Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan~★★★1/2

Author: Timothy Egan
Title: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl
Release Date: December 14th, 2005
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "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.

Taryn's Review: This was a hard book for me to rate. I love when people indulge in a history book and walk away feeling as if they learned something. The frustrating thing for me, however, is that some people who write "history" aren't qualified to write history and don't do a great job.

Timothy Egan didn't do a bad job, but he didn't do a great job. He made some generalizations in the book that history professors would rip apart in a paper. For example, Egan declared that one of Roosevelt's policies worked. Did it really? He does nothing to prove why *he* believed it worked, but simply wants the readers to accept his conclusion and move on. Egan also has a bad habit of jumping around when it comes to dates. He would be discussing 1932, but suddenly need to go back to 1930, or even 1911.

At times, Egan also seemed to take a condescending tone with the farmers who plowed up the land. What Egan failed to let the readers know was that during WWI, the Plains' farmers were heavily pushed by the U.S. government to plow the land to provide food for the men overseas. And then when it worked, why wouldn't they continue to try and grow as much as possible to make large profits? Is this not the American Dream? The government gave loans out like candy to the farmers so they could buy equipment to keep farming, propelling the dream further.

There were a lot of interesting stories in Egan's book. The people who stayed in the Dust Bowl just amaze me. They must have really loved the land, despite the hardships. And when I say hardships, I mean awfulness beyond belief. One diary entry by a farmer in Nebraska wrote, "One doesn't need to die to experience Hell---they can come to Nebraska." And the black blizzards were terrifying, the dust pneumonia horrifying, and the entire situation was tragic.

The book can fly by at times, but it can drag in the same token. I would have loved if Egan included more pictures of the Black Blizzards since there only are about 3 that come to my mind from the book. Overall, it's a book where one can learn about a very dire time in the Plains' history, but the book should be also be taken with a grain of salt (or dust).

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