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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

Average Customer Ratings

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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

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Read like a textbook

This is probably my least favorite book from audible. The narration was dry and the story endless.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 06-18-12

We Should All Read This

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!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Worst Hard Time

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Laurie
  • Bellingham, WA, United States
  • 10-23-10

Learned a lot

This is not what I'd call a 'page' turner - it took me quite some time to finish it, as I didn't feel compelled to listen to it all the time, but nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like to listen to non-fiction books to 'get smarter' and I sure did with this book. It was a fascinating story of a time period that I thought I knew a lot about, but found I did not. There were many characters, which was confusing for awhile, but you figure them out the further you get into the book. The facts/trivia of the dustbowl were tragic and intriguing. I would highly recommend this book to history teachers or literature teachers, especially if you teach Steinbeck. The reader had a pleasant voice - he read the story without insinuating himself into it - no goofy accents, huge changes of tone - it was a nice change from some 'over the top' readers.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Glen
  • Boise, ID, United States
  • 12-27-09

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

  • Overall

Loved It

"The Worst Hard Time" is the first book of its type that I have listened to. It was thoroughly enjoyable. Although a very depressing subject, I couldn't wait to get back to listen to more. It made me really appreciate the struggles of Americans of all types in the early 1900's. It was also an eye opener to hear about the foolishness of the country and the shady businessmen...shows that some things remain the same. I couldn't help but draw parallels to today's environment.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Nina
  • Arlington, VA, USA
  • 08-17-08

Excellent and easy to listen to

What a terrific accounting of the dust bowl era. The author must have had letters and diaries because everything "speaks" authentically. And the way he has put it together makes what could be boring history easy to take. Good reader, also.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Tracy
  • Marlin, TX, USA
  • 06-28-07

Best of the Best

This title supplements Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." Being a work of non-fiction, it explains what happened to those who did not flee from the dust. I enjoyed it so much, I bought the hard copy and gave it as a gift.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful