eduTimothy Egan takes on that task in The Worst Hard Time In an interview with Author Magazine Egan tells of seeing his son s American History text and being appalled that the Dust Bowl had been relegated to a single paragraph In another interview he says, I want to see if history got it wrong With the Dust Bowl, it wasn t that history got it wrong, it s just that they got a different take Here s the largest Diaspora in American history and our view of it is entirely from Steinbeck s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, where everyone left and went to California Well, two thirds of the people didn t leave His methodology is not to lay out a raft of facts and statistics, but to follow several families through the ordeal of the Dust Bowl years He focuses on the area where Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas meet He does get in the numbers but the human experience is how he makes the era emotionally accessible Egan has a gift He is a wonderful story teller, with a feel for portraying people Egan s time as a young man writing a novel unpublished helped him find his voice and it is in full throat here I was reminded of excellent war books that paint a picture from the point of view of soldiers on the ground Sebastian Junger s War andThe Good Soldiers by David Finkel are recent examples that pop to mind Egan s people cover a wide range, cowboys, farmers, schoolteachers, immigrants The primary actors are supported by a cast that includes racists, unscrupulous politicians, town boosters, journalists, a forward looking conservationist and the odd president or two But he incorporates than just a few points of human reference, bringing to his tale a sense of narrative arc, a perspective he brings to all his writing In the Writers Workship interview he says, I don t want a phone book of episodic oral history I m looking for beginning, middle and end I want things to happen I want the reader to see change All the things you want in fiction Take a landscape that is prone to drought, a place that has almost no river water, a place where the wind comes sweepin down the plain fast and relentlessly Remove from that landscape the grass that has evolved over thousands of years to survive in such conditions, grass that fixes the soil to the ground Throw in a government policy that promotes populating a place that had been called the American Desert well before the 1930s, giving land away to get people to settle there Plow it under and plant as much grain as you can The result After decades of misguided land use, then several years of severe drought, the topsoil goes airborne and the wind becomes a vehicle for destruction on a biblical scale This was an era when simply breathing was a life threatening exercise, as thousands were affected by pneumonia caused by constant dust bombardments filling up their lungs The Red Cross gave out thousands of face masks to help people fend off the flying dirt They would be covered within an hour Lives were extinguished by perennially awful conditions, and help was not a thing one could count on Worldwide economic conditions contributed to the creation of the the Dust Bowl, and did not aid in its recovery, but ignorance, greed, shortsightedness and damn foolishness were big players as well I was blown away by scenes that could have come from the time of plagues in Egypt, from a science fiction tale about surviving on a hostile new planet, or, worse, from a horror movie Infestations of centipedes, clouds of locusts, Sunday community events centered on slaughtering rabbits by the thousand, trying to find one s way from place to place through blinding clouds of soil, machinery failing because of the extreme static electricity in the air, rapidly forming dunes stopping traffic It is a chilling tale There are also heartening stories of communities banding together to help each other forestall foreclosures, and of an enlightened scientist determined to save the land from such callous disregard At the end of the book Egan looks at some of the present day foolishness that is contributing to future catastrophes He could have gone on for a lot , but showed considerable restraint That sort of perspective is in good supply these days in the work of serious writers Michael Lews, in The Big Short offers a pointed look at how short term gain crushing long term investment did serious damage not only to Wall Street firms but to the nation, and indeed the world Jared Diamond sCollapse looks at the damage to civilizations that a solely short term perspective can have The Worst Hard Time is an outstanding book The National Book Award people certainly thought so, bestowing on it their 2006 award for Best Nonfiction Book Egan makes the time come alive, shows how the Dust Bowl came to be, looks at the impact it had on area residents, what was done to try to fix the problem, and sounds an alarm for us all to make sure we don t repeat the errors of our past EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author s personal and Twitter pagesEgan s columns for the New York TimesInterviews Houghton Mifflin A conversation with Timothy Egan Duncan Entertainment Landslide A Portrait of President Herbert Hoover by Tracey Dorsey The Writer s Workshop Nature Bats Last A Talk with Timothy Egan by Nick O Connell Author Magazine Timothy Egan Interview Items of Interest There is an outstanding 1998 PBS documentary in their American Experience series on the 1930s, Surviving the Dust Bowl A seminal documentary from the time, The Plow That Broke the Plains A new April 9, 2015 piece by Chris Megerian in the LA Times on how bad drought conditions are becoming in California, California faces Dust Bowl like conditions amid drought, says climate tracker
A good booka thorough historybut dry as a throat full of sawdust in the middle of the desert That about sums it up, but of course I will continue to babble on for a few paragraphs Before reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the Dust Bowl and the cataclysmic storms that occurred in the 1930 s, primarily in the area of the U.
S known as the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma see map If you re like me in this respect, than this book is a very worthwhile read, assuming you have at least a slight interest in the history of this period Looking at the photos above and reading descriptions of the sky appearing as if a black curtain had been draped over the sky, an effect that could last days at a time, was a serious jaw falling with concomitant eye bulge experience As the book chronicles, the dust storms were caused by decades of massive over farming in the panhandles and surrounding areas without the use of wind erosion prevention techniques e.
, crop rotation, cover crops and use of fallow fields Add to this man made component mother nature s contribution of a severe and prolonged drought and you have all the makings of a seriously horrific dust up The over farming was the result of the momentous drop in commodity prices that followed the Stock Market Crash of 1929 The price of wheat, corn and other crops grown in the panhandles plummeted, forcing farmers to farm and land, and often, just to try and make ends meet Unfortunately, this increased in the volume of these commodities, along with a sharp decrease in demand resulting from the Great Depression, caused the plummeting prices to move into crash mode, where they free fell further and faster than Brittany Spears reputation and self esteem It was the disastrous, crushing economic conditions facing these farmers that made the onset, the fierceness, and the prolonged nature of the Dust Bowl truly worthy of the title The Worst Hard Time The author does a good job of laying out the facts in a very readable manner Thus, as a history book, this novel is excellent It cogently lays out the history of the region, going back to its settlement by mostly German Russian immigrants It also gives a decent background of the situation in the rest of the U.
, and provides a good step by step progression of the events leading up to the beginning of the dust storms in the early 1930s So why only 3 stars Mostly because I ve been seriously spoiled by historical writers like David McCullough, Barbara Tuchman and Gordon Wood These three and several others that I am sure I am forgetting right now write amazingly detailed histories, while at the same time providing such rich and engaging background and individual anecdotes that their histories come alive and you feel immersed in the period Odd as it sounds, I guess you could say that I was disappointed that I didn t feel sacks of dust pouring into my mouth or the blinding sting of the storm ripping into my skin I wanted Mr Egan to throw me in the middle of Black Sunday and tell me to hold on for dear life Instead, I mostly got dryness no pun I got less than compelling personal stories and no real emotional evocation or dramatic tension It was the story of the dust storms as done by CNN when what I really wanted was a stellar, kick ass miniseries by HBO Granted, these criticisms are mostly the result of McCullough, Tuchman and Wood being such saucy bitches that they make everyone else look bad by comparison That is probably unfair to Mr Egan, but in the cut throat, sink or swim world of competitive history writing, I say tough mammaries, Mr Egan Sack up and step up your drama Still, a good, well researched history about an intriguing and previously mysterious period, but a little too dry and textbook like to earn a 4th star from me 3 0 stars Recommended.
BIG RABBIT DRIVE SUNDAY BRING CLUBS Don t judge, the rabbits were a menace to their livelihood These folks were plagued by jackrabbits, grasshoppers and endless dust Clubbing some rabbits at felt like they were fighting back while they lost everything It is hard to say which is worse the steady constant destruction ever present dust from four drought waves in ten years, or the intense black blizzards which only lasted hours or days Nobody knew what to call it It was not a raincloud Nor was it a cloud holding ice pellets It was not a twister It was thick like coarse animal hair it was alive People close to it described a feeling of being in a blizzard a black blizzard, they called it with an edge like steel wool There was enough static electricity in one to knock a person unconscious, short out car engines, and cause blue flames to erupt from metal fences It would fell alive, like a monster.
Egan gives a good background The lure of inexpensive land image enhanced by land speculators The dramatic rise in wheat prices and a surge in production In 1910, the price of wheat stood at eighty cents a bushel, good enough for anyone who had outwitted a few dry years to make enough money to get through another year and even put something away Five years later, with world grain supplies pinched by the Great War, the price had than doubled Farmers increased production by 50 percent When the Turkish navy blocked the Dardanelles, they did a favor for dryland wheat farmers that no one could have imagined Europe relied on Russia for export grain With Russian shipments blocked, the United States stepped in, and issued a proclamation to the plains plant wheat to win the war And for the first time, the government guaranteed the price, at two dollars a bushel, though the war, backed by the wartime food administrator, a multimillionaire public servant named Herbert Hoover Wheat was no longer a staple of a small family farmer but a commodity with a price guarantee and a global market The economic boom and increased population The uncertainties of 1919 were over, wrote F Scott Fitzgerald, the most insightful chronicler of the hubris of the 1920s America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history Wheat prices began to drop after the war The stock market crashed in 1929, and the first of the four droughts was in 1930 1931 Three little words achingly familiar on the Western farmer s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent if it rains Robert Geiger, a reporter for the Associated Press, 1935 Not to be dismissive of Midwesterners potential for mayhem, but don t think of them as a rioting mob They were starving, and President Hoover didn t believe in government assistance.
I wish there was on recovery and prevention Or maybe, I wish there was recovery and preventative measures Tapping the Ogallala Aquifer for irrigation isn t a long term solution.