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“The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan

National Enterprise Reporter Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and the author of five successful books. His books include masterpieces such as The Good Rain and Lasso the Wind.

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The worst hard time is a story that centers on the people who were present in America’s high plains in the 1930s and who suffered through the dust storms (Egan 2005). The book is based on those who found the will to stay and strive through the hardships that the dust bowl dealt them with. Egan takes the support of statistical information of the devastation that the dust bowl caused and shows the reader a picture that is horrifyingly real and riddled with first-person accounts of people who were present and survived through the dust bowl. It is one of the few books that have brought to light the fact that a country does not go through devastation only due to financial reasons but can suffer just as much and perhaps even more damage due to ecological reasons.

Egan seems to be of the opinion that the dust storms were not all natural but had, in fact, come down upon the plains as a result of the invasion of man into the great American desert. However, through constant stressing upon the damage to life and land caused by these dust storms, Egan also insists that man paid a high price for a small mistake.

These dust storms were not small nor of a temporary nature. These dust storms stretched not only in terms of their physical lengths but also in terms of the time spans they lasted. The dust storms began to take shape in the early 1930s and plagued the lands through the entire decade. The people who chose to stand their ground against these dust storms were commonly referred to as dusters. These dusters, or rather those of them that survived and remained to tell the tale, were one’s who lived their entire lives under the influences of the storm. Their lives were plagued with grief for their loved ones, which they had lost to the dust bowl. What was even more horrifying was that the people who left did not leave to a better fate since the country was under the blanket of the great depression, and there was no relief anywhere.

As many of the first-person accounts given by the survivors narrated, it was within seconds that the land was shadowed by the expansive dust storm, and the author does not refrain from mentioning the cold hard realities such as the children playing outside as they got caught in the storm and how suffocation would take a person’s life away within seconds.

The author is clear about making sure that the reader understands that the responsibility for the occurrence of the dust storms does not fall upon Mother Nature’s shoulders, but it is realized that man was also a prime contributor to his destruction. The author makes it clear to the reader in his statements that it was a man who was the one who loosened the land to the extent that it could be lifted by the wind. Hence in terms of hindsight, it does not come as a surprise that the dust bowl was created.

Egan also makes sure that the bravery and spirit shown by the people who suffered through these dust storms are not ignored. The author also mentions how the Roosevelt administration became an integral part of relief efforts, and one can see how those who survived found the spirit to strive through the hardships.

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Worst Hard Time is a very depressing account of the 1930’s dust bowl. To prove his point, Egan has made frequent use of statistical information regarding the degree of damage to life and land that the dust storms caused. The dust storms also had severely adverse ecological effects, and the author does not refrain from using them to further strengthen his standing. The author has made use of accounts given by people who survived through the brutal dust storms and has allowed the reader a rare first-person perspective of the people who suffered through them. These first-person perspectives add to the credibility of the picture that Egan presents to us and eventually manage to capture the reader’s complete attention as the book progresses.

The author takes slightly longer to begin the actual story that he has to tell and spends quite some time introducing the reader to the backdrop and the characters whose hardships he builds his narration upon as the book progresses. However, once that has been done, the pace is rapid, and events unfold one after the other with intriguing speed and leave the readers at the edge of their seats.

However, one cannot fail to notice that the book becomes slightly monotonous in the sense that there comes the point where the reader knows that after the discussion of the devastation caused by one storm concludes, there is nothing more waiting than the discussion on the devastation caused by another storm. Like a medicine taken much too frequently, the effect of the book on the reader begins to wear off in the later pages of the book. At this point, it is necessary to note that it is not the writing style or the elaboration of the scenarios presented by Egan that weakens, rather it is simply the knowledge that there is nothing more to expect other than wreckage caused by dust storms to look forward to with the turn of every page.

For anybody who had family members or acquaintances caught in the harsh and unforgiving 1930s, the writer manages to give not only a bone-chilling account of the great dust bowl but and the devastations it brought, but it would be unjustified if Egan was not applauded for doing so while incorporating the history of the country into the narration.

In order to tell his story, Egan has presented to the reader the lives and losses of six different families. All six of which were caught in the dust storm. All six of them came to the plains in order to establish new and better lives but had no idea what they had walked into. These families, as Egan notes, moved to the plains to build new lives, but the brutal dust storms had something else in store for them. Their lives were about to be changed forever, and the lay of the land was about to become quite different from the one they had expected to find.

It was in those days that the American Desert was being considered as the new horizon in investable real estate, and people were beginning to leave the city and head out to the plains with their families to seek new lives and establish themselves in the farms they built from the real estate they acquired. In those days, it was believed that this was the fastest and most effective way to become rich and well established. Countless people left the cities and moved out to these virgin farmlands. This process began as early as the early 1920s and was followed by the great depression.

Perhaps had the great depression not hit the American economy, things would have been different. But as fate may have it, the great depression came at the same time as the loosened desert soil began to get lifted high by the untamed desert winds. A severe drought complimented the great depression and the rising of soil into the air. What followed was the creation of the dust bowl and the death of countless people through starvation and disease. The chain of events took many innocent human lives. What is perhaps most remarkable is that the dust bowl did not have influences on only the plains but also brought this topsoil from the desert into the cities.

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Although at a certain point, one cannot help but feel that perhaps the author has gone a bit overboard in his description of the dust bowl. The dust storms may have been catastrophic for almost everybody, but not everybody lost everything. It appears at certain points that the author has tried to turn the whole thing into a motion picture for the reader. Almost as if the commercial value was being generated for the book.

Over the period of time, several books have come out on the hardships that the people went through during the great depression, but few have managed to capture the reality and the brutality with which the 1930s dealt their blow to the people of the country. Another such book is A Crack in the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester, where the writer has portrayed how it was more than the mere economy that broke apart the country in the 1930s.

Egan, in his internationally acclaimed book, Worst Hard Time, manages to do what many writers have failed to do over the past decades. He has brought to light, with statistical accuracy, the catastrophe and damage that the country went through in the 1930s, not simply in the perspective of the economic crunch, but in the cold hard reality of the ecological perspective. Egan shows us six different families and takes us through their moving stories of these families and adds life to his stories through the detailed accounts he gives us of the horrors of the dust bowl, from the people who lived through it and survived to lead the rest of their lives under the shadow of the dust storms in the memories of their past. No doubt, by the time the reader reaches the end of the book, one cannot help but ponder as to why the man was punished with such severity by fate for something as negligibly small as trying to establish farms in the American desert.

Works Cited

Egan, T. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 26). “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan.

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"“The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan." StudyCorgi, 26 Nov. 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "“The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan." November 26, 2021.


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