Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reflections: The Worst Hard Time

I love history.  Reading about the events and people of the past is almost always stimulating, enlightening, and enjoyable.  Sometimes, however, it's terrifying.  The Worst Hard Time, the 2006 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction, tells the story of the Dust Bowl and those who stayed behind in a broken land.

Timothy Egan, the book's author, focuses on the people who were the most directly affected by the Dust Bowl but also on the causes of it.  You'll find the normal problems associated with American western expansion, such as Native American expulsion, but you'll also find an interesting conflict between ranchers and farmers, misplaced government incentive, and dubious claims from investment seeking, over-eager real estate agents.  But it's the people who came to parts of Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska that deserve our greatest attention for their story is the most interesting and the most horrific.

Egan does a fine job of expressing the desperation that farmers felt during the Dust Bowl.  True, unrestrained and undisciplined agriculture led to the most punishing effects of the Dust Bowl, but that doesn't make the people's suffering any less painful.  The Worst Hard Time is a hard book to read at times.  It's an unblinking magnification of the worst aspects of the Dust Bowl.  Combining its impact with the terrible consequences of the Great Depression, one can't help but wonder how anyone survived it at all or even why they would want to.  It's also a testament to how resilient people can be and how attached they can become to the place they call home, even when home is a nightmare.

The Worst Hard Time is a book to give you nightmares; at least, it did for me.  The Great Depression was bad enough, but the farmers and ranchers of the mid-west not only fought against the effects of an economic disaster but also a natural one.  It's a truly harrowing story.  I'll never forget the book or the story it tells."

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Lessons of History
Reflections: The Prince of Frogtown
Her Name is Scout

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