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

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Book Overview

This National Book Award-winning story, a tour de force of historical reportage, rescues an iconic chapter of American history--the Dust Bowl that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

10 ratings

Fascinating History

I was hooked from the beginning of the first page and remained so throughout. This is a heartbreaking book so be prepared. It is also well written and riviting. I have recommended it to people again and again.

Amazing history!

I am using this book as a reference for a book series I'm writing. That's how in depth the details are in this book. The first at least 1/4 of the book is a slow start because Mr. Egan is setting up for the story, giving us the background and relevant history. I originally read this just out of curiosity because I didn't know much about the Dust Bowl and this was the book a cousin recommended. As I said, it starts slow but once you get into it, it's truly fascinating and eye-opening read. It isn't one I would necessarily read over and over again (as I said, I'm using my copy for references) but it is definitely a part of history that is skimmed over.

worst hard time

this was a hard book to read.

Accomplished, close to brilliant

This accomplished, close-to-brilliant history of the ecology and politics of the Dust Bowl Thirties does what many prior books have not -- rescued the region from insignificance. Egan does a marvelous job of documenting the plain human suffering that the ecological catastrophe entailed, but adds a definitely modern understanding of how human abuse of the almost-virgin soil wrought so much of the damage. Advanced high school and A.P. classes should have no trouble with this book, and older Americans will find our knowledge handsomely updated.

Truth is More Depressing than Fiction

This is a history of a series of environmental mistakes that led to great suffering. Greed and ignorance of the results of overdevelopment led to the creation of a vast wasteland in the United States that killed people and cattle. A hard read, but one with a lesson.


I was raised by German immigrants much like the folks Egan describes in this book. When I was a teenager I was in part frustrated and perplexed by the scars the Depression and Dust Bowl left on them and our household 40 years after it ended. They were frugal people in the extreme. They made a sport of seeing how much money they could put aside with each paycheck. They never, ever spent money on vacations or in movie theaters. Spending money to eat in a restaurant was a huge deal to these people. Grandma insisted on making all of my clothes until I got a job to buy store bought jeans and t-shirts. Grandpa groused mightily if I wanted anything that cost more than $5. They horded everything from nails (new and used) to toilet paper to toothpaste. For the three of us Grandpa put in a massive kitchen garden in the spring, and Grandma canned enough fruits and vegetables to feed the 9th Calvary every autumn. Whenever I'd tease them about their ways, I'd get a stern look in return and a lecture about living through the Depression in the Dust Bowl. They'd tell me time and again how lucky I was not to have gone through it, and each time my child self would shrug as if to say, "Whatever." I didn't really "get" the Dust Bowl or the Depression until I read this book. We're all lucky not to have gone through what these folks did. Imagine having to decide which of your children will get to eat dinner. Imagine being forced to slaughter your starving farm animals because there is absolutely nothing left to feed them. Imagine watching your brothers and sisters slowly choke to death on dust. Imagine going to the ATM for some cash to discover that your bank went out of business yesterday, taking all of your savings and investments with it, and there's nothing you can do to get even a fraction of your money back. Imagine having to abandon your preschoolers to the streets and pray that someone will take them in and feed and cloth them. Imagine holding on to your last quarter for three days before hunger forces you to spend it on a meal, and you have absolutely no idea when or where your next meal is coming from. Any one of these scenarios would be soul destroying, but all of these things happened to some folks. My grandparents never really wanted to talk about how they survived the Dust Bowl; they told me a few things, however. Grandpa had to cut the toes out of his only pair a shoes when they grew too small and there was no money to buy a new pair. Grandma lost her youngest brother to an infection because the last doctor had moved out of their town, there was no hospital, and there was no money to pay for medical treatment, anyway. These remembrances came in dribs and drabs; mostly they had an "It's in the past and there's no used in rehashing all those bad times" attitude. I teared up at times while reading this book, wondering which of the horrors Egan talks about happened to my grandparents. Finally, 20 years into adulthood, I "got" the Depression. I "got" t

The horror...the horror

Absolutely totally bleak. Depressing. Tragic. American experiences in the horrific Dust Bowl of the 1930's as related in "Worst Hard Times" was all of this and more. Yet in the hands of author Timothy Egan the story is compelling and an absolute must read for anyone interested in the Thirties, the Depression or, of course, the Dust Bowl. The statistics are here as are thorough accounts of the incredible dust storms that devastated a land an its people. Egan puts names to many of those who survived and faces to the names. Here is the success of "The Worst Hard Times," putting the devastating impact of the ecological disaster in human terms. Meets those who were there. Some still alive today to tell the tale. A tale of abject poverty caused or agitated by Mother Nature reminding us who the mortals are and what fools they often be. For part of the problem was man-made as newcomers to the lands farmed soil that was ideal for ranching, with devastating results. With drought, heat waves and wind the loose soil was soon part of mighty clouds dumping dust everywhere. Into homes, eyes and food and on a couple of occasions to eastern cities including the nation's capital and beyond. I've read many stories of survival from shipwrecks to Arctic journeys to long marches to epic battles -- "Worst Hard Times" measures up to them all. The human capacity to endure can never be under estimated and it is never better told than in this book. The heroes are those who persisted against all odds and a Federal Government under Franklin Roosevelt that did not hesitate to help. There are eccentric interesting characters aplenty and individual stories to tug at the heart strings and to inspire. The landscape may have been bleak but the human spirit was rich and exciting.

The Ecological Disaster Of The Great Depression

2005 has been a banner year for readable histories about natural disasters (see "A Crack in the World : America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906" by Simon Winchester) and natural disasters compounded by a series of catastrophic human errors (see "Curse of the Narrows : The Halifax Disaster of 1917" by Laura MacDonald). Mr Egan's history falls into the latter category with his story of the Dust Bowl during the Depression. "The Worst Hard Time" traces the horrific consequences of poor farming practices in the Central Plain States during the drought of the 1930's. It is not a dry book about soil samples and weather charts but a living account of the human cost in fighting against tarantulas & seas of grasshoppers eating every plant in their path while struggling against the "duster" storms that blot out the sun. The reader can think of the Dust Bowl storms as the hurricanes of the Plain States. Illustrated with photographs of the poverty of that era, the reader will be shock and angry at the suffering of those farmers who attempted to ride out those storms.

The best of books about the worst of times

My father Bill Downing, was born on a homestead in Indian territory on April 13th 1906, one of eight children of a dry land farmer and livestock trader who drifted from Iowa to the high plains scratching out a living from virgin grasslands. My mother was born in a dugout close to Delphus switch on the Santa Fe line somewhere near Clovis, New Mexico, Dec. 8th 1910. I was born on July 7th 1935 in Canyon,Texas, three months after Black Sunday. This book came to me like a "ghost from Christmas's past" When I heard an interview with the author on PBS radio I knew I had been deeply touched by my family heritage. I confess I am a child of the depression and of the dust bowl era. For me this was a hard book to read but impossible to put down. The stories of the real people and events were at times so imbedded in my heart before I read them that I sometimes had to take time to catch my breath and wash the blow dirt out of my eyes and hair before I could read more. Timothy Egan did his interviews and research on this historical event very well, and has artfully woven them into a true story of heroism, stubborn persistance, ignorance and individual, governmental and societal greed and incompetence. The combination destroyed the great grasslands of North America and the dreams of millions of families and left a scar on the them both. He has also told the story of those on the farms and in government who asked the questions. "What went wrong?", "Can it be fixed?", and "How do we heal a two-fold disaster?" His window into the government and all levels of politics of the period will inform the reader concerned about government and politics of today. When I remember watching my father drill a well in our back yard with a rope, pully, "A" frame and a sharp pipe, or think of the hours I spent turning the soil for our "Victory garden", I am remembering frontier skills. The view I enjoyed from the top of our windmill was the 80 acre pasture for our milk cow starting just past our front yard. A half mile away were two old farms with shelter belt trees and buried fence posts and the only flowing creek in many miles. Looking over our cow lot and chicken house behind our house I saw five blocks away West Texas State College. I started first grade on that campus and graduated from the college sixteen years later. As I walked up the slope to school against blue and brown northers, I vowed to leave that country. when I could. Most of my adult life has been spent where the March winds don't start in January and end in July and you could find water deep enough to play in and trees. That doesn't deminish my love and respect for the people who toughed it out and made a life for them selves. I have never met friendlier more loving and compassionate people than small town panhandle farm folks. I believe that going through the worst hard times killed off some, made some a bit strange, and opened the heart of most. I still like to spend time in the old dust bowl coun


Beyond a doubt, this was the best of the books I read during this past year. Having had many family members who were caught up in this, one of the worst natural (actually it seems it was more man made than natural) disasters to strike our country, made this work of even more interest to me. Mr. Eagan has not only given us a wonderful account of this era in our nations history, he has made it come alive through his exceptional story telling abilities. This is not a dry (no pun intended), academic history of the great depression. Rather it is a history of a group of people who lived through the worst of it, the great dust bowl at the center of our country. These are real people and the author treats them as such. Very few meaningless statistics mar the story line, few government reports are offered or cited to reduce the human suffering to neatly typed pieces of paper. As you read this book, you come to realize that these people are just like you and me. You read and ponder "what if?" The book is quite readable, quite informative and one that I will no doubt give a reread to in the near future. Recommend this one highly!
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