About The Worst Hard Time
Once one of the greatest grasslands in the world, the High Plains of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico went through a bonanza of overfarming in the 1920s. When the rains stopped and the wind picked up in the early 1930s, the stripped earth began to stir and blow to devastating effect, sending millions of tons of dust across much of the nation. In the High Plains, the power of these blinding black blizzards of dust was such that it was often impossible to “see your hand in front of your face,” according to one survivor.
At its peak, the Dust Bowl covered close to one hundred million acres, and more than a quarter of a million Americans were forced to flee their ruined homes. In The Worst Hard Time, Egan follows a diverse cast of individuals and families in communities across the affected region, weaving together the eyewitness accounts of survivors now in their eighties and nineties, including:
- Ike Osteen, who survives the Dirty Thirties in a home made of dirt and plank boards, with his widowed mother and eight brothers and sisters;
- Bam White and his family, Native Americans who live through the worst of the storms on the edge of town, in the shadows;
- John McCarty, a businessman, known as the Dust Bowl Cheerleader, who founds the Last Man Club, an association of people who vow never to flee;
- The Doc, a big-hearted, once wealthy man, who ends up a pauper after opening up a soup kitchen;
- The Herzsteins, a pioneering Jewish family, who try to maintain the rituals of daily life even after they lose a beloved uncle to a gunslinger;
- Hazel Lucas Shaw, who comes to the plains as a teenage bride only to see her baby girl killed by the dust.
The Worst Hard Time captures the full drama, heroism, and terror of this unwritten chapter of the Greatest Generation, a time when the simplest thing in life - taking a breath - was a threat. The book is a testament to the power of human perseverance in the face of the most wretched of conditions, as well as a reminder that the environmental catastrophe of the Dust Bowl may be only a preview of what is in store for us in our ever-warming future.
Copyright © 2009 Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted with permission from Houghton Mifflin Company.
Learn why Timothy Egan wrote The Worst Hard Time in “A Conversation with Timothy Egan.”
The Worst Hard Time received the 2006 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Selected Book Reviews:
- “Re-examining the Dust Bowl Days” - by Lynn Hamilton for Book Page.
- “The Black Storms that Swept America’s Plains” - by Stacy A. Teicher for The Christian Science Monitor.
- “The Dust Bowl: Once was Enough”. - by Kelly Smith for The Newsletter of the National Drought Mitigation Center.
- “Laying Bare Dust Bowl’s Scar Tissue” - by David Laskin for The New York Times.
- “The Anti-Joads” - by Elizabeth Royte for The New York Times.
- “‘The Worst Hard Time’ nimbly chronicles tragedies of the Dust Bowl” - by Carol Iaciofano for The Boston Globe.
- “‘Worst Hard Time’: devastating tale of the Dust Bowl” - by Mary Ann Gwinn for The Seattle Times.