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

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  25,213 ratings  ·  3,241 reviews
The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, ...more
Paperback, 340 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Mariner Books (first published December 14th 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Stephen
Dust_Storm_Texas_1935-1-1-1v2

A good book...a thorough history...but dry as a throat full of sawdust in the middle of the desert. That about sums it up, but of course I will continue to babble on for a few more paragraphs.

Before reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the Dust Bowl and the cataclysmic storms that occurred in the 1930‘s, primarily in the area of the U.S. known as the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma (see map):
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If you're like me in this respect, than this book is a very worthwhile read, assuming you
...more
Will Byrnes
The Dust Bowl of the 1930s is far from public consciousness today, and that is a shame. There are lessons to be gleaned from that experience that apply directly to challenges of the 21st century. If we are not to be doomed to repeat the mistakes that were made before, it is critical that we know what happened then, how it came to be, and what might be done to prevent it, or things like it, from happening again.
How to explain a place where hollow-bellied horses chewed on fence posts , where sta
...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Exhausting
Sobering
Depressing
Instructive
Haunting
Interesting
Timely
Grinding
Surprising
Painful
Important

Now, what's up with the subtitle? If it were really "The Untold Story," wouldn't it just be a book full of blank pages? Shouldn't it be "The Previously Untold Story"? And why don't publishers ever ask me for my opinions on these things? This calls for some serious pouting.
You should still read the book though. Outstanding research and thorough presentation with lessons for us in our 21st-Century
...more
Suzanne
I read a fair amount of history and I usually enjoy it, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a history book that was quite the page-turner this one was. What I knew before about the 1930s drought in the American Dust Bowl was this: there was an agriculture-destroying drought in and around Texas and Oklahoma during the Great Depression that made the economic devastation there even worse. What I learned here, through the personal stories of the people and towns affected, was that the Dust Bowl was a m ...more
Nina
5 stars to a book about the Dust Bowl - who would've thought it? Egan does an amazing job of combining the varied causes, and the related perspectives, of the drouth that savaged the plains throughout the 1930s. Not only was it an amazing read, made personal through the stories of a handful of families in the Texas / Oklahoma panhandle, I learned about one of the most influential and far-reaching incidents in our country's history. And the parallels to the environmental, governmental, political, ...more
Diana Higgins
I have about a week to read this for book club and I've got a lot of books in progress that I hate to set aside, so we'll see how this goes...

UPDATE: I gave up! I must be the only person on the planet who didn't like this book. I found the writing to be overblown, over-the-top, even silly at times.

The way it was organized didn't work for me. He'd introduce a person or family and I'd start to get interested, and then he'd abandon them and go back to large, sweeping passages about "the land" whic
...more
Jason
Feb 07, 2010 Jason rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jason by: Needed to learn more about the Dustbowl
When you read The Worst Hard Time please have copious amounts of cool water or lemonade at your side. This true, brutal story of the Dust Bowl will have you reaching for--and appreciating--water like no other story you've ever read. In fact, like me, you may even stand in the next rain shower looking skyward, face slathered in wetness, bending your mind to understand the environmental apocalypse that struck our heartland 3 generations ago.

Timothy Egan's book is an example of why I like non-ficti
...more
Maggie
This should be required reading for anyone living in the west and for all politicians. The author does a fine job of telling the story of the Dust Bowl era, why it happened (natural forces and human actions), and where we stand today. It's clear to see that adding climate change to the mix requires us to develop stronger conservation policies & practices if we want to avoid such a catastrophe happening again. With the population we have in this area now, I can't imagine the suffering or how ...more
Sasha
Once upon a time there was a country where speculation ran rampant, environmental disaster loomed, and foreclosures and job loss dominated the economy. It was the Great Depression, v1.0.

Timothy Egan's book has an unusual perspective. It is about those who *stayed* in Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle during the dust bowl. It is the story of government supported land speculation gone horribly wrong. The farmers uprooted a fragile grass ecology and destroyed 1000s of years of topsoil. Raging dust s
...more
Sandi
Now matter how bad things get today, it’s hard to imagine that times will ever be harder than the 1930’s throughout the Great Plains. You undoubtedly have heard of the Dust Bowl, a series of dust storms that swept the plains during the Great Depression. I had heard of it, and I’ve read the quintessential novel about the era, The Grapes of Wrath. However, until reading this book, I had no idea of just how terrible it was. I didn’t know just how long it had lasted or how frequent the dust storms w ...more
Wendell
Egan's *Worst Hard Time* is intriguing and largely well done, if a bit relentless. Granted, he's writing about a phenomenon that dragged on for years, repeatedly raising and dashing ever-slimmer hopes; the people who lived the "Dust Bowl" years were literally worn out, but Egan needed to do something more with the material than recreate that sensation. Toward the last third of the book, in particular, a kind of sameness creeps into the narrative, as if Egan didn't really know what else to say -- ...more
Sammy
The most amazing thing about this book was that it read like a story. A lot of non-fiction books recapping moments in history tend to read like school books. Every once and a while highlighting a story then listing dry facts. Timothy Egan did not do that. Every word, while informative, is rich and enticing, keeping you hooked.

Another thing Egan did really well was keeping thing easy to understand. There were a few moments where I was a little lost, but for the most part everything was clear and
...more
Chrissie
Pstscript: My husband is now reading this book and so of course we are talking about it. Well, I have discovered at least two errors, and this gets me worried. What other facts have I absorbed as true and perhaps are false? I am left with an unpleasant feeling. Error number one is on page 26-27. There it says that Native Americans were not American citizens in 1926. I wanted to know when they were allowed to become American citizens. What did I find? They were given citizenship in 1924. What? So ...more
Pete Sharon
More like the worst hard read. Actually, it's not a bad book; he really captures the unrelenting grimness of the topic. The resulting experience, however, is just that: unrelenting grimness. The dustbowl was way worse than I realized; however, I knew this half-way through, and spent the rest of the book wondering, like its subjects, when it would end.
Well written, yet excruciating.
Teresa Lukey
4.5 STARS

I remember asking my grandmother about her life growing up and she told me she grew up in Colorado during the Dust Bowl. She showed me pictures of the family standing outside in a baron, dry looking area and I thought, "oh, she live in an area that had a drought". It is apparent to me, that I had absolutely no clue what this meant before reading this book.

I'd like to preface this review by saying that I found this book engaging and it kept my interest all the way through even though it
...more
Shelley
I received a cursory education on the "Dust Bowl" days in high school history class, listened to the folk songs of Woody Guthrie, Nanci Griffith, etc. and watched the Grapes of Wrath. I had no idea how utterly devastating this decade was! This book stunned me and brought me to tears on many occasions. Timothy Egan was able to brilliantly capture in words what you'd think would be indescribable. I was able to connect to the reality in my imagination and feel the desperation in the lives of those ...more
Lauri
Nov 03, 2009 Lauri rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: American history buffs
I became fascinated with the Dust Bowl when I first started watching the HBO series "Carnivale". At the time, all I was able to dig up on the topic was one, small Scholastic book at the library, but it left me yearning for more. This book is the first in-depth chronicle that I've come across, and I enjoyed it, thoroughly. It tells the story of how it all started: the free & cheap land grab offers (land stolen from the Indians, of course) for farmers to come and make a go of it in a part of t ...more
Folkens
Apr 14, 2008 Folkens rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: every one
Sometimes we think we are having a hard time. Those folks had worse than hard times. I'm grateful I didn't have to live through that time. My parents left that country and came to western Washington because of those conditions.
Steve
Timothy Egan won the National Book Award for The Worst Hard Time. While it serves as a good “disaster” companion to John Barry’s magnificent Rising Tide, I found Egan’s effort a bit dryer. That’s probably due to the subject: Dust, Dust, Dust. You breathe it, you eat it, you sleep with it, and you read it. It’s everywhere. Well, it’s more than that, but by book’s end, you are just in awe of the fact that those who lived in (and through) the Dust Bowl, would of stayed. Many of them had no choice, ...more
Mmars
Really 3.5

This is a heart-breaking history of a man-made environmental disaster and I approach this review with mixed feelings. At times I had to push myself through the repetition of dust storm descriptions and their aftermath. The history is told chronologically, focusing on a handful of communities and, largely, the inhabitants who were determined to stay. Year after year from the early to late 30s (I hadn’t realized the dust storms lasted that many years) the dust storms persisted. At times
...more
Lise Petrauskas
The Worst Hard Time was exceedingly painful, but I'm glad I stuck it out. It surprises me how little I knew of the real details of this period in America's history. I consider myself an environmentalist and I'm also a girl of the western states, so it's an oversight on my part that I'm glad to have corrected.

The story of the Dust Bowl has all the raw materials for a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare or the Greeks, both on an individual level and a political level, there is astounding hubris, cruelty
...more
Karol
What a sad tale . . . Timothy Egan outlines what led to the great dust storms on the high plains in the 1930's. Many times I thought of a verse my grandfather passed down from his father who had lived in Nebraska during those times:

"Nebraska land, Nebraska land
'Tis on thy barren soil we stand.
It's not as though we wish to stay -
We are too poor to move away."

The author certainly brought those words to a stark reality in my mind. And I don't believe Nebraska had it quite as hard as the "no man's l
...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Yes, I’ve heard stories about life during the Great Depression, but I’d not heard these kinds of stories. It is one thing to have no job and no money, but it is another to feel that nature has turned against you. I wasn’t familiar with the respiratory illnesses the dust caused and I wasn’t aware of the extent to which farms were devastated. The best book on this subject I’ve read.
Connie
An interesting look at the rape of the Great Plains and the resulting consequences that created the Dust Bowl, which endured for ten long years.
Jan
This is, hands down, one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read.

You may remember The Dust Bowl from your history class. It was probably a quick blip, sandwiched in between the two World Wars and the Great Depression. Or maybe you had a quick brush with it while reading The Grapes of Wrath, which was about the people who fled The Dust Bowl.

If you're anything like me, however, you probably envisioned The Dust Bowl as some blowing dirt. You probably didn't give a second thought to the people
...more
Brian
It is an impossibility to empathize with the tens of thousands of people that lived through the "Dirty Thirties" in America's prairie-land. I remember statistics from junior high civics class about the extent of the damage done to countless millions of acres in the heart of the country, I even remember a picture or two from a textbook, but nothing made the story more real than Egan's thoughtful and insightful book.

Rather than focus on a rehashed telling of the Dust Bowl, Egan meticulously resear
...more
Wendy
I appreciated this as someone who has lived in Texas, Nebraska and Colorado, and who used to stop in Dalhart, TX for gas--it's a sad little town, and there's not much else there. I didn't realize at the time that Dalhart was basically "ground zero" for the great dust bowl of the 1930's, though I probably could have guessed. It's one of those desolate, frozen-in-time places stuck in the 50s. Another familiar, featured (and, yes, desolate) location was the Comanche Grassland in Southern Colorado. ...more
Malcolm David Logan
Dec 13, 2007 Malcolm David Logan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: American history buffs; those concerned about climate change
Here's a thought-provoking book about a rarely examined moment in American history that tells a story of fortitude and strength, reveals the innocent naivete that is often the seed bed of disaster, and sheds light on the precariousness of our tenancy of this planet. The homesteaders who tore up the buffalo grass to plant wheat were well-meaning and industrious; they had no idea that they were creating conditions that would destroy their world. The fact that profiteers (as usual) escalated the si ...more
El
It must have been a year of slim-pickin's when this book won the National Book Award.

The subject matter is incredibly interesting to me. There were black and white photographs interspersed throughout the book - wonderful edition.

But the writing. The writing! Overblown, flowery, melodramatic. UGH. It was exhausting to read at times.

Also, despite the interesting subject matter, it's probably hard to write one book of a certain length without repeating some facts, changing up the wordage, whatever.
...more
Bob
"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 tu
...more
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Dust Bowl 41 177 May 18, 2015 04:40AM  
Has anyone read this book? Fascinating! Would love to hear your thoughs. 23 127 Aug 26, 2014 07:56AM  
The Life of a Boo...: Q4 2013 Non-Fiction Read - The Worst Hard Time 11 63 Dec 09, 2013 01:47AM  
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Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who resides in Seattle, Washington. He currently contributes opinion columns to The New York Times as the paper's Pacific Northwest correspondent.

In addition to his work with The New York Times, he has written six books, including The Good Rain, Breaking Blue, and Lasso the Wind.

Most recently he wrote "The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that
...more
More about Timothy Egan...
The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis The Good Rain: Across Time & Terrain in the Pacific Northwest Breaking Blue Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West

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“At the wedding, women served a dish of cabbage that had been shredded by wooden kraut cutters, mixed with ground pork and onion, wrapped in bread dough, and baked.” 0 likes
“The villainous sun and the starved bank did not seem related—yet.” 0 likes
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