The Worst Hard Time: The Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl was everything that I'd hoped for in a non-fiction title. Egan begins his tale by introducing us to many of the characters who will populate his history: real people who lived through the Dust Bowl in the No-Man's Land of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and the southeastern corner of Colorado, with some stories of northeast New Mexico and southern Kansas thrown in as well. The Dust Bowl is not a respecter of state lines.
The chronological story begins with the wheat boom that brought settlers to the plains. Egan tells us how they were lied to to get them to stay, and how they convinced themselves that agriculture could work on the land. It is tremendously sad, reading how the buffalo were destroyed and the Native Americans removed from their lands. Egan then goes on to describe the first changes, the beginning of the drought, when people did not yet know that disaster was coming. This is a profoundly moving book, as we get to know each of the families - you see how they suffer, how they stick through the worst times, or leave in order to save their lives. It's hard to imagine living through something so terrible, but I suppose that we always want to believe that it can't get any worse. This book is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about history.
I picked this book up because it won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 2006. I am reading award winners for my 999 Challenge. You can see my whole list here. Timothy Egan is a new author for me, so here's another one for the New Author Challenge.