“The Worst Hard Time,”
by Timothy Egan
You may have seen photos of the Dust Bowl, but read Timothy Egan’s comprehensive history and you can taste the dirt and feel the wind blast against your skin.
Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” paints such a vivid portrait of those 1930s years of dry, violent storms that you’ll find yourself coughing and swallowing hard just imagining what it must have been like when nature punished farmers for turning millions of acres of grassland into billowing towers of dust, dirt and sand.
Imagine how hard times must have been that people in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and southwestern Colorado would be driven to eat pickled tumbleweed to survive.
Imagine going three years without a paycheck.
Imagine your small town newspaper editor describing as “sissies” those who — after losing all the top soil from their land, not having anything to feed their cattle, watching their children, spouses and relatives die from “dust pneumonia” — didn’t have the “courage” to stick out the hard times.
Through interviews with people who lived through the 1930s in the Dust Bowl counties and terrific research, including amazing diary entries from a farmer who lost everything, Egan helps his readers know this little-known era of American history.
It’s a dense work, filled with information, especially information about real people – how they felt, how they cried, how they survived.
It’s an honest history, too, one not afraid to acknowledge both the failed recovery programs of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and the conservation-minded ones that began to work to revive the land in places.
Whether or not you believe that the planet faces climate change today, this is a book that should help everyone understand how connected humanity is to the soil. The consequences of not valuing the soil result in tragedies like the Dust Bowl — something no one who reads this book would ever want to go through. — bz