Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: The Worst Hard Time

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

This is a enlightening book on a dark time on the Great Plains. Mr. Egan tells the story of life in the Dust Bowl through the lives of families, real people who suffered through the storms and graciously shared their stories.

Reading this book was particularly interesting as a Kansan (and a transplant from Illinois, where agriculture is just as integral but the soil is completely different). It was strange to find myself torn between aching for the families that failed and straggled away from the land (poor, hungry and dirty) and amazed at the hubris, greed and ignorance that caused the environment disaster that was the Dust Bowl. Many of the same struggles continue in modern agriculture; it's always beneficial to review our past. (In fact, Kansas still struggles with emptying rural counties and debating how to serve those communities best.)

I admit to relative ignorance myself on more modern history. As a child, I moved from state to state quite a bit and managed to duplicate American History up to the Civil War many times without learning much at all about what happened in our country beyond that conflict. It's a significant deficit in my education. I did not realize how horrible the dust storms were or that they were caused primarily by ripping up the native grasses to plant wheat, corn, alfalfa and oats. You can watch some pretty scary footage of these storms by searching online. There are plenty of sites with free videos (like the History Channel). The author of this book even makes appearances in some of them.

Sadly, the devastation of the agricultural misdirection of the few years before the Great Depression has still not been healed. A few areas of land were reseeded and hold just enough topsoil in place to avoid the most horrific of the dust storms, but times of drought still bring dust storms.

Mr. Egan is a journalist, not a historian. He interviewed people across the Dust Bowl and really tells their stories as a way to walk the reader through the worst times. This book is incredibly readable. I was enthralled by the people and families, anxious to learn what happened to them.

I did not receive anything for this review. I borrowed the book from my library. If you follow the link to Amazon and make a purchase, I receive a small commission. In theory.


  1. I think I'll have to get that from the library sometime--it sounds very interesting. Another you might like is Dark Tide (if you haven't read it already). It is about the "molasses flood" in Boston back in 1919. I find it really compelling to fill in those history gaps with books like these. They give a much richer picture of history than any textbook! (We need living books for us homeschool teachers too!)

  2. Thanks, Hilary. I added Dark Tide to my list.

    On an unrelated note, I think you and Joel would enjoy watching The Botany of Desire. It's available for streaming on Netflix.


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