The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

the worst hard time

According to the subtitle this is the untold story of those who survived the great American dust bowl. A member of the Las Vegas Non-Fiction Book Group suggested we read and discuss this. Being a non-American I had never heard of the dust bowl until he made the suggestion so I thought it would be an interesting piece of American history to learn about.

The book tells us about the people who moved in to (and the many who subsequently moved out of) America’s High Plains during the years of the Depression. It is just over 300 pages long and I feel that I know quite enough information on this subject to last me forever. In short, over-farming and some bad luck with the weather caused great and terrible dust storms across the region, so bad that they affected the whole of the USA at times.

Houses were filled with dust. Despite hanging wet sheets over doors and windows, people still had to sweep the houses out several times a day. Animals’ lungs would become filled with dirt and they would die as a result. People died of “dust pneumonia” and in many cases, had lost so much money from poor harvests that they were unable to leave the region.

We are often told how people are feeling and of the intricacies of their lives. This is presumably as a result of interviews, and done so that the reader can gain a full appreciation of the horror of the situation. But, personally, I found Egan’s writing style a little too fiction-y for a non-fiction book.

A pretty terrible hard time, by anyone’s standards, but the worst? At the exact same time a few thousand miles away in Germany I would guess that thousands of persecuted Jews may beg to differ. The people who moved to this region were hardy farmers and cowboys, and I am sure nobody thought they were going to make easy money from moving to the region. Several people chose to sign a contract that said that they would not leave the area, one may argue that the luckier/cleverer people had already left by this point.

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