Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Worst Hard Time

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The Worst Hard Time

The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

by Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 352 pages

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The economic slump known as the Great Depression began in the USA but ended up effecting Europe, and other industrialized parts of the world from 1929 to about 1939. It was the longest and most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world. The US economy was already in depression before the Stock Market collapse of October 1929, but the precipitous decline in values put great strain on individual investors and financial institutions (by 1933 11,000 of the US's 25,000 banks had been declared insolvent). By 1932 stock prices were at just 20% of their 1929 value and manufacturing output was down 54% due to a drastic reduction of demand; about 12 to 15 million workers were unemployed (about 25-30% of the work force).

Interesting Link: A wealth of information about the Dust Bowl period, including interviews with those who lived through this period, and a timeline from 1930-1939, courtesy of PBS.

Did you know?

  • Because of the rate of evaporation, it takes twenty-two inches of rain in the Oklahoma Panhandle (see map) to deposit the same moisture as fifteen inches would leave in the Upper Mississippi Valley. Native plants, such as mesquite, send roots down as far as 150 feet.
  • Bison are beautifully adapted to life on the plains, they are able to withstand temperatures of 110 degrees farenheit in summer, and 30 below zero in winter - cattle are much more fragile. The bison's nutritional needs can be met by grazing the natural grasses, cattle need a much more energy-rich diet; bison are also able to meet their water requirements from snow during cold weather, whereas cattle need a liquid water supply. Bison also maintain surface water sources in better condition than cattle - who tend to trample the edges into mud. Also, bison meat has many benefits over beef - lower fat, naturally flavorful, high in protein, minerals and vitamins and almost inevitably free of antibiotics, hormones and other drugs.

Does Timothy Egan see any parallels between the Dust Bowl and Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster of our time?
Egan: "There are so many echoes of what happened in the 1930s and the hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast in the summer of 2005. For starters, there were ample warnings that a large part of the United States could be rendered uninhabitable if people continued to live as they did — in this case, ripping up all the grass that held the earth in place. In one sense, the prairie grass was like the levees around New Orleans; the grass protected the land against ferocious winds, cycles of drought, and storms. Then after the big dusters hit, you had a massive exodus: more than a quarter million people left their homes and fled. Never before or since had so many Americans been on the move because of a single weather event — until Hurricane Katrina. And finally there was the whole restoration effort: President Franklin Roosevelt thought he could restore the land to grass, plant trees, and maybe bring it back." Read more from this interview.....

This article is from the September 6, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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