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  Monday  May 19  2008    01: 54 PM

book recommendation



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

by Timothy Egan

It's been over a month since I put up a book recommendation. That doesn't mean I haven't been reading. I have. The list of books to put up grows longer and longer but I just finished this one and it moved it to the head of the pack. It's the story of the greatest ecological disaster in recent times. The great praries were turned over for wheat during and after WWI. It happened at a time of rain and high wheat prices. It happened with the advent of mechanized plowing which allowed great tracts of grass land to be turned over. Then the depression came, the price of wheat dropped to below what it took to grow it, and a regular Great Plains drought cycle started. The land died and, since the grass was gone that held the land together during droughts, the wind blew the topsoil away. This resulted in the great migration of the 1930s told in The Grapes of Wrath. This book is about those that stayed. The story is told through their eyes. And it is incredibly well told. My family lived at the edge of the Dust Bowl in 1949, Wichita Falls, Texas. I must have been 4. I remember the wind, heat, and blowing dust. My mother's favorite description of this place: "God forsaken!" And that was 10 years after the drought was over. The Dust Bowl was created by greed and a short term mentality. New Deal Soil Conservation Districts and the return of rain stopped the great dust storms. That and technology progressed to allow the drilling down to the great Oglalla Aquifer. But now the Oglalla Auquifer is being emptied out. The worst may be yet to come. Read it.


"Worst Hard Time": Devastating tale of the Dust Bowl


How Americans love to win or to be more precise, how they hate to fail. Maybe that's why our collective memory of the Dust Bowl, America's worst prolonged environmental disaster, is a dim one, centered on the doubtful face of film star Henry Fonda looking east one last time as his family flees west from Oklahoma in "The Grapes of Wrath."

After reading Timothy Egan's new book, "The Worst Hard Time," one could make a case that the Joads made the best of the situation. "The Worst Hard Time" is about the disaster that befell those who were left behind.

Egan's account of the Dust Bowl era is a final, terrible rebuke to the policies of America's dying days of frontier expansion when speculators, aided by the government, sold off as farmland grasslands never meant to be turned by the plow. Farmers ripped up the prairie and the wind blew away soil that had built up over millions of years. "God didn't create this land around here to be plowed up," Melt White, who lived through the Dust Bowl as a teenager, tells Egan. "He created it for Indians and buffalo. Folks raped this land. Raped it bad."

History's usual suspects, ignorance and greed, are behind what happened in the 1930s to 100 million acres in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. The saddest part of the story: Dust Bowl settlers, the proud "yeoman farmers" of American tradition, did it to themselves.

Egan, one of the Northwest's best-known writers, is a Seattle-based national correspondent for The New York Times. His writing in books such as "The Good Rain," though restrained by journalistic objectivity, has always been driven by a passion for the environment.

Egan, one of the Northwest's best-known writers, is a Seattle-based national correspondent for The New York Times. His writing in books such as "The Good Rain," though restrained by journalistic objectivity, has always been driven by a passion for the environment.

[more]


Dust Bowl


This is one of the most famous Dust Bowl pictures. It was taken by Author Rothstein, one of the more famous FSA photographers. (All his FSA photographs are online.) Shorpy has a section of Rothstein pictures that this one was taken from.


Apocalypto: 1936

Egan mentions this movie in The Worst Hard Time. There is a scene of a farmer running a plow through the spent dirt. It's Bam White, one of the characters in the book.




The Dust Bowl


The Dust Bowl