Thursday, June 5, 2008

Book Review: The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

In the era of “green “ living, Timothy Egans’s depression era epic “The Worst Hard Time” seems eerily relative. Who doesn’t recall the opening moments of Steinbeck’s screen adaptation of “Grapes of Wrath”? A barren wasteland is depicted with rolling clouds blackening the sky, Bored out barns and weathered fences paint a bleak landscape in which Steinbeck’s characters head west.

We have all heard of the Dust Bowl era of the 1930’s but most of are unaware of the cause of the disaster. Most assumed this was a natural occurrence, however Egan chronicles the heartbreaking circumstances, which caused the earth to turn on its stewards.

What is most maddening is the fact that the pain and suffering could have been avoided. Ignorance, Hubris and greed were the plainspeople’s undoing. Not to detail the exact circumstance but to give you an idea, imagine the following:

Flat land covered by verdant native grasses, tilled up and destroyed. Underneath only the rich soil remain. Then after over harvesting the soil becomes unproductive. A drought then causes the soil to dry up, and become a fine dust. Then, as the winds drive across the plains, the exposed soil, no longer held in place by the native grass, becomes airborne and deadly. This scenario was repeated over millions of miles of Plains Land in the Midwest.

Egan tells in great detail how the above scenario came to pass. He follows several families, and details their struggle, including Russian Germans, sold on a dream. Egans style is a little choppy and abrupt, and I found myself stopping mid paragraph, due to the uneven flow of the narrative. Many sentences are short and simple. While this is fine in some instances I found the style to be a bit jarring.

However I did learn quite a bit, and gained an appreciation for the hardworking families that endured the painful period in American History. The lessons are grave, and poignant. While I remain skeptical as to the cause of Global Warming, this is a documented instance where man’s ignorance provided untold suffering to themselves and the environment. Caring for Gods Creation should be something all of us strive to be conscious of, and “The Worst Hard Time” provides the perfect motivation.

3 out of 5