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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  49,702 ratings  ·  5,140 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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Bill Palmer I think it will make an excellent source for comparison. If I were writing about the factual accuracy of "Grapes of Wrath" I'd certainly use it as a r…moreI think it will make an excellent source for comparison. If I were writing about the factual accuracy of "Grapes of Wrath" I'd certainly use it as a reference.(less)

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Will Byrnes
How to explain a place where hollow-bellied horses chewed on fence posts , where static electricity made it painful to shake another man’s hand, where the only thing growing that a man or cow could eat was an unwelcome foreigner, the Russian thistle? How to explain fifty thousand or more houses abandoned throughout the Great Plains, never to hear a child’s laugh or a woman’s song inside their walls? How to explain nine million acres of farmland without a master? America was passing this land

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):
If you're like me in this respect, than this book is a very worthwhile read, assumi
Jun 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Don’t judge, the rabbits were a menace to their livelihood. These folks were plagued by jackrabbits, grasshoppers and endless dust. Clubbing some rabbits at felt like they were fighting back while they lost everything.

It is hard to say which is worse the steady constant destruction ever-present dust from four drought waves in ten years, or the more intense black blizzards which only lasted hours or days.

Nobody knew what to call it. It was not a rain
Mar 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Informative and superbly written account of the environmental tragedy that affected millions of Americans. Mr Egan presents the reasons behind the Dust Bowl and tells stories of farmers whose lives were shattered by a phenomenon they did not fully comprehend at that time. Truly, it is hard for me to imagine all suffering that was induced by the way the land was changed from grazing areas to farming fields. Those brave people survived years of dust and winds at the time when the Great Depression ...more
“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…
Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay!”

~~written by Rogers and Hammerstein

Moving to Oklahoma

“You are going to look for a home in Oklahoma?” By the look on her face, and the tone in her voice, I knew that my friend was thinking of flat land, the dust bowl and tornadoes. We were thinking of green hills, lakes, rivers, and freedom from tornadoes as had been promised of Tahlequah, OK.

After all, Tahlequah had been blessed by the Indians to never have a
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
“Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people barbaric or civilized”
- Hugh Bennett, quoted in Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time


A couple years ago I read Egan's book The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (read in 2015). Egan is fantastic at exploring disasters and the public policy response. His talent is excavating these disasters using primary sources (diaries, etc). He, like John McPhee, has the ability
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

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
Diana Higgins
Nov 13, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
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
Sep 18, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  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
May 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 we w ...more
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
This happend less than a century ago and affected millions of Americans and yet it doesn't find much room in most histories of the USA. We know more about those who left the "Dust Bowl" than those who stuck it out. Egan's well-documented recounting is engaging, enlightening and, in many ways, shocking. ...more
Mar 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-general
In this narrative, Mr. Egan has written a superb account of what life was like on the high planes of the Texas Panhandle during what is probably the worst ecological disaster in US history – The Dust Bowl. At the center of the story is the people of Dalhart, Texas in the extreme northwest corner of the Texas Panhandle and the epicenter of the disaster. The author looks at all sections of the society, from the town fathers to those people in trouble who were just passing through.

I would guess wha
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Egan’s account of environmental disaster and personal hardship follows the lives of farm families and townspeople who lived through the dust bowl of the 1930s. Drawn by a last chance to have their own place homesteaders settled into the semi-arid plains of Western Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. They plowed under the native grass, planted wheat and for a few years prospered. Demand spiked due to WWI and the farmers planted all the land they could. This led to persistent overproduction and dramatical ...more
Bryan Alkire
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. Certainly, puts the current situation into perspective. It really brings to mind the proverb that there’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t get worse. That aptly describes the corner of the Dustbowl this book focuses on. The writing is readable and compelling at times. The book is well organized though some people seemed to get more time at the expense of others. The contents are heart ranching at times and it helped to read with a beer at hand to soften the hard edge of the povert ...more
David Eppenstein
I don't normally pay much attention to the title of a book. The title's primary purpose to me is to catch my attention when I'm in a book store browsing. After it catches my eye I immediately resort to the GR scan feature to learn what GR members have to say about the book. In the final analysis what I remember about a book is what's behind the title. Frequently, when speaking about a book I've read with a friend I will be completely unable to recall the title. This book and its title are entire ...more
Joy D
Highly readable history of the American Dust Bowl in the southern Great Plains in the “Dirty Thirties,” what led to it, and how the people living in the region survived it. By focusing on the people that stayed, and following the stories of several families, the author shows the depths of suffering experienced in this dark period. A few of the challenges, in addition to lethal dust storms that recurred for almost a decade, included “dust pneumonia,” plagues of insects, static electricity, drough ...more
May 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-the-best
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
I knew almost nothing about the Dust Bowl. This book was revelation after revelation about the events that led to this environmental disaster. The Plains were home for hundreds of years to Native American tribes. On my only visit to St. Louis I went to the Cahokia Mounds, a site that originated over 1000 years ago. There were similar sites in Alabama, Oklahoma, and other central states.

The Homestead Act was the beginning of the forces that brought about the ecological
Sep 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 15, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Wayne Barrett

This is one of those books that makes you realize you thought you knew something, but didn't.

I was born in Bakersfield California but spent my childhood being called an 'Okie'. All my grandparents moved from Oklahoma during the dustbowl period so I have always had an interest in the subject, especially after reading Steinbecks 'Grapes of Wrath'. One of my grandparents, Viola White, is still with us and has shared some great stories. She is 94 years old.

Because of the personal attachment to
Pete Sharon
Mar 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Stephanie Anze
“Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people barbaric or civilized," Bennett said in a speech at the start of the dust storms. What was happening, he said, was "sinister", a symptom of "our stupendous ignorance.”

Five stars for a striking book about a history that almost appears to be forgotten!

As farmers and settlers come to the High Plains to make their homes and raise their families, they are not aware about the hard times th
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I purchased this a few years back and then let it languish, thinking I wasn't ready to read non-fiction, with all of its dry, heavily foot-noted prose. I need not have avoided it on that count! This is a highly readable account of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. There is an appendix for notes and sources without their interfering with the text.

I learned so much reading this. Many years ago I spent hundreds of hours doing some genealogical research on the descendants of a 3rd great grandfather. Most
Dec 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Joe Krakovsky
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent piece of work by the author documenting how the grasslands were ruined by people in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. I am sure all the other reviews probably covered it pretty well so I will just add that although I was glad to have read it, the book was as depressing as it was informative. It needed a happy ending, but such is life.
Teresa Lukey
Apr 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Non-fiction & US history fans

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
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Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of nine books, including THE WORST HARD TIME, which won the National Book Award. His latest book, A PILGRIMAGE TO ETERNITY, is a personal story, a journey over an ancient trail, and a history of Christianity. He also writes a biweekly opinion column for The New York Times. HIs book on the photographer Edward Curtis, SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW CATCHER ...more

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154 likes · 16 comments
“Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people barbaric or civilized," Bennett said in a speech at the start of the dust storms. What was happening, he said, was "sinister", a symptom of "our stupendous ignorance.” 8 likes
“So cotton growers, siphoning from the Ogallala, get three billion dollars a year in taxpayer money for fiber that is shipped to China, where it is used to make cheap clothing sold back to American chain retail stores like Wal-Mart.” 3 likes
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