The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan is a fascinating look at the devastation the dust bowl years wreaked on the North American plains during 1930’s.
The book centers around the lives of inhabitants of Dalhart, Clayton, Boise City, and Amarillo. I have a friend whose family has been in the Dalhart, Texas area for over a century, and so this part of the story was particularly fascinating to me.
Although I had read The Grapes of Wrath and studied tidbits of history focusing on this era, the vastness of the heartache and desolation that was caused by the dust bowl years was nearly unknown to me prior to reading this book.
Additionally, this book also dovetailed with what I had learned in Sundown Towns, as it came up several times in the book that Dalhart, Texas, was a sundown town during these years.
While I still rated this book high (on Goodreads) and really enjoyed learning from it, the book did not serve to pull me into feeling the pain and empathy of the stories like other historical books have. Perhaps that’s good, though, seeing as my heart is still reeling from a book on slavery I recently read. The stories are definitely personal perspectives, but not in the same way that other authors have been able to make you feel along with the central characters.
As it is with history, this story carries many lessons for us to learn. For one, I think this serves to highlight the need to consider how our choices impact the environment. It is often easy, particularly for many American Christians, to dismiss any concerns about our environmental mistreatment. Likely, this entire situation could have been prevented had those churning the land listened to the warnings people were sounding. Macroscopically, the people plowing the land could be to blame, while microscopically, many of them were people simply trying to make ends meet. Nonetheless, it was a preventable natural disaster.
For another, The Worst Hard Time is a reminder of how it is easy to remain unmoved by the plight of others, particularly when separated by different life experience and distance. Rather than acknowledging the horrible crisis that was going on with their fellow countrymen in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles (and surrounding Kansas, Denver, and New Mexico), most Americans outside of this area chose rather to scoff at these people and deny them access to refuge, or at best mocked their devastation and trouble. Only when remnants from the dust storm landed in Washington D.C. in 1934 did people recognize that something truly devastating was going on, by which time it was far too late.
Timothy Egan does an excellent job of dusting off (pun intended!) an oft-forgotten part of American history, making it both relevant and interesting.
Table of Contents: