The Worst Hard Time first crossed my radar when I read that it had been awarded the National Book Award several months ago. The subtitle of the book continues, "The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dustbowl." My grandmother left Texas, where she was born, and moved to Mississippi during the Depression to get away from the Dust Bowl. I only recently learned about this when she was telling people about herself when she visited us here in October.
I do not consider myself a history buff, although I've become more interested in histories, and certainly biographies. I'm a people buff. I love to read about how people respond to challenging situations. I think that this can help me understand others who have had similar experiences better (specifically my grandparents and those of their generation). This book is straight non-fiction--no doubt. If you don't enjoy non-fiction, at all, ever, don't even attempt to read this book. However, if you are fascinated by the Depression (as I am--I mean, what is it that enabled people to go on, year after year, with no hope at all?), or if you are interested in the early American homestead movement, specifically in the great plains of Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas, which is covered as an introduction, or if weather patterns intrigue you, then I invite you to tackle this informative and entertaining book.
Tim Egan tells the story mostly through a group of people who settled in Dalhart, Texas. The reader experiences the worst hard time of the dust bowl through the farmers, teachers, pioneers, newspapermen, doctors, husbands, wives and children who lived it. For a story that some might see as dry, and one that is certainly packed with informative details, there is a definite narrative thread throughout. I learned about the static electricity that was so great that people couldn't shake hands because it knocked them down. I heard about dust drifts that buried cars that were useless because there was no money to put gas into them. I discovered why soil conservation is so important and why the government had to get involved.
I don't remember if Timothy Egan said it, or if he was quoting someone, but this book is a story of "the Boom, Bust, then the Dust." If you can't tell, I really enjoyed this book. It was my first audiobook listen, and while it was sometimes hard because I couldn't take notes or mark passages that interested me, I think that it is a good genre for me to enjoy listening to, as opposed to reading. It took eleven hours, and I finished it in around a month, taking advantage of that driving time in the car and housekeeping (OK, mostly driving). If I had been reading it, as interesting as I found it, I'm not sure that I would have stuck with it. As I was choosing the book I was going to download next, I explored The Great Influenza (really, it is supposed to be wonderful--has anyone read it?), and The Wisdom of Crowds, but finally settled on Every Mother Is a Daughter which is memoir written by a mother and a daughter. This book actually is increasing my housekeeping time, because I want excuses to plug in and listen. Review coming soon. . . .
Title: The Worst Hard Time
Author: Timothy Egan
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Pages: 352 (but listened to the audio version: 11 hours)
Book Source: Audio download from audible.com
Recommended for those interested in straight history (early American), specifically the 20's and 30's, farming or agriculture, or the history of Texas and Oklahoma.
This review is linked up to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Link up any review that you've posted on your own blog this week, or just click over and see what everyone is reading.