The Worst Hard Time was such a book. Author Timothy Egan tells the story of the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s in such a way that it almost reads like a novel. I’m interested in that period of time because my mother and father, having been born in 1926, would have lived through the Great Depression in Nebraska. Though they would have been children, since they lived so close to the area that is designated the Dust Bowl, I’m sure they felt the effects.
Egan tells the story largely through the lives of six or seven families. He takes us through the years leading up to the tragic drought, years that were wetter than usual. The wet weather, along with the need for wheat to feed the troops during World War I, led to plowing up land not meant to be farmed. Subsequently, the drought resulted in land that would normally have been held into place by the natural grasses being literally blown away.
Egan’s stories – really the stories of the families – give a clear picture of an almost-unbelievable period of time in our history. Dust storms, dust-caused illness, famine, insects, and wind, wind, wind that literally drove people mad are presented like a horror story.
I will admit that, not being a particular lover of nonfiction, I sometimes skimmed through information that was particularly scientific in nature or just of little interest to me. But mostly I was riveted to the stories of these amazingly strong and resilient people who lived in the Dust Bowl (the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, a large part of Kansas, southeast Colorado and southern Nebraska).
People must literally have believed that the world was coming to an end. And yet, the area survived.
A wonderful read for anyone interested in U.S. history.