Book Review: The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time:
The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
by Timothy Egan

the-worst-hard-time.gifIt seems like everywhere you turn the current buzz is always centered on the topic of global warning. There are news specials, blog entries, political stumps, and even Starbucks cups containing a message about man’s impact on the environment. With all of this buzz it is usually hard to find the facts. Some would have us believe that because of man’s irresponsibility (carbon footprint) the ecosystem of the entire world is in grave danger. However, I know that this cannot be the case. How do I know? I know because the bible gives a much different perspective on the issue. Scripture tells us that it is Christ that holds the universe together, and thus man cannot tear it apart. Simply put, man does not have the power to destroy what God is holding together.

With this biblical perspective in mind I often simply dismiss any talk of man’s negative effect on nature. This is an overreaction on my part. What I am forgetting is that God has put us on this earth, in part, to be stewards of His creation. We are supposed to take care of his creation, and honor him by the way we exercise stewardship. The fact of the matter is that by being bad stewards men can damage (but not destroy) creation. I was reminded of this very thing when I recently read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.

The Worst Hard Time is the “untold story of those who survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” The Dust Bowl was a series of disastrous dust storms in the Southern Plains region of the United States that occurred in the midst of the Great Depression. Egan succinctly describes the Dust bowl in this way,

At its peak, the Dust Bowl covered one hundred million acres. Dusters swept over the northern prairie as well, but the epicenter was the southern plains. An area the size of Pennsylvania was in ruin and on the run. More that a quarter-million people fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Looking around now, it may seem that most people just hurried through the southern plains or left in horror. Not true. John Steinbeck told part of the story, about getting out, moving somewhere green. But Steinbeck’s exiles were from eastern Oklahoma, near Arkansas- mostly tenant farmers ruined by the collapse of the economy. The families in the heart of the black blizzards were further west, in towns like Guymon and Boise City…

The black blizzards of the Dust Bowl were the combined result of erosion caused by faulty farming techniques, and a severe draught. The land was literally carried away by the wind. The resulting dusters were devastating on many different levels. They prevented travel, they suffocated livestock, they killed crops, and they were the cause of dust-pneumonia (one of the leading killers during this time). One particular duster was so severe that “the darkness of midnight came over the land in the middle of the day.” When this Duster hit Joe Garza and another ranch hand were out doing some work. Here is the account of what happen to them,

He turned to the north and saw what looked like the leading edge of a fast-moving cloud. Joe walked up the side of the dry creek bed to get a better look, the spurs on his boots making it hard to move fast. When he got to the top, his heart went into a gallop. An enormous formation faced him – a tidal wave of roiling black – just a quarter mile away. He slid down the embankment and made for the little shelter atop his wagon. In an instant, the duster showered down on them, dirt streaming through the fine openings of the little cabin. Joe and Ernest stuffed rags into the openings and reached to find a kerosene lantern. They lit the flame, but it went out; there was not enough oxygen in the space to keep it alive.

This book is the kind of history that is engaging, and profitable. I personally gained much from reading this book, and hearing the story of the people from the southern plains. I would highly recommend this book. However, in my recommendation of this book I must give two warnings. First, there are political implications made by the author that I cannot endorse from Christian Worldview (enough said). Also, be advised that profanity is used a handful times (I don’t want your kid to learn a new word from a book I recommended). Let me finish with the author’s own words that display the importance of this book,

For now the narrative of those times is not just buried among the fence posts and mummified homesteads. People who lived through the whole thing – the great town-building, farm-fattening, family establishing prosperity of the 1920s, followed by the back hand of nature in the next decade, when all life played out as if filmed in grainy black-and-white – are with us still, shelters of living memory. But before the last witnesses fade away, they have a story to tell.