The Worst Hard Times [Book Review]

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The Worst Hard Times [Book Review]

I hope you all had wonderful Christmases! I sure did. I had a relaxing day full of food, family, and really great friends. Even in the days leading up to Christmas, I made special memories; shooting my first .22 under the guidance of my brother and dad (and hitting the bullseye TWICE on my first attempts!), making wreaths with my mom and a good family friend, waking up to the smell of my uncle’s coffee brewing on Christmas morning, taking a Christmas run down my neighborhood street while listening to my favorite holiday songs, sharing cookies and bowls of delicious potato soup with our neighbors that are more like family, and just lounging around on the couch with my family close to me. I hope your day was as great as mine!

And one more detail about my weekend…my light stayed on late this Christmas Eve when we got home from church, and it wasn’t because I was trying to sneak a peek at Santa. My lamp was on because I was up reading a really, really good book. Have you heard of The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. It’s a great historical non-fiction book that centers on key residents of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas during the harsh years of the dust bowl. It chronicles their experiences, challenges, and feelings about the devastating toll that the dust storms had on residents of the area during that time. In addition, the author does an excellent job of putting the anecdotes of the citizens in context to the happenings of the nation as a whole. Not being much of a history buff, I appreciated the simplified and streamlined historical facts about the United States that pertained to the dust bowl.

I’ll admit that when I learned about the dust bowl in American History class I kind of glazed over the whole concept. No, not because I was trying to be insensitive to the struggles that these thousands of people went through, but because it seemed like it happened a long time ago and almost as if it happened in a totally different world. In class, I just couldn’t bring myself to imagine thousands of houses covered up by literal dunes of dust, or imagine children choking to death on the dust or dying of dust pneumonia. Needless to say, my high school history class didn’t really pique my interest in the dust bowl.

But a few weeks ago, my grandpa gave me his copy of The Worst Hard Times, telling me how good it was and how I had to read it. And I’m so glad he did because this book has made the historical event that I filed away as irrelevant to my day-to-day life something that I now think about for a number of reasons. One reason is that I lived in Oklahoma my senior year of high school and still go there during some of my breaks. After reading this book, spending time in Oklahoma makes me think about things. It makes me think about the river that runs by my house that I take for granted, the fact that I’m able to open my pantry and it’s always full whereas people were eating canned tumbleweed when times got tough, the fact that I have medicine to take for the nagging cold I brought home with me from school in comparison to people who suffered from dust pneumonia with no cure. I guess what I mean to say is that reading this book puts things into perspective.

Another reason this book causes me to think is that the text doesn’t read like a history book with mere statistics and figures used to illustrate heart wrenching details and sum up stories of citizens of this area. No, this book doesn’t glaze over the personal details at all. In fact, Egan delves deeper than I would have thought possible in such a text, going so far as to include personal diary entries from a man chronicling his experiences in the dust bowl. At times, the book is hard to read because of how specific it is in describing traumatic and gruesome and tragic events that happened during the time, but these events happened so I think it is important to acknowledge, appreciate, and process such history. I find it incredible that Egan was able to compile such varied and personal accounts of the time period in order to write a piece of historical non-fiction that has the potential to drastically change perceptions of the dust bowl. For me, the book made the dust bowl less of a history lesson and more of an event that demonstrated the true heart, grit, determination, and strength of people who existed during the tough times and still can be found now within our culture.

So, what I’m trying to say in my usual, long-winded way is that this book is definitely worth picking up. If you’ve got a few hours to spend each night reading the book and sifting through an abundance of information, I highly recommend it. I hope you enjoy it if you choose and if not, I hope you’ve had some relaxing time this season to pick up a good book and sit and read for a while.

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  1. Pingback: Spring Break Reading List « Dig Into Books

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