Summary and book reviews of The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time

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

by Timothy Egan

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

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Book Summary

As only great history can, Egan's book captures the very voice of the times: its grit, pathos, and abiding courage.

The dust storms that terrorized America's High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since, and the stories of the people that held on have never been fully told. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist and author Timothy Egan follows a half-dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, going from sod homes to new framed houses to huddling in basements with the windows sealed by damp sheets in a futile effort to keep the dust out. He follows their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black blizzards, crop failure, and the deaths of loved ones. Drawing on the voices of those who stayed and survived—those who, now in their eighties and nineties, will soon carry their memories to the grave—Egan tells a story of endurance and heroism against the backdrop of the Great Depression.

As only great history can, Egan's book captures the very voice of the times: its grit, pathos, and abiding courage. Combining the human drama of Isaac's Storm with the sweep of The American People in the Great Depression, The Worst Hard Time is a lasting and important work of American history.

Winner of the 2006 National Book Award.

1
The Wanderer

They had been on the road for six days, a clan of five bouncing along in a tired wagon, when Bam White woke to some bad news. One of his horses was dead. It was the nineteenth-century equivalent of a flat tire, except this was the winter of 1926. The Whites had no money. They were moving from the high desert chill of Las Animas, Colorado, to Littlefield, Texas, south of Amarillo, to start anew. Bam White was a ranch hand, a lover of horses and empty skies, at a time when the cowboy was becoming a museum piece in Texas and an icon in Hollywood. Within a year, Charles Lindbergh would cross the ocean in his monoplane, and a white man in blackface would speak from the screen of a motion picture show. The great ranches had been fenced, platted, subdivided, upturned, and were going out to city builders, oil drillers, and sodbusters. The least-populated part of Texas was open for business and riding high in the Roaring Twenties. Overnight, new towns ...

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  • award image

    National Book Awards
    2006

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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While Egan has nothing but admiration for the individual farmers caught up in the devastation, he has a harsher view for the policies, and the people behind the policies, that managed to eradicate the "greatest grassland in the world" in an historical blink of an eye.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (668 words).

Media Reviews

The Seattle Times - Mary Ann Gwinn

In The Worst Hard Time Egan lets it rip. This is a sad and angry book, written with vivid description and a propulsive prose all the more remarkable for the fact that most of the people who lived through this story are no longer alive to tell the tale.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - John Freeman

Timothy Egan, a reporter for The New York Times, portrays the period in his gripping account, the giant black clouds that choked the drought-stricken southern plains were born of nature and economic comeuppance.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Elizabeth Corcoran

Timothy Egan ... masterfully depicts the bitter life in the Great Plains in the 1930s. John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath painted a searing portrait of the Okies who fled the Plains. But far more people clung to their farms, hoping that the next season would be better .... Egan has admirably captured a part of our American experience that should not be forgotten.

USA Today - Bob Minzesheimer

Egan recreates that period by weaving together the stories told by a half-dozen families. That is both the book's strength and weakness. It does justice to the range of suffering, but it's harder to follow than a novel that would focus on one family.

The subtitle, The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, is publishing hype. As Egan's extensive source notes make clear, pieces of the story have been told before, although never as comprehensively or as well. It's a great read about a horrible time, filled with lessons still worth learning.

The Washington Post - Wendy Smith

Timothy Egan's searing history of the economic and ecological collapse of the southern Great Plains during the 1930s is an epic cautionary tale ... Egan's fluent narrative chronicles the terrifying consequences of a reckless hubris that in a few decades stripped the earth of prairie grass that for centuries had protected it from erosion.

Booklist

All the elements of the iconic dust bowl photographs come together in the author's evocative portrait of those who first prospered and then suffered during the 1930s drought.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With characters who seem to have sprung from a novel by Sinclair Lewis or Steinbeck, and Egan's powerful writing, this account will long remain in readers' minds.

Reader Reviews

Suzanne G.

So much history
This was an excellent book: a true story about the the dust storms of the plains during the Depression. Timothy Egan carries a person around the Dust Bowl, showing the reader the courage of those who stayed to endure the terrific tragedy affecting ...   Read More

Mimi in Arizona

A must read for every American
The subject matter is very timely for our country today. It feels like you're reading about our current economic meltdown, not about a period 80 years ago. Scary, haunting and incredibly well told. So worth the time you'll spend reading it. Thank...   Read More

Robert Sego

Touching the Essence of the Land and the People
Timothy Egan provided tremendous insight into a question that has plagued me since I was able to think independently. What were those people even doing there? With my vanishing family roots in the Amarillo area, the last vestiges of which are my 96...   Read More

meo

The Worst Hard Time
Timothy Egan has a unique gift: Relating facts in a way that touch touch your heart!

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Beyond the Book

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%...

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