Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl

Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl

by Albert Marrin

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In the 1930's, great rolling walls of dust swept across the Great Plains. The storms buried crops, blinded animals, and suffocated children. It was a catastrophe that would change the course of American history as people struggled to survive in this hostile environment, or took the the roads as Dust Bowl refugees.

Here, in riveting, accessible prose, and

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In the 1930's, great rolling walls of dust swept across the Great Plains. The storms buried crops, blinded animals, and suffocated children. It was a catastrophe that would change the course of American history as people struggled to survive in this hostile environment, or took the the roads as Dust Bowl refugees.

Here, in riveting, accessible prose, and illustrated with moving historical quotations and photographs, acclaimed historian Albert Marrin explains the causes behind the disaster and investigates the Dust Bowl's imact on the land and the people. Both a tale of natural destruction and a tribute to those who refused to give up, this is a beautiful exploration of an important time in our country's past.

Editorial Reviews

Abby McGanney Nolan
Featuring vivid details of households, towns and entire landscapes bombarded by dust storms, period photographs that capture the dreaded swirling dark clouds, and a color palette that's stuck in the brown-gray zone, Albert Marrin's sweeping study of the dirty '30s may give readers the uncomfortable sensation of dust in their throats. Fortunately, the book also contains clear explanations of what led to the complicated tragedy known as the Dust Bowl.
—The Washington Post
Jessica Bruder
In the best possible way, Years of Dust feels like a museum in the form of a book. Marrin knits together natural science and sociology, news stories, snippets from novels and poems, eyewitness descriptions, journal entries, and the words of hard-time bards like John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie. His selection of photographs—paired with maps, posters, engravings and other artifacts—brings the blown-out landscapes to life…Years of Dust is a lucid and powerful book.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Calling it “the worst environmental disaster in American history,” historian Marrin (The Great Adventure) chronicles the Dust Bowl of the 1930s—its causes, devastation, aftermath and potential to recur. The large format allows for plenty of sidebars, maps and striking sepia photographs as Marrin addresses wide-ranging topics, from a discussion of prairie ecology to the story behind Dorothea Lange's famous “Migrant Mother” photograph. Nine chapters detail events leading up to the demise of the prairie grasslands and the tragedies of those affected by the severe dust storms that followed. Easily comprehensible, the lengthy narrative leaves nothing undefined. Numerous side panels place aspects of the tragedy in context, e.g., in recounting the slaughter of buffalo, a sidebar shows a drawing of a buffalo hunter on the cover of Harper's Weekly (“Hunters were social outcasts. Even the army did not want them”). The captions also offer relevant information. Marrin ends with a warning that this type of avoidable disaster can strike again (he notes the dust storms currently taking place in China). A glossary, extensive bibliography and index wrap up this thorough work. Ages 9–up. (Aug.)
. . . [An] exceptional overview . . . [An] exemplary cross-curricular title that encourages students to find the urgent connections between the 'Dirty Thirties' and our current environmental crisis. starred review
VOYA - Kathleen Beck
A dust storm more than 1,000 miles wide is the apocalyptic image that anchors Marrin's thoughtful examination of the impact of agriculture on the environment. The 1935 storm on "Black Friday" was a direct result of practices that decimated the native grasslands of the Great Plains states and left the land vulnerable to drought, leading to massive loss of soil, crop failures, and the largest internal migration in U.S. history. Haunting photographs show displaced families and devastated farms buried in dunes of dirt. Sidebars give additional interesting facts and stories. In spite of the subtitle, the book is not just about the Dust Bowl. Marrin discusses the ecology of the Great Plains and the history of exploration and settlement. He draws analogies to contemporary environmental conditions in China, the African Sahel, and the Amazon and describes the dangers of "desertification." Although this broad focus may dilute the book's appeal to casual readers, it increases historical understanding and curricular usefulness. Careful and thorough as always, the author includes a list of resources, additional reading, and a somewhat oversimplified glossary. (Do readers really need a definition of "dust"?) An easily digested introduction for younger students and an attractive overview for others, this book is a worthy addition to Marrin's extensive oeuvre of history books for teens. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
This outstanding historical account of the Dust Bowl years of 1931-39 is written by an award winning author of historical books for older elementary and middle school students. The fascinating account begins by creating a picture of the plains as they were before settlement began in the middle of the 19th century and continues in timeline fashion as it highlights the various man-made events that led to the destruction of the plains and resultant dust storms. The saga is made all the more real by the outstanding photos, each identified, of the actual events and the cost to the environment and the settlers living there. The story could not be more timely, as it brings to life the reality of man's refusal to acknowledge the impact of his actions on the environment. The effects of the Dust Bowl were exacerbated, of course, by the Depression. Efforts by the Roosavelt administration's New Deal to reverse the Depression and the environmental effects of the dust storms are discussed. Timelines, charts, and historical illustrations add to the overall understanding of this period in history. The final chapter, "Future Dust Bowls," provides evidence that the Dust Bowl phenomenon continues with some efforts to reverse the trend. The book is powerful in its ability to help the reader feel the full extent of this disaster but hopeful in its stance that man can make a difference in the environment. A glossary, index, bibliography, and sources for further study are included. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—Marrin begins with an overview of the natural history of the Great Plains, describing its unique geography and delicate ecological balance. Next, he discusses how the American ranchers and farmers who migrated into the region "invited disaster" by "changing the ecology" of the area, destroying native plants and animals and using farming techniques that left the soil vulnerable to the heat and droughts of the 1930s. The Dust Bowl and the human suffering it caused are put into the larger context of the Great Depression. New Deal efforts to change farming practices and the implementation of conservation measures are also explained. The book closes with a warning about the worldwide dangers of overuse of land and expanding desertification. Numerous sidebars provide more information about topics mentioned in the main text. The author writes with his usual clarity and flair and uses excerpts from primary-source accounts and literature to give voice to the people who explored and settled the plains as well as those who suffered through this environmental disaster. The narrative is supplemented with several maps and large, riveting reproductions of period photos and illustrations. This title covers much of the same ground as Diane Yancey's Life During the Dust Bowl (Gale, 2004), but Marrin's outstanding writing and the high-quality illustrations make this cautionary tale a worthy addition.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO
Kirkus Reviews
Marrin's approach to the story of the Dust Bowl is unique in its focus on ecology, arguing that the ignorant and exploitive practices of farmers, hunters and ranchers made the catastrophe worse than it needed to be. Hunting indigenous species such as the buffalo and prairie dog to near extinction, killing off predators of smaller animals, introducing cattle grazing and destroying the natural landscape for farms and settlements all set the stage for the disaster to come. The author does not neglect the miseries suffered by families living in the afflicted areas, however, placing the story in the context of the Great Depression and explaining how what was happening in the Great Plains was yet another sign to Americans of the country's downward spiral. The author concludes with a discussion of modern ecological disasters in the making. The engaging narrative includes quotes from a variety of primary sources, and it is abundantly illustrated throughout with photographs and other archival material, making this a reader-friendly, insightful work of history. (glossary, notes, further resources, bibliography, index, timeline) (Nonfiction. 10-16)

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 10.90(h) x 1.20(d)
1040L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Albert Marrin ( is the acclained author of more than forty award-winning nonfiction books for young people. Among his many honors are the James Madison Book Award for Lifetime Achievement and and Endowment for the Humanities Medal. He lives in Riverdale, New York and Miami, Florida.

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