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The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl | [Timothy Egan]

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

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  •  
    John Aylmer Yakima, Washington United States 01-05-08
    John Aylmer Yakima, Washington United States 01-05-08 Member Since 2005
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    "Death by Dust"

    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.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patrick Hermantown, MN, USA 06-30-07
    Patrick Hermantown, MN, USA 06-30-07
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    "Outstanding"

    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.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shannon Chicago, IL, United States 08-03-09
    Shannon Chicago, IL, United States 08-03-09 Member Since 2005
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    "Difficult and nearly unbelievable"

    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.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan QUEMADO, NM, United States 03-27-13
    Susan QUEMADO, NM, United States 03-27-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Harsh, anti-agricultural view"

    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.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rick Murrieta, CA, United States 01-20-14
    Rick Murrieta, CA, United States 01-20-14 Member Since 2011

    Rick H.

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    "Not Quite the Grapes of Wrath."

    This book was recommended to me by a colleague whom said it was excellent and whose daughter also gave positive marks. After completing, I have mixed reviews. I was looking forward to the story but by the end of the book I feel like the countless anecdotes of suffering in the Oklahoma dust could have been replaced with a more diverse dialog realted to different economic classes among the story tellers.

    The story started out well and I was glued for the first third to first half of the book by learning about the predicament of the country in 1929 and into the 30’s. After the first 2-3 stories of the dust storms and how they affected everyone, I got bored. I mean, how many different ways can you slice those tales before they start to sound the same? I kept asking myself “When will this end?” so I could get to the (epilogue) and learn the final outcome and what affect the Dust Bowl had on farming in today’s economy.

    Ken Burns does an excellent job (as usual) in keeping the listener engaged with a style of story-telling that is often unmatched. That combined with a slice in American history that needed to be told was what I needed to make the selection. The story as a whole was good, and I did enjoy it, I just became tired of hearing the (what seemed like) repeated stories of suffering amongst a similar class of people. The fall of the Stock market had my ear and so did the tales of speculators trying to find their pot of gold by farming in the central plains, but the repetition of inhaling dust dragged a bit.

    Don’t take it from me. Maybe you’ll see it differently.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen Glen Gardner, NJ, United States 06-12-13
    Karen Glen Gardner, NJ, United States 06-12-13 Member Since 2008

    Likes: Cozy mysteries, esp w/cats, books on workings of the brain/autism, not-too-dark fantasy. Dislikes: Animal cruelty, torture scenes.

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    "Fascinating history"
    What did you love best about The Worst Hard Time?

    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.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ray Glendale, AZ, United States 05-17-13
    Ray Glendale, AZ, United States 05-17-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Great Book"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chaya Sapello, NM, United States 03-08-13
    Chaya Sapello, NM, United States 03-08-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Good story, bad reading"
    Any additional comments?

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Glen Boise, ID, United States 12-27-09
    Glen Boise, ID, United States 12-27-09 Member Since 2006
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    "Excellent Narration & Great Reserch"

    Very personal stories that bring this era to life. It makes me want to drive thru the area to meet the people. The narrator made the people live again and brought warmth to a very hard story.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan White Salmon, WA, USA 11-03-09
    Susan White Salmon, WA, USA 11-03-09
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    "fascinating account of perseverance!"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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