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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

Critic Reviews

"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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  • Overall

Those were hard times....

I approached this book with some previous knowledge of the Dust Bowl. My mother and many of my relatives grew up in the middle of the dust bowl. I was familiar with some of the families mentioned in the book. I think it is excellent and teaches us a part of history that many have forgotton and many more never learned. Very good look at how hard things really were in the '30s.

  • Overall

Hard Times Drag on For Reader

The parts about how and why the high plains was settled is interesting and how turning the land to growing crops, particularly wheat, was informative. However, most of the book is a chronicle of the various dust storms and the effects on the settlers. It's an appalling story but from one dust storm to another, from one choking lung to another, from one suffocated animal to another, it's all the same and becomes tiresome fast. I also found the reading not to my liking but that's very subjective. I can't say exactly what it is in his presentation or voice that grated on me but it did. It's very seldom I can't finish but this is one I couldn't make it to the end.

  • Overall

Remarkably Depressing

Unavoidable perhaps, but most of the book is the stuff of nightmares. Perhaps I am too sensitive, but the tragedy is tremendous, and I can't remember much but the horrid images, especially of all that did NOT survive.

  • Overall

Moving history

This is a very engaging, almost novel-like history of the dust belt during the Great Depression. The characters and places come to life, and the tragedy and stress of the times are really brought out.

The reading is very well done.

  • Overall

An Interesting Read

There were a few spots where this book bogged down a bit (ie the diary), but overall I found it very interesting and educational. I feel like I have learned a great deal about the dust bowl time. I had no idea how much people in that part of the U.S. suffered.

  • Overall


A well told story of the Dust Bowl times which makes clear that humans, eager to exploit the land for the wheat crop, are the reason for the devastation of the Great Plains. Well-written, well read.

  • Overall

This book captured me.

The story follows real people through terrible circumstances in 1930's America. Diaries and newspapers shape the story. Before I finished the book, I could imagine being there --but knew that really being there would be much more than I could imagine. Still, this is the best and most interesting rendition of the time that I've read, and I think it helped me to better understand why things have unfolded in our country as they have. Books like these make history so much more appealing than textbooks. If you liked "Isaac's Storm" or "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson, you will like this book by Timothy Egan too.

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • Centerville, OH, USA
  • 01-20-10

Dust bowl story

What a great book. The author did a fantastic job storytelling with real life descriptions of what families went through during those horrendous times, as well as describing historic events. This book is a fantastic read and tells a great story of one of the chapters in American History.

  • Overall
  • LouBird
  • Arlington, VA USA
  • 01-09-10

Couldn't get beyond first chapter

Only second audio book that I truly couldn't get into. This is not necessarily the author's fault. The reader was unbelievably hard to listen to.

  • Overall
  • Daniel
  • Galesburg, Israel
  • 12-17-09


Loved the book a very good read. Tells how greed and ignorance destroyed part of this country.