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)
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.
A great testament of the human spirit. How the people of the dust bowl survived or didn't through the great depression. I was enthralled by the various stories and got a glimpse of what it is like to survive and persevere through hardship.
For those of us who missed the depression years, "The Worst Hard Times" tells us the story of the Dustbowl years through the stories of those who remembered. The few historical photographs from that era fail to describe the harrowing storms, suffering, and strength of those who lived through the "Dirty Thirties". Egan's storytelling skills are impressive. Well told, well read and definitely recommended.
Timothy Egan is an excellent writer. Based on interviews and journals, this narrative is extremely well done. He weaves a story from actual events at least as well as Stephen Ambrose (and I mean that has high praise).
On the one hand it is a story of environmental disaster, part natural and part man-made. It underscores Mr. Egan's other work on the New West. On that topic I recommend his book "Lasso the Wind."
On the other hand it is a story of social crisis, described by people who lived through it. Mr. Egan has done U.S. history a service by providing this late-day retelling of this epic tale.
This nonfiction audio book has been as engrossing a listen and many of my favorite fiction audio books. I strongly recommend that you buy and listen to it.
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.
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.
There's always time for reading
I think Timothy Egan is a great writer and have enjoyed a number of his other books -- particularly Short Nights. Like his other books, I found this one covered a fascinating, little known era of American history, the dust bowl drama of the 1930s, but found it covered the same ground way too long (think 100 pages of listening about dust storms) without the same drama or depth of his more recent works. It's an interesting book, but I was glad to be finished with it.
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.
Telecommuter living outside of San Francisco, CA. I listen to books while walking my dog, quilting, and doing chores around the house.
This is probably my least favorite book from audible. The narration was dry and the story endless.
Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!
I listened to "The Worst Hard Time" while I read the book. This is a powerful, gripping work of American history. This is a must-read, as it gives insight into the mistakes we often make in the name of progress and short-term gain. Timothy Egan presents the horrors of the Dust Bowl by giving us individual stories as well as an overview of the place and the times. I will never forget this book!
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