The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan is a non-fiction book that tells story of the 1930's dust bowl primarily through the eyes of the those who did not flee but stayed and watched the disintegration of their homes.
The farmers of the dust bowl – located in Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle – were living "high off the hog." Crops had been doing great and land values soared. The farmers mortgaged their land to buy equipment that allowed more land to be plowed and planted. Then came the drought. It was followed by the dust.
The result was no crops, no money, and foreclosures. But that wasn't the worst. The wind whipped and the resulting dust storms created havoc.
The personal stories are gripping and told in the words of those who lived it.
As only great history can, Egan's book captures the very voice of the times: its grit, pathos, and abiding courage.
Combining the human drama of Isaac's Storm with the sweep of The American People in the Great Depression, The Worst Hard Time is a lasting and important work of American history. (From the publisher.)
About the Author
TIMOTHY EGAN is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of seven books, most recently Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, named Best of the Month by Amazon.com. His book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won a National Book Award for nonfiction and was named a New York Times Editors' Choice, a New York Times Notable Book, a Washington State Book Award winner, and a Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book. He writes a weekly column, "Opinionator," for the New York Times.
The Worst Hard Time is his non-fiction account of those who lived through The Great Depression's Dust Bowl, for which he won the 2006 Washington State Book Award in history/biography and a 2006 National Book Award.
Timothy Egan is an American Pulitzer Prize winning author who resides in Seattle, Washington. He currently contributes opinion columns to the New York Times as the paper's Pacific Northwest correspondent. In 2001, he won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his contribution to the series "How Race is Lived in America."
In addition to his work with the New York Times, he has written six books, including The Good Rain (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, 1991), Breaking Blue, and Lasso the Wind.
In 2009 he wrote The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, which details the Great Fire of 1910 that burned about three million acres (12,000 km²) and helped shape the United States Forest Service. The book also details some of the political issues of the time focusing on Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. Egan won a second Washington State Book Award in history/biography in 2010 for this work, and a second Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award.
In 2012 Egan published a biography of Western and Native American photographer, Edward Curtis: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.
• Awards—Pulitzer Prize, Journalism (2001); National Book
Award, Nonfiction; Washington State Book Award (twice)
• Currently—lives in Seattle, Washington
1. Discuss what Egan presents as the reasons for the dust bowl tragedy. Was it a confluence of unforeseen events that produced the perfect storm? Or was it a man-made disaster that might have been avoided, or at least mitigated?
2. Should everyone have known better—was there enough known at the time about the impact of farming techniques on erosion?
3. Who tried to warn about the dangers of farming in the grasslands and what were the gist of their warnings? Why were they ignored? Is it simply human nature to take heed in hindsight rather than in real time?
4. Talk about the different characters in Egan's story. Which of the families' stories do you find particularly poignant? Which characters do you find most admirable?
5. What descriptions of the dust storms did you find most shocking or most tragic—Black Sunday, static electricity, dust pneumonia, just to name a few?
6. During the disaster, 250 million people left their homes—a diaspora about which Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is written. But most residents stayed. What made them stay? Would it have been better to have left? Which choice would you have made?
7. What was the political outfall of the dust bowl? How did Washington eventually respond? What have been the lasting effects?
8. What lessons, if any, have we learned from the dust bowl catastrophe—about how human actions, well-intentioned or not, can lead to environmental damage? Is there anything comparable on the horizon today?
9. "Surviving the Dust Bowl," a 2007 documentary, part of the American Experience series on PBS, would make a valuable contribution to any book club discussion. The film footage is stunning. You could get a copy through your public library or through Netflix.
10. You might also pair this work with Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and discuss the human tragedies—and bravery—in both accounts.
[Questions by LitLovers www.litlovers.com]
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