The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan is one of those gut-tightening stories because it had me screaming, “Don’t do it! Stop plowing the land, you stupid, greedy, ignorant people.” This is the problem with great non-fiction. You can’t yell and prevent anything because it already happened. And it’s still just as stress-inducing.
As a reader and former student, we always heard about the dust bowl, but we read The Grapes of Wrath and about the mass exodus.
I had no idea the dust was as fine as silt, and people died of pneumonia because it coated their lungs.
I had no idea that in one day, in one particular storm, double the same amount of dirt that was removed to dig the Panama Canal (which took ten years!)
I had no idea that the dust would be ripped up to ten thousand feet above ground and travel as far as New York.
Every single page was a nightmare. And the worst parts: IT WAS ALL PREVENTABLE and IT REALLY HAPPENED.
Not everyone left. People stayed. People survived the dust bowl and lived to tell their tales. Timothy Egan, rightfully so, won a National Book Award for this great feat of storytelling, recapturing a time that mirrors the greed and wrecklessness of today’s politicians and corporations who rape the land for the “common good.”
This is a gripping tale. It’s frustrating as hell because, well, how stupid can people be?
Very, very stupid. And it’s dotted with extraordinary facts that help paint a picture of how extreme, dangeous, and terrifying the dust bowls were.