Book Review: The Worst Hard Time

Not sure if you have checked out my Readings and Ruminations book list lately, but I have shared my thoughts on some recent reads. My latest book to complete is The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. Despite some long chapters, this book is a definite page-turner for anyone interested in stepping into the shoes of some American homesteaders.

Back in high school, I was told to read The Grapes of Wrath for my Senior English class. Well, thanks to Cliff notes, I passed the exam. But it was one of those books I picked up and read a few years later. Steinbeck takes readers along for the ride with Oklahomans in exodus from the Dust Bowl, headed toward the green lands of California. What about those that stayed on their land and endured the wind-born soils? This is where Egan picks up his story, in the heart of America’s Dust Bowl – the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles.

When the homesteading Acts populated the last great American frontier, pioneers were excited about the prospect of endless fertile lands in a time with grain prices were soaring along with hopes of quick riches. As settlers stripped the High Plains of native sods, plowed the land, and planted record-breaking crops of wheat and other grains, things began to change. These settlers found water in limited supply, constant winds, and a difficult living when there were no markets for their mountains of grain. Mother Nature made life no easier as drought conditions moved into the area, soils began blowing in the wind, and temperatures soared.

Dust Bowl 1936
Dust Bowl 1936 (Photo credit: erjkprunczyk)

Egan’s story closely follows families in Dalhart, Texas, Boise City, Oklahoma, and Eastern Colorado at the heart of the Dust Bowl. I found myself wanting to help these poor souls as dust storms hit the area, seeped into every crack of their homes, and plagued the young and elderly with dust pneumonia. Truly a heart-breaking story to live through. And still an important part of American History. The vast emptiness, constant winds, blowing sand, and glaring sun is something I have experienced in bits and pieces during my time in that area of the country, but nothing in comparison to what was experienced during the 1930s.

I thoroughly enjoyed the accounts as told by Egan. However, the author does share a few of his opinions on the Dust Bowl, and the current situation of more modern-day agriculture production on the high plains, farm subsidies, and water use from the Ogallala Aquifer (Why’d he have to go and ruin a good thing?).

Have you read this or other accounts on the Dust Bowl and life in the Dirty 30s? What did you think of the book?

A Dust Bowl storm approaches Stratford, Texas ...

Do you believe the changes that took place were a part of normal weather changes, or were they, as Egan describes, largely due to a lack of conservation tools and over-zealous homesteading?

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