The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
I was born in Kansas, less than 20 years after the events chronicled by The Worst Hard Time and I have had a difficult time reconciling my childhood memories of fields laden with wheat and corn encircling Sabetha, KS with the horrific scenes ascribed to taking place within 'spitting distance' of my home. This book was a helluva wake up call for me.
The story told by The Worst Hard Time is grim. But the gravity of the tale doesn't weigh in the way Egan tells his tale. Within a few pages, he captivates the reader with a lyrical style of writing that makes several of his paragraphs poetic to read, without which, I doubt if most of us would make it to the end of the book. By the time the third or fourth dust storm has hit, without that poetic telling, most readers would simply turn it off - like any mind-numbingly difficult thing to take in repeated doses.
Egan's telling of our nation's worst ecological disaster riveted me. As a gardener, I have always been fascinated by the soil - so much that I've learned enough about them to teach soils classes; but this story, the story of the hubris and greed of some, coupled with the desperation and fear of others and how those forces colluded to ruin millions of acres of top-soil that bankrupted an entire generation and gutted the population of the Dust Bowl states is more critical to us today than any other part of this country's history. Rarely are we presented with such evidence of the true power of nature to wreck revenge on her rapists.
For me, the compelling point is this: The Dust Bowls of the 1930's were of the greatest calamities to befall our country - as horrific as almost any war we have fought in - certainly more scarring and telling than all wars in our nation's history except possibly the Revolutionary War, The Civil War and WWII. Yet, how many books can you read about The Dust Bowl and how many of us today are conversant in the wound wrecked upon our nation in that not so distant time? For this alone, we could be grateful to Timothy Egan for bringing this subject into the light, but that he has done this in such a compelling and dramatic fashion inspiring a reader to push on for that never-ending 'one more page' makes this book well worth your money and your time.
We need more books like this to tell us our history.