The Worst Hard Time

Thursday, January 26, 2012

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

Before reading this I thought I had a good idea of what the dust bowl was like. I’d read The Grapes of Wrath and knew about the Great Depression, but I had no idea just how bad it was. This nonfiction book tells the story of the farmers in the Great Plains and the tragedies they suffered during this time.

Egan has a wonderful talent for blending anecdotes with information. One that particularly stands out is the story of a woman who worked in a clothing factory. She was sewing a huge pair of overalls for a man who special ordered them and she couldn’t help but wonder about the man who would eventually wear them. She sewed a note inside the overalls for him to find, saying she said she wanted a “real man.” After reading it, the shy farmer decided to write back and eventually the two got married.

Another section talked about the prejudice towards German-Americans during World War I. It’s horrible to see one more example of Americans persecuting a specific race. We seem to have done that consistently throughout our history, with the Japanese-Americans during WWII with Middle Eastern people today, etc. Fear is what drives those actions, but it doesn’t excuse them.

In addition to those stories, there were many more that break your heart. During this time people were traveling from the east coast to the west coast to get “fresh air” to help their health. Instead, they found a dust filled sky that you sometimes couldn’t see through. There were babies who died because their lungs filled with dirt. Cows and other animals starved to death because their stomachs filled with dirt and they couldn’t fit any food in.

The reason I enjoy books like this one is because I feel like I’m learning about a piece of history. There was so much about this period that I didn’t know and it was truly inspiring to see what people can survive.

“The problem with history was that is was written by the survivors, and they usually wrote in the sunshine, on harvest day, from victory stands.”

Image from here.


Bybee said...

I just finished Now in November, which takes place in that period of time and I was reminded of this book. Incredible read. I loved the anecdote about the overall maker and the farmer!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bybee - That sounds really good. I'll have to check it out!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I like stories about things that really happened - things that teach me something. I know I would love this one. That story about the seamstress and the farmer is adorable!

Suey said...

I saw a documentary on this just awhile back on the history channel. It was fascinating and did a great job of giving you the feeling of just how terrible it was.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - You and I both tend to enjoy those. There are so many period in history that I know the outlines of, but not the details.

Suey - I would love to see a doc on this. The book had photos and it was just unbelieveable.

Jenners said...

You're so right … it is important to know about history -- the good the bad and the ugly parts as well as the great and wondrous parts.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

The few things I know about the Dust Bowl comes from The Grapes of Wrath. For instance: why are there such winds, with such dust?

Love the quote you chose.

nomadreader said...

As a Midwesterner, I'm absolutely fascinated by the Dust Bowl. This book sounds so intriguing. I'm adding it to my list!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - Yes, I think the ugly parts are often more important. If we forget about internments and racism and slavery in our own country, we are doing a disservice to the people who were hurt by those events.

Alex - There were these massive storms and the farmers had overtaxed the land to the point depleting all the resources. What was left was just dusty plains, so when the wind storms came it was a nightmare.

nomadreader - I know, I can't imagine going through that.

Anonymous said...

I read it last May and enjoyed it a lot, and learned a lot! here is my review:

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

This is in circulation A LOT at our I know why!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

wordsandpeace - Great review. I want to read the other book of his that you mentioned now.

Melissa - If you're in that area that definitely makes sense.