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

My family lived this story so I may be a little bit prejudiced toward it.  This is a history of people who lived through the Dust Bowl and my family, grandparents and mom, did just that.  My mother owns the book but hasn't been able to read it yet because it is too painful.  If you aren't familiar with this episode of American history, this was the 30's when the land literally blew away.  The farming that had been done had ripped away the centuries old grasses and left the topsoil exposed to the never-ending wind.  Then the rains stopped for about 6 years.  It was a brutal time and the majority of people who lived in the Dust Bowl moved away. My grandparents stayed and kept their farm through it all.  My mom was born in 1934 in a dugout so this history is my family's history.

Timothy Egan did his research well.  He has first-hand accounts from many who are my mom's age and older who distinctly remember the Black Dusters coming through town and blocking out the sun.  He ties the stories together well.  His creation of the atmosphere of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles is masterful.  I've spent a lot of time there and he describes it beautifully.  I think he is very fair in explaining why the Dust Bowl happened and who was to blame.  He doesn't vilify the farmers as some have though they do take blame.  They didn't know any better and they were told that they were doing the right thing.  He shows the progression of the problem clearly.  He does vilify the ones who deserve it, the land speculators.  He does an outstanding job of showing the determination and fortitude of the settlers. 

Settling the frontier sounds like something that happened 150 years ago but this frontier was being settled in my mom's lifetime and this book is an excellent history of how that part of the Great Plains developed.  Some people won't like his story-telling style.  It's not linear.  He goes back and forth between families and usually has to go back a few years each time he changes families but it's not a hard style to read.  For a non-fiction book, this was as compelling as any fictional story I've read lately.  I couldn't put it down.