The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan offers a discussion of the events of the American Dust Bowl. In particular, the author describes how the natural features of the American West, combined with inappropriate agricultural practices, including over-farming, caused the disaster. The narration unfolds by tracing the life events of several families and individuals who survived the Dust Bowl. While the author actively discusses the causes of the events, he focuses more on the characteristics of farmers who once decided to move to this area. Egan argues primarily about why people, even after the disaster and the lack of profits from the use of land in the affected regions, remained to live there. He uses primary sources for the research, including interviews, notes, diaries of the Dust Bowl survivors, as well as newspapers and public reports from the period.
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The author is not a researcher historian but a well-known journalist writing for the New York Times. However, he is also an acclaimed nonfiction writer on history. Egan has won several prestigious writing awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for a series on racial attitudes and experiences in contemporary America. Additionally, Egan was awarded the National Book Award for The Worst Hard Time in 2006 (“Timothy Egan”). Thus, the author has a rich writing background and is an acclaimed specialist in the field of historical nonfiction.
The thesis of the book is that the Dust Bowl is both natural and artificial. Egan focuses on describing the most affected regions, including Texas, Oklahoma, western Kansas, parts of Nebraska, and Colorado. The author first tells about the life of farmers who came to this area during the 1920s, when conditions were favorable for agriculture. During this period, there was a large amount of rainfall, which resulted in a wheat boom and encouraged inhabitants to exploit the soil. High volumes of sales and demand have allowed many farmers to generate significant profits from their land use. However, the soil in the region already had a poor mineral composition, which, in combination with over-farming, soon led to a drought.
The author describes how people were lured to settle in this territory by providing them with irrelevant information. Egan emphasizes that the government and land agents have actively encouraged the relocation of farmers from the northern plains to the southern ones and have advised plowing the soil and planting seeds (Egan 24). Thus, farmers enjoyed large yields and high profits in the 1920s with government backing. However, after the beginning of the drought, the economy of the entire region collapsed. Thus, farmers enjoyed large yields and high profits in the 1920s with government backing. However, after the onset of the drought, the economy of the entire area collapsed, after which the settlers did not receive help from President Hoover.
However, after the arrival of President Roosevelt, farmers receive the necessary assistance to support the economy. After prolonged dust storms and Black Sunday of 1935, the government adopted a plan to restore and conserve land in the region, which gradually led to the revitalization of the local ecosystem (Egan 8). Egan especially focuses on the individuals in his narrative, both farmers and officials. He not only talks about the difficulties experienced by the residents of the disaster but also gives examples of what kind of reaction followed the events. In particular, he quotes from Bennett’s speeches and also emphasizes his personal attitude to the problem by saying that he “had become increasingly frustrated at how the government seemed to be encouraging an exploitive farming binge” (Egan 126). This is extremely notable since the author as a whole presents the government as the initiator of the events, with individual emphasis on farmers and liquidators of the consequences. Additionally, Egan portrays the various hardships and suffering of the Dust Bowl survivors, emphasizing that it is a tragedy for them, while the government is not directly affected.
Thus, in his story, the author illustrates that officials are responsible for such events. Whereas people in general and farmers, in particular, are more of a tool for achieving goals. In this case, Egan’s view may seem a little biased since, by and large, the emphasis is directly on the impact of the disaster on individuals. Probably, this approach, more than necessary, inclines the reader to sympathize with farmers and condemn governments for ignorance or deliberate deception, which the author himself does not define.
Style and Presentation
The book is organized in three parts, following the chronology of major events. In particular, the first part focuses on the successful years of farmers prior to the Dust Bowl. The second part already tells about the events of the disaster, with a special focus on the daily impact on residents. The third part is devoted to the process of developing and implementing a land rehabilitation plan as a response to the situation. The book is written not in historical facts’ dry language but is presented as a living narration of events. The author uses much emotional vocabulary, and long paragraphs with a significant amount of details. All this gives the text great artistic value along with the historical chronological overview.
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This topic has already been interpreted by the authors from a similar perspective. However, Egan managed to describe the events from both a historical and an individual perspective. Additionally, the author explores the economic, social, and environmental aspects of the Dust Bowl, which creates a more comprehensive view of the problem. Egan definitely presents the reader with a broader perspective on the issue than purely fictional or historical works. This book as a whole is more popularly scientific, which makes it accessible to a wide audience.
Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.
“Timothy Egan.” National Book Foundation, Web.