Most Americans have read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which chronicles the plight of the “Exo-dusters,” those who left the southern Great Plains for California during the Dust Bowl. Less well known are the stories of those who remained, weathering the Black Blizzards that lasted throughout much of the 1930s. In The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan builds on the personal narratives of farming families who struggled to survive these conditions in the epicenter of the Dust Bowl – including the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma Panhandle, southwestern Nebraska, and southeastern Colorado.
The Worst Hard Time is standard historical nonfiction, but the inclusion of detailed personal narratives enlivens the book and provides a human face to one of the country’s worst environmental disasters. Egan’s descriptive and lyrical writing helps readers visualize the humbling of the once independent Plains farmer, who dug up the sod and subsequently in his poverty, became reliant on the programs of the New Deal.
These stories may be familiar to readers who have watched Ken Burn’s The Dust Bowl on PBS, which relies heavily on Egan’s interviews and research to tell a broader story about the families who stayed on the Plains and those who left for California.
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby