12 October 2012

The Worst Hard Time (book review)

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the stories of the individuals and what they went through during this time.  There were many names I recognized who were friends of my parents and grandparents.  I've personally met most of the James brothers, for example. The author's take of them is pretty straightforward and accurate.

What I did not like about the book were the assumptions, placement of blame, and conclusions the author liberally sprinkled throughout the narrative. Many of them could have been written by Al Gore, they were so far to the left. It was obvious the book was written by someone who's never lived in this part of the country, and has no understanding of the mentality, pride, and roots nor any idea how the people think, deep down. In this regard, the book is like reading a history of African-American culture written by a white man. Something is missing. Something important.

The author is also wrong on some facts.  One glaring fact is in the Epilogue:  He says the population of Dalhart never recovered from the Dust Bowl days.  However, by 1943, the population of Dalhart was over 20,000 (three large B-17 training bases had been built around the city for WWII).  The city is not a "windswept dog-eared town", as he calls it, but a thriving and beautiful town.  It makes me seriously wonder if he has ever visited the city the author wrote so much about. The story has a lot of holes...it is very much incomplete, but this isn't unexpected for a book of this type...there is too much history to cram into a readable book if one wanted to cover it all. But I would like to have seen some additional communities and events covered in brief, to give a fuller picture of what times were like in those days. My dad was born in Boise City, OK in 1932, in the heart of the Dust Bowl. I know quite a few stories told first-hand that would have increased the value of this book, but again, not everything can fit that needs to fit. I suppose that's one of the biggest problems an author of a cultural history faces.

I recommend the book for those who want some of the story of the days and events of the time, but you'll have to wade through the politicisms and greenish worldview at times. Three stars might be a bit harsh; three-and-a-half is more accurate. But I don't think I can give it a four.

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