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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

Scritto da Timothy Egan

Narrato da Patrick Lawlor


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

Scritto da Timothy Egan

Narrato da Patrick Lawlor

valutazioni:
4.5/5 (102 valutazioni)
Lunghezza:
11 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Feb 8, 2006
ISBN:
9781400172207
Formato:
Audiolibro

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Descrizione

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.
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Feb 8, 2006
ISBN:
9781400172207
Formato:
Audiolibro

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Informazioni sull'autore

TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, a New York Times columnist, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in nonfiction. His 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. 

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  • (4/5)
    The Worst Hard Time is a popular history of the "Dust Bowl", the period of drought in the 1930s on the Great for modern Plains (the "dirty thirties"). Egan focuses on the story of the common man, inter-weaving about a dozen characters and their families. Along the way we learn about the larger history of the settlement of the Great Plains, the series of events that lead to the "sod busters" breaking up the grasses, and the great drought of the 1930s that led to the massive dirt blizzards or dust storms from which the plains have still not fully recovered. Although left unsaid by Egan, the elephant in the room is how human actions on the environment can have massive and long term negative consequences.Listening to this as an audio-book has its disadvantages because it is difficult to keep the names straight as Egan weaves back and forth between the many characters and places with anecdotal stories. At some point early on I gave up trying to keep all the people and places straight because it didn't really seem to matter as there was no central narrative, just a lot of random stories. The majority of the book is composed of dramatized short narratives of a page or two in length, organized in chronological determined chapters.Comparing this to Little Heathens (my last book) - also about farm life in the mid-west in the 1930s - Heathens offers a much richer and deeper understanding of what small farm life was like (although not in the Dust Bowl). Egan's account is based largely on archival diary entries and it is often banal reading. Whereas Heathens captures the spirit of the times, Egan is at his best at the extremes - extreme events, people, weather. I would have liked to have heard more natural history about the geology, plant life, animals. More history about the recovery program and present day conditions (there is a brief epilogue). For what it is, it's a good introduction to the place and time. Probably the best way to understand it is directly from primary sources, which are still easily accessible.
  • (4/5)
    This book was hard to put down. By introducing us to people who lived in the area affected by the Dust Bowl we get involved in their stories and want to find out what happens to them. As history, it's brilliantly written. We are introduced to the Great Plains before white contact, when a perfectly balanced ecosystem was in place. In the blink of an eye homesteaders arrived, began farming (read: replacing native grass with wheat and corn)with horse drawn plows and soon with tractors. It was an economic boom I'd never heard about but it sounds like it attracted people like the Gold Rush. 50 years after the first homesteaders arrived, two thirds of the plains were being cultivated and fortunes were being made. Then came drought. Crops failed. With no root structure to stabilize the soil, the winds soon began picking up the loose topsoil. The drought lasted years, during which dust storms got bigger and bigger and much more dangerous. And they were not freak occurances. The book talks about storms that lasted days on end. The dust drifted and piled burying everything from equipment to animals, dust pneumonia became commonplace and took many lives. The storms carried static electricity strong enough to make cars stall out. Driving from one town to another was a dangerous undertaking. Keeping the dust out of anything was impossible -- houses, lungs, the eyes of livestock. The odd times when the weather cooperated and farmers were able to get something green started, swarms of locusts arrived and devoured it to nothing. How these High Plains people found the strength to keep going is a miracle, although many of them had few options of going any place else. FDR was elected at the start of the Dust Bowl and the Federal government provided farmers with both financial relief and direction on a new approach to farming. Over time things improved. I was suprised to learn, however, that there are still parts of this country that have still not recovered from the ecological nightmare we call the Dust Bowl. It's a part of American history most of us know little about. This book makes it real. Interestingly, it places the blame for the Dust Bowl squarely on the shoulders of the farmers who ripped up the land, but at the same time it's a tribute to the people who managed to survive. It truly sounds like it was The Worst Hard Time.
  • (5/5)
    It's a time you never want to repeat, an apocalyptic time that's unimaginable now.

    The Dust Bowl changed the Heartland seemingly in an instant and drove people away, creating despair in the middle of the Great Depression.

    The heartbreaking story is told with compassion and humanity, and the stories will really touch you. The people who lost their sight from rubbing their eyes of the fine grit that covered everything. The electrical storms that accompanied the huge plumes of dust. The people who disappeared into the cloud, never seen again.

    This is a cautionary tale of weather and what we do to it, but it's not a climate change polemic. It's a real, honest look at a difficult time in American history.

    It is a tough read because of the sad stories, but it's worthwhile. One of my recommended reads.

    For more of my reviews, visit Ralphsbooks.
  • (2/5)
    Years ago I watched a documentary about the Dust Bowl. It was informative, moving and well organized. I learned a lot from it and much preferred it to this repetitive and oddly organized book.
  • (5/5)
    What a book!It reads like the best fiction. Stories of the people who settled the grasslands in the late 1800's are gripping. The government promised land for everyone. Their high hopes of breaking farmland that could sustain their families were palpable. It was all going to be so good. That is, until everyone who came did the same thing: ripped up the prairie grass that had held the plains together for centuries. The massive boom of the 1920s set people up for high expectations. But with the drought came the great depression, and with that, the farmland turned into sand dunes.Egan paints a picture of the dust storms that ravaged the plains so well. These "dusters" came and went regularly for the best part of the decade, and were present in peoples lives for 150 days a year some years. During the storms people hunkered down inside with dampened towels over their faces. Doors and windows were sealed as best they could be with cloth, but dust still coated everything. Animals outside died with eyes crusted open and guts full of grit. Sand dunes formed and covered fences and eventually sheds and houses too. Schools closed and people fled before they succumbed to "Dust Pneumonia", a slow painful condition caused by the ingestion of dirt. Farming was now subsistence only. And you were lucky if you could manage even that.Reading all this made me angry. Angry that such blatant mismanagement occurred all in the name of profit. And in the years since, of course this kind of "profit before all else" mentality has grown."The subsidy system that was started in the New Deal.......has become something entirely different: a payoff to corporate farms growing crops that are already in oversupply, pushing small operators out of business. Some farms get as much as $360,000 a year in subsidies. The money has got almost nothing to do with keeping people on the land or feeding the average American."This book gives excellent context if you are interested in reading any of John Steinbecks books that are set in this time or place. It is a fantastic history of the settlement of the plains and gives real life to the facts,figures and the well-used title, the Dust Bowl.
  • (4/5)
    Reading about the people that struggled through the great American "dust bowl" you come to the realization that strength can become your character when faced with hardship and challenge. The individuals and families that endured the drought and dust storms of the American high plains near the period of the great depression remind us that life itself can be a struggle and there are no guarantees. Dreams and reality intermixed for those who settled and farmed the area seeking to make a better life.
  • (4/5)
    Recently read "Whose Names Are Unknown" by Sanora Babb, fiction about the same period, people, and struggle with the soil removal caused by uninformed removal of sod. So many of the horrors of life during those years were not new to me, but are described in their full misery. What this book adds is a description of federal government efforts. A decision had to be made whether to try to address the problems or simply evacuate the entire middle of the country. Fascinating -- and incredibly timely given the worsening drought in California and the southwest. Because of its wider range, read this first, but then do move on to the Babb book too.
  • (4/5)
    The lessons of this book are simple and are rules we should know by now, but somehow don't:

    1. What goes up must come down, whether wheat prices, home prices or dust.

    2. Mortgaging the future in hopes that rule number one no longer applies is not a good idea.

    3. You can't fool and you should not mess with Mother Nature.

    4. We are really good at deluding ourselves that all the rules no longer apply.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent description of the dust bowl era told from the prospective of the people who lived through it.
  • (2/5)
    This book told the tale of several families that headed west for the "free" land and encountered problems caused my weather (a severe drought) and constantly fluctuating prices for the crops they were able to grow.Sometimes they had mountains of money and other times their crops were worthless.The book was rather dry, no pun intended, and left lots to be desired, IMHO.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent history of the Dust Bowl era. Extremely readable and loaded w/ good background material. The only downfall is the author's jumping from person to person and it became difficult to keep people straight at times. Otherwise, excellent!
  • (5/5)
    Excellent retelling of the dust bowl era in the late 20s and 30s. It's hard to believe anyone actually stayed through these events, and many did leave.
  • (5/5)
    This is a fantastic work of narrative nonfiction that immerses you in the plight of the people caught up in the Dust Bowl. It focuses on a few families and towns in particular, and depicts in graphic detail a dystopian settings in the 1930s. I thought I knew about the dusters and what life was like then--I didn't. I had no idea of the perils of static electricity during that time--killing chickens and cars alike--and the numbers of people that succumbed to dust pneumonia. I think the only criticism I can offer is that I wish the book had more photographs. This is an important book, not simply as a history, but as warning for farmers and politicians about how easy it is to abuse the land. I will be keeping this on my shelf for future reference.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book. It starts out slow, but bear with it, by the end it reveals a very touching, haunting portrait of the dust bowl and the people who survived it. We all could stand to study environmental disasters such as the dust bowl. While occurring more slowly, and on a global scale, climate change may prove to be our next disaster - if we could only learn from the destruction wrought by greed and short-mindedness on short-term gain of the past, things could end up differently.
  • (4/5)
    Gripping writing, insightful narrative.
  • (5/5)
    Considered to be the worst man-made ecological disaster, The Worst Hard Times chronicles the devastation of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Starting in the early 1900s, lured by the government promise of cheap land, thousands of settlers converted large swaths of the grasslands of the Great Plains to wheat fields. Lulled by several years of above-average rainfall, thousands of acres were tilled until extended drought conditions devastated the farming economy. The dry soil was lifted by winds that created enormous dust clouds. These dust storms caused death ongoing health and psychological problems, economic ruin, changed weather patterns and drifted as far east as New York City.Timothy Egan eloquently explores the human and environmental costs by telling the story through eyewitness accounts. By turns heartbreaking and infuriating, Egan balances the stories of settlers trying to make a better life for themselves and their families with the egregious and ongoing environmental problem that occurred as a result of human hubris.A compelling must read.
  • (4/5)
    Egan examines the dust bowl era by focusing on the lives of a few select families who lived (well, mostly lived) through it. Along the way he explains things like why the Oklahoma panhandle is a panhandle, why so few people initially settled there, why the government eventually encouraged people to do so, how things went really well for them for a while, and then what happened when the weather and the economy both turned against these settlers. It is a fascinating account, although it is very detailed and so it may be a bit tedious for some readers. Students of history and those who ove historical detail combined with powerful personal stories will thoroughly appreciate it however.
  • (4/5)
    I, of course, knew about the Dust Bowl from my knowledge of US history and my love of John Steinbeck. What I didn't know was that it was a manmade disaster. Fascinating book.
  • (5/5)
    A popular history of the Dust Bowl which is infinitely readable and well researched. There is also a very well done documentary from this author on the Dust Bowl to accompany this book. I would recommend Egan's books to anyone wanting a well-rounded, not dry, overly academic treatment of whatever his subject may be.
  • (4/5)
    A friend recommended THE WORST HARD TIME to me years ago. She said it was one of the most gruesome disaster books she'd ever read, or something along those lines. I can't remember the exact words, but the sense of it stuck with me. With so many disasters to choose from, could the Dust Bowl really be that bad?

    Not at first. THE WORST HARD TIME starts with the boom years, when settlers first flocked to the prairieland, killed the bison and tilled the tough prairie grass. Egan focuses on a few key towns like Dalhart, Texas and Boise City, Oklahoma, so that he can follow individuals and families as they build homes and stake out farms. He's a beautiful writer, but also a beautiful curator -- he peppers the text with quotes from diaries and newspaper articles and he's not afraid to let those voices take the spotlight and shine.

    Things go bad slowly. At first, it's not hard to hear about crops coming in puny or teachers taking worthless promissory notes instead of pay. About sweeping five times a day to keep a house clean or trying to make do without income for just one more year, hoping for rain during the next planting season.

    But the conditions don't get better. They get worse. The rain never comes. Dust storms turn deadly. The banks reclaim every item of value, and then they come for the land. Farm animals starve and die, and people have nothing to eat but pickled tumbleweed. Many forget what the sky even looked like, they haven't seen it in so long.

    And there's still a long way to go before they'll hit rock bottom.

    THE WORST HARD TIME is a slow grind into despair. It's a descent that doesn't bottom out until everyone is dead or gone. It's terrible because there is no winner, no victory at the end for anyone, and the struggle to survive eats up all the happiness and hope and determination of the people who thought they were strong enough to outlast the bad times. The goodness dries out of people, and even at the darkest moment, swindlers and con artists swoop in to take a pauper's last penny.

    Egan is a thorough researcher. THE WORST HARD TIME is saturated with details of time and place, but never bogged down by them. He leaves you with a clear picture of everything -- of how the dust bowl happened and why, what the contributing factors were, how it was solved and why it hasn't repeated. But the big picture emerges from the small ones that Egan pieces together with such skill.

    I don't know of this is the worst disaster I've ever read about, but there's a dreary, monotonous, degrading quality to it. The only message to take from it are awful ones: struggling for subsistance isn't much of a life, sometimes it's better to give up and quit, grit and determination aren't worth diddly when you're starving.

    A good book, but not a cheerful one.

    Note on audio recording: DISLIKE. I thought the narrator's tone was too folksy, too on-the-nose, and obscured the beauty of Egan's writing. Also, he spoke too fast, and the quality degraded a LOT if I slowed it down. Read this one on paper.
  • (3/5)
    An expose of the dust storms in the 1930's America, written from interviews of the survivors. That is what caught my eye on this book. If the author interviewed survivors though, he rewrote their words and wove them into a narrative with his own agenda. I have the audio version, and the narrator, Patrick Lawlor, did a great job. This book revealed many aspects of the Dust Bowl which I had not known, and gave a personal story to it. I did not know that static electricity could kill a garden. There was a point, about a third of the way through, when I considered quitting on this book. The heartbreak and relentless descriptions of devastation were very depressing, but I decided if those people could live through it, I could listen to it. The author took the storyline of quite a few people and places and wove them together trying to show the bigger picture through the lives of individuals.The repetition of the dust storms, the devastation, the dryness, and poverty became dreary and difficult to keep track of what year was being spoken of. I wish that the author had spent a bit more time on the recovery efforts and how the area became livable again. It seemed at the end that the author had an agenda of his own to emphasize that people should not be there in that area. I had to wonder when some of the actual journal entries given did not match his description of the devastation. All in all I am glad to have read this, it provided a lot of information in a personal and touching way.
  • (5/5)
    Wow. This is an amazing book, bringing the history of the Great Plains in the 1930s to life. I had no idea how bad things were.
  • (4/5)
    Goodness, another depressing book about the Depression. Fascinating account of how people survived - or didn't - during the great sand storms on the plains and how and why the plains became dust bowls. We certainly have things good.

    Egan begins by introducing the reader to assorted characters who are followed throughout. Causes of the dust bowl: a bubble of land speculation and wheat over-planting by non-residents, helped to create conditions that made the dust storms almost inevitable. World War I had caused demand for wheat to skyrocket, but soon too much land was in wheat, prices began to fall, more land was planted to make enough money, and the cycle began. Then the drought began. Soon the west was virtually a desert, the buffalo having been destroyed and the prairie completely obliterated. When they were able to get something - anything - to grow, then locusts arrived to eat virtually everything in sight.

    The Depression and poverty completely changed the culture: from profligate spending of the Gilded Age to hoarding and mistrust of the banking system. It will be fascinating to see if something similar results from the current economic conditions. It must have been terrifying to struggle in to town to withdraw some money to pay for much needed supplies and food only to discover that the bank has gone out of business, taking with it everything you had. Then to go home and slaughter starving animals because you have no food for them, and then have to decide which of the kids doesn't get to eat. We have no clue today of the suffering engendered by the Depression and Dust Bowl.

    My father and mother were born in 1922, but they were fortunate to live in eastern Iowa where my father's father was a dean at a small college. They took many pay cuts and often had to work for nothing, but at least they had some money and a cow and garden. My other grandfather lost his farm in the depression. Around here (in northern Illinois) you could tell which bank had taken over a farm by the color of the barn. One painted the barns white, the other painted them red.
  • (3/5)
    A great book about the dust bowl and those that decided (or were forced to) stay behind. Very topical since Egan shows how bad decisions by people caused the whole dust bowl problem. Those bad decisions are being replicated today in other ways. Short sided thinking at its worst.
  • (5/5)
    Great book, historical. I am glad I read this book. It is a wonderful book. Doesn't leave you with much hope that we people, God's people, ever learn our lessons.
  • (5/5)
    These are the true stories of the men, women and children who lived through The Dust Bowl years during the 1930's. Many families left that area when crops failed because of drought and dust storms, but this book is about those who stayed.The author also looks at the causes of the disaster; stripping the land of its natural vegetation and trying to change it into something it could not be. The weather played a factor in it, but in the end, it was a man-made disaster.It's a story of greed, and of people desperate to make a living and have something of their own, the great American Dream, and those people that took advantage of those families without thinking of the future consequences.This was a fascinating book, with personal stories of those who lived through it seamlessly woven through the history of the Dust Bowl. It was very hard to put down once I started reading, and I stayed up past my bedtime for at least 3 nights because of that.I especially liked the stories of Hazel Lucas, who we first meet as a teenage bride teaching in a one room school house, then trying to raise a family and keep her dignity through the awful storms; and Ike Osteen; one of 9 kids raised in a dugout; his goal was to make it to his senior year in high school, often staying in town instead of going home so that he would not miss school because of a dust storm.
  • (5/5)
    The Dust Bowl was both a great ecological and a great human disaster and Tim Egan presents each narrative well. Human action--the quest for short-term profit--proved once again to lead to self-destruction. The lesson, alas, is one that has yet to be learned.
  • (5/5)
    My family lived this story so I may be a little bit prejudiced toward it. This is a history of people who lived through the Dust Bowl and my family, grandparents and mom, did just that. My mother owns the book but hasn't been able to read it yet because it is too painful. If you aren't familiar with this episode of American history, this was the 30's when the land literally blew away. The farming that had been done had ripped away the centuries old grasses and left the topsoil exposed to the never-ending wind. Then the rains stopped for about 6 years. It was a brutal time and the majority of people who lived in the Dust Bowl moved away. My grandparents stayed and kept their farm through it all. My mom was born in 1934 in a dugout so this history is my family's history.Timothy Egan did his research well. He has first-hand accounts from many who are my mom's age and older who distinctly remember the Black Dusters coming through town and blocking out the sun. He ties the stories together well. His creation of the atmosphere of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles is masterful. I've spent a lot of time there and he describes it beautifully. I think he is very fair in explaining why the Dust Bowl happened and who was to blame. He doesn't vilify the farmers as some have though they do take blame. They didn't know any better and they were told that they were doing the right thing. He shows the progression of the problem clearly. He does vilify the ones who deserve it, the land speculators. He does an outstanding job of showing the determination and fortitude of the settlers. Settling the frontier sounds like something that happened 150 years ago but this frontier was being settled in my mom's lifetime and this book is an excellent history of how that part of the Great Plains developed. Some people won't like his story-telling style. It's not linear. He goes back and forth between families and usually has to go back a few years each time he changes families but it's not a hard style to read. For a non-fiction book, this was as compelling as any fictional story I've read lately. I couldn't put it down.
  • (3/5)
    This book was a very good account of the Dust Bowl, and the families that chose to stay in the region during that time. The book was well researched and very readable. I don't think I really had any concept of how horrible the Dust Bowl was, and many of the accounts were very sad to read.

    The book became just a bit too much for me. I loved it at the beginning, it was so informative and interesting. Towards the middle of the book, I just felt a little overwhelmed by continually reading different stories about how much dust was in people's houses and how much topsoil was picked up in the storms, how dry it was, and how deep fence posts were buried, etc... it just became too much.

    If you are looking for a good history of the Dust Bowl, this is worth a read.
  • (4/5)
    I for one would not have wanted to live through Black Sunday. An engrossing read. Breathing must have been very difficult. I wonder how many eventually died of lung related disorders.