Strap yourself in pseudo-intellectuals because a hard wind is going to blow readers of my latest recommendation all the way back to the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression.
The title of Timothy Egan's National Book Award-winning "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl" is a sure sign that this is not a happy tale. But it is an astounding one, and for those familiar with the dust bowl only through the literature of John Steinbeck ("The Grapes of Wrath") a largely unknown story.
Egan's book concerns the greatest environmental disaster in American history, the farming of the great plains in the southwest United States during the wheat boom of World War I, combined with the greatest economic disaster in American history, The Great Depression. That anyone survived this physically and emotionally scarring experience is a tribute to the survival instinct.
Before it became America's Dustbowl, made up of parts of states including Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Nebraska, the Great Plains was a vast open grassy area that was subject to howling winds and didn't offer much commercial possibility. But with the encouragement of the United States government, farmers tore out the grass to plant wheat.
For a while, worldwide demand and unusually high levels of rainfall created an amazing affluence for farmers and those who served them. It was a happy time marked by endless possibilities.
But in the aftermath of World War I, wheat prices fell so low that it was pointless for farmers to plant a new crop and drought turned millions of acres of vacant farmland into dry, loose dirt that turned the sky black when the winds blew, as they did frequently. Dust poisoned people and animals alike. Compounded by the misery of the Depression, life was difficult beyond the imagination of those living today.
Egan tells this story boom and bust, life and death, resilience and capitulation through the lives of a handful of families who endured the unendurable. The mystery is why so many stayed in what passed for hell on earth. The sad answer is that most probably felt they had no better place to go.
"The Worst Hard Time" is a tremendous social history of a largely forgotten era in American life, a valuable insight into human nature at both its best and worst and a cautionary tale of a largely man-made disaster created, mostly, as a result of the best of intentions.
Here are revious recommendations from Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club.
[–] "Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission" by Hampton Sides.
[–] "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris.
[–] "A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord.
[–] "April 1865: The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik.
[–] "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" by Laura Hillenbrand.
[–] "Lindbergh" by A. Scott Berg.
[–] "The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963" by Laurence Leamer.
[–] "The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case" by Sam Roberts.
[–] "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" by Jane Leavy.
[–] "Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions" by Ben Mezrich.
[–] "Harry & Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Post-War World" by Steve Neal.
[–] "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis.
[–] "Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone" by Martin Dugard.
[–] "In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors" by Doug Stanton.
[–] "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34." by Bryan Burrough.
[–] "Flags of our Fathers," by James Bradley.
[–] "Cary Grant: A Biography" by Marc Elliot.
[–] "Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager" by Buzz Bissinger.
[–] "Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York" by Kenneth Ackerman.
[–] "They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967" by David Maraniss.
[–] "Flashman" (a novel) by George MacDonald Fraser.
[–] "Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and A World on the Brink" by David Margolick.
[–] "Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics and the Battle for the Soul of a City" by Jonathan Mahler.
[–] "Five Families: the Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires" by Selwyn Raab.
[–] "The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and the Golden Age of Basketball." by John Taylor.
[–] "American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies" by Michael Kauffman.
[–] "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright.
[–] "A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports" by Brad Snyder.
[–] "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis.
[–] "The Education of a Coach" by David Halberstam.
[–] "Arc of Justice: A Sage of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age" by Kevin Boyle