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

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

by Timothy Egan
4.4 199


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

"The Worst Hard Time is an epic story of blind hope and endurance almost beyond belief; it is also, as Tim Egan has told it, a riveting tale of bumptious charlatans, conmen, and tricksters, environmental arrogance and hubris, political chicanery, and a ruinous ignorance of nature's ways. Egan has reached across the generations and brought us the people who played out the drama in this devastated land, and uses their voices to tell the story as well as it could ever be told." — Marq de Villiers, author of Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

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 homes 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 deaths 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.

As only great history can, Egan's book captures the very voice of the times: its grit, pathos, and abiding courage. 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.

Timothy Egan is a national enterprise reporter for the New York Times. He is the author of four books and the recipient of several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

“As one who, as a young reporter, survived and reported on the great Dust Bowl disaster, I recommend this book as a dramatic, exciting, and accurate account of that incredible and deadly phenomenon. This is can’t-put-it-down history.” —Walter Cronkite

"The Worst Hard Time is wonderful: ribbed like surf, and battering us with a national epic that ranks second only to the Revolution and the Civil War. Egan knows this and convincingly claims recognition for his subject—as we as a country finally accomplished, first with Lewis and Clark, and then for 'the greatest generation,' many of whose members of course were also survivors of the hardships of the Great Depression. This is a banner, heartfelt but informative book, full of energy, research, and compassion." —Edward Hoagland, author of Compass Points: How I Lived

"Here's a terrific true story—who could put it down? Egan humanizes Dust Bowl history by telling the vivid stories of the families who stayed behind. One loves the people and admires Egan's vigor and sympathy." —Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"The American West got lucky when Tim Egan focused his acute powers of observation on its past and present. Egan's remarkable combination of clear analysis and warm empathy anchors his portrait of the women and men who held on to their places—and held on to their souls—through the nearly unimaginable miseries of the Dust Bowl. This book provides the finest mental exercise for people wanting to deepen, broaden, and strengthen their thinking about the relationship of human beings to this earth." —Patricia N. Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618773473
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/01/2006
Series: Edition 001 Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 47,454
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, a New York Times columnist, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in nonfictionHis previous books include The Worst Hard Time, which won a National Book Award, and the national bestseller The Big Burn. He lives in Seattle, Washington. 


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

November 8, 1954

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Worst Hard Time 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 199 reviews.
mamamia More than 1 year ago
This was a great historical book on the cause and effect of the Dust Bowl at the early 1900's. How millions of acres of grassland were destroyed and the effect on families and the nation, -about a time in our country we all hear about occasionally but rarely hear the why and how of it and how it devastated people. It was written so well i read every line. As I read it - it could have been our times today. Banks closing down, people not aware of the consequences of what they were doing, poor government policies, the drive for more and more, the devastation to our ecological system, The writer also reminds us we aren't done messing around - we are drawing down the biggest reserve we have - the Ogallala Aquifer - at a tremendous rate - this serves 30% of the irrigation water in the US. The cotton farmers in Texas are siphoning from the aquifer so they can dramatically increase their production of cotton, which no longer has an American market So these the cotton growers get three billion dollars a year in tax payer money for fiber that is shipped to China, where it is used to make cheap clothing that is sold back to American retail stores like Wal-Mart. At the current rate of water consumption the aquifer will dry up within 100 years, and in some parts of the US before then. As the writer says - we were founded as a nation of settlers and farmers and less than 1% of all jobs are in agriculture now. It is a great book to remind us to pay attention to what is happening today before we lose something we can't replace.
waynedale More than 1 year ago
I am familiar with this area in the Oklahoma panhandle. I have family there. It is amazing to think that anyone then or now would try to live in that region. This book gives a vivid account of the trials and tribulations facing the people of that tough enviroment. It also examines the folly of pursuing short term gain without trying to anticipate the long term effects of their planting efforts during those times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My mother lived through the Dust Bowl as a young girl. She never spoke about it except to say it was very dusty. Well, hearing that I thought that was all there was to it. What an education I received about my mother's childhood. As I progressed through the book I would ask her questions and I found she lived what I was reading! Black Sunday is still a vivid memory for her. I highly recommend this book for anyone, especially those that may know someone that experienced the Dust Bowl first hand. An important piece of American history.
RivkahOH More than 1 year ago
Timothy Egan does an excellent job of presenting the horrors of the Dust Bowl years in very human terms. For those of us who have been taught to think of the Great Depression in terms of bankers and stockbrokers jumping off ledges, and to visualize only the urban poor of the Thirties, this offers some insight into what was happening in the rest of the country. The people Egan focuses on, unlike the Okies of The Grapes of Wrath, chose to stay in their homes despite seeing their world destroyed or simply blown away. The Worst Hard Time serves as a history of the Dust Bowl, a story of human endurance, and a cautionary tale of how we use and abuse the land.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Worst Hard Time is an amazing book with great detail and vivid descriptions of the Dust Bowl. I have read volumes of historical books and believe this one to be among the best.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book very interesting and in some respects topical to today's environmental and finanacial events. Being a Baby Boomer I heard all the depression stories from my grandparents. My husband's grand-parents left the Dust Bowl of OK early on, but reading this book you can appreciate why people held on. While the first reviewer totally bashed the book I really believe you do get a feel for what the people were living through and I didn't get where the book blamed the people, but in fact it made me realize how deceived they were by the number of factors presented in the book. If you love history I do think you'll enjoy the book as it's a subject that is just brushed by in history classes, which is the reason I picked it up to read.
MayDefarge More than 1 year ago
This book is subtitled "The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl," and the author has given us an up-close and personal look into the lives of real Americans who did not flee from Oklahoma and the other states affected by the Dust Bowl events. This is the story of several families in towns of the Great Plains who clung to the land they had helped to ruin even through the Great Depression. This is our parents' and grandparents' generation whose stories are preserved for us by author Timothy Egan in the hope that this man-made disaster will never happen again in our country. It is the history of an event caused by man's abuse of his natural environment. John Steinbeck wrote in Grapes of Wrath about the "Okies" who fled the Dust Bowl and the tragedy of their lives. Egan writes of those who stayed, hidden behind windows covered with wet sheets to keep out the dust;who watched while their animals died outside from starvation caused by internal suffocation; who watched while their crops and gardens were destroyed and covered with dust; and who suffered while their babies and children died from "dust pneumonia." He tells us of the starvation of families who lived in sod houses on the prairie and the eventual disappearance of entire communities. He points out the political charlatans and greedy land-grabbers who rode the wave of western settlement when there was prosperity. Because this is American history, the story has to be told that our government and the people who followed a dream to the Great Plains were the cause of this great disaster. Ignorance of environmental conditions and total unconcern for the results of the tearing up of the prairie brought desolation to the land and despair to the inhabitants. There are descriptions of the dust storms that stretch the imagination. On Jan. 21, 1932, a cloud ten thousand feet high from ground to top appeared just outside Amarillo, Texas. The winds were clocked at more than 60 miles per hour. This black mountain of dust was a blizzard that caused the sky to go dark in the middle of the day and created zero visibility. These blizzards blew for 7 days without stopping and covered parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas. Because dust is made up of sand particles (silicon), it is as sharp as glass and deadly to those who inhale it. Eventually the dust blew east into Chicago, New York, Washington, and onto ships in the Atlantic Ocean. There are some amazing pictures in the book that a few journalists and others were able to capture during this period. A fascinating part of this story is the politics in Washington during this time and the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt to save the people of the Great Plains and to reclaim the land before it became desert. Just as his 6th cousin, Teddy Roosevelt, had worked to save the western forests, Franklin Roosevelt found himself working to save the western plains. Whenever I read the stories that people recall of their past, I stop and wonder if we really listen to what they are trying to tell us. Have we learned anything from this terrible tragedy, or will we allow those who only care about profit to destroy our natural resources?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent. Egan deftly shatters many of the stereotypes associated with the 'dust bowl' and the people who survived it. He focuses not on the families who fled, but on the stout souls who chose to stick it out whether out of a sense of dedication, foolishness or from a lack of real options. Our modern 'disasters' pale in comparison to the grinding, seemingly ceaseless agony that was the dust bowl and the Great Depression. Egan has produced something truly meaningful and valuable in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love history and knew (very little) about the dust bowl era. This book seemed like a good choice. By the end of the book I was near tears as the epiloge wound down the stories of people I had come to know very intimatly in the previou 300 pages. Absolutly amazing is how I would rate this book. A must read for people who would like to know more about what made this country what it is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I knew about The Dust Bowl from my gradeschool history lesson. I NEVER realized it lasted 10Years!!! I also never realized that the dust reached Washhington DC on what is called Black Sunday. This is a great read if you enjoy reading about history that didn't make it into our traditional history books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book (although, pardon the pun, at times it was a bit dry). Being a native of Colorado, and being able to read about something that happened so close to home, really drew me into this book. I love to learn about natural diasters, and this was a bit eye opening to discover that the "dusters" were not just one or two years of irritation, but tormented the people and their lives for much, much longer than I thought. Dust pneumonia? Static electricity from dust clouds? Who knew? I can't even imagine what it was like to try to survive in such a horrible environment. It was creepy to look at the pictures and imagine myself in the shoes of someone looking into the approaching cloud of debris, and the devastation in some places even to this day is depressing. I do wish the grasshopper plague had been covered a bit more, but all in all, this was an excellent read.
Cherthom More than 1 year ago
This book is a riveting read. It shows the toughness of the American people. Even mirrors what is happening today. I recommend it to anyone interested in current American history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To the first poster that said the map was wrong - you need to get a map of Texas and you will find you are wrong!! Most likely you are wrong about every thing else. I am reading the book right now and find it fascinating. I knew about the dust bowl but never knewr the extent of the devastation. I guess it was just "something that happened in Grandma's time". It has now become a real thing to me; something I can imagine, see, almost feel.

It's funny that that poster was the only one to trash the book. Hmmmm...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would think that I had heard, and read, of it all. Until I read this book, I was unaware of the wide reaching effects, as a person born in the 60's, of the dust bowl. Everyone who is feeling they are deprived because they didn't get their Lexus or PS3 for Christmas should right their perspective through this book of suffering, loyalty, and steadfast determination to beat the odds. And please remember that there are millions of people in third world nations who would love to be in your shoes, right now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Texas Panhandle native, I can recall my grandfather's scathing comments about those who had foolishly eroded the treasure of soil in what used to be called 'The Golden Spread.' This book effectively tells the story of a horrid, unforgiving phenomenon that we in this area hope is never repeated. It is well-written and accurate in its analysis.
Jbarn More than 1 year ago
Mr. Egan weaves an outstanding portrait of the impact of the late 20's/early 30's financial and ecological crises on individuals and families of the Dust Bowl. Mr. Egan provides the reader with the emotional and physical trauma associated with the period by setting the political and economic context and following individuals through their personal challenges. The description of the FDR Administration's New Deal put into perspective current responses to today's Great Recession. A fascinating book with a readily accessible writing style. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book very inspiring. Also it had a message about today's environmental and finanacial events which I find very frightening! I enjoyed the verbal history researched by the writer in Notes and Sources in the back of the book. My family lived in Amarillo and Littlefield. My grandmother died from dust pneumonia on her farm which was part of the original XIT Ranch. My mother-in-law was a school teacher in a one room school house in the Oklahoma Panhandle. She told me she had to shovel dirt out of the school each morning. All of these family members are dead now so I can't ask more questions. I knew about the Dust Bowl but not as much as I thought. This should be a must read in American History in school! A wonderfully told factual story!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was outstanding. I just finished it today. It is a picture that is hard to get out of my mind. My parents farmed near Platte, SD during the depression. When I saw Mr. Egan's map, I was very surprised that SD was not on the map. However, after reading the book, I could see that Texas got the wind and dust storms far worse than SD. However, I do believe the grasshoppers came to SD sooner than to Texas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is hard to say that you enjoyed a book about such a terrible time, but this was excellently written and touched one deeply. You could feel the pain, desperation, and hopelessness of the people who lived through this period of drought and destruction and dust in the southern plains. It is good for one to read about periods in our history like this one to remember that hard times have always been with us and our spirit has always been strong, even if sorely tested.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Couldnt put it down wonderful
Stevec50 More than 1 year ago
We hear a lot about the Great Depression, but the event that truly caused so much hardship for the American people, was not the crash of Wall Street and the banks, but the fact that millions of acres of farmland becoming unusual for years. Author Timothy Egan utilized interviews with survivors, the diaries and journals of others, plus articles from the newspapers and magazines of the era. Also, going through the reports and papers published by the U.S. government and universities he tells a remarkable tale. Once teeming with millions of buffalo and the home of Native Americans, the U.S. government decided to turn the grasslands of the Great Plains into the farm belt of America. Egan tells the stories of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of small farms that were urged to plow up the grasslands and turn into the wheat fields that would feed the U.S. Through subsidies and agricultural advice, that turned out to be wrong and even deceitful government and self-interested business people aided in the destruction of an eco-system that had been built over thousands of years. Within half a generation the plains became a desert where the land itself turned deadly. An amazing story of both courage and enormous stupidity. Also a reminder that the short-term profits that can be made might not be good in the long run. Definitely something that we should be reminded of as things around us seem to be changing and not for the better.
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TomBritten More than 1 year ago
after the first 100 pages everything repeats Tom