his way back in and got so much dust in his eyes he was blinded. I did get annoyed at one point when we started hearing about a woman and her baby. Doomed babies in books annoy me – they feel manipulative. But since this was a real baby, as all these stories were from real dust bowl survivors, I can't get as annoyed as I get at doomed fictional babies. I was also interested in the descriptions of poverty. How little people can have fascinated me. I can't imagine how awful it was - to live on a farm where every single plant is dead, the landscape uniformly gray and smothered - like fictional lands of the dead. If only all history was so interesting. But it isn't.
Perhaps a native Okie is not the best judge of a book like this, but here goes.
Egan takes us all the way back to 1870's and is first critical of the Indian policies in place then. He follows several families in a range of places and shows the pain and pathos of the time.
But, he just falls of the edge of the world while ending the book, slipping into more critical views of current agricultural practices. If you didn't know better, you'd think things were just the same in "No Man's Land" today as they were in the 1930's. I don't appreciate his views.
My grandma, a young woman and mother of three small children, was widowed in 1922 while living near Beaver, OK. She raised her kids alone, never married again and spent the rest of her life in No Man's Land. She earned not just a living but also a college diploma at age 72. I attended her graduation ceremony, how many grand kids can say this about their grandma? At the time of her death, besides a home and car, she owned forty acres of lovely wheat land. My dad had many sad stories to tell--having his only Christmas toy broken by an uncle, missing a father's guidance, having a prize winning 4H heifer taken by the county because it had Bangs. But despite mornings awakening with the only clean spot on his pillow where his head had lain, he served well in WWII, came home and married, finished medical school and spent his life as a family doctor, helping many folks and raising his three kids with a gentle and loving hand. Like his parents before him, his deep faith in God sustained him in many hard times.
I'd have appreciated more stories of continuing legacy like this, than what I got in the book, although parts were very interesting.
Added to my dislike of the authors point of view was the fact that the narrator could not pronounce almost any name of a town correctly, except for Dalhart. Boise City, which he read thousands of times grated on my ears each time BOIS (like BOISterous) City, not bois-SAY City like the narrator insisted on pronouncing it.. And really one can easily find the correct pronunciation of many Indian and Spanish words almost anywhere now a days.
I listened to the whole thing, but I was left feeling empty. I cannot accept his current assessment of the land or policy, because Ive lived there and know better.
Ever wondered about the Dust Bowl and why people from Oklahoma were given derogatory names like "Oakies"? Why did people see them as people who would rather live in the dust collecting welfare? Why did we call them uneducated and think of them as dirty and invading states with hard working people looking for a handout. Worse, why were they coming here trying to take jobs already scarce? By the end of the book you think you may have taken another road were it you. If you are hopeful and optimistic, you may have stayed too long in Oklahoma or the Texas Panhandle like they did. You come away knowing you could have been one of them looking for a future. You also come away wondering how people could endure such conditions and be so optimistic about the future.You may also decide these had to be some of the toughest people on earth.
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