Nov./Dec. 2017 - The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time Reading Guide

We recently wrapped up our November/December book, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Catch the Twitter chat Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5 and Week 6 recaps at the preceding links. Gracie and Laura’s thoughts on the book were published in the AgBookClub feature on AGDAILY.

AgBookClub was established to start a conversation about ag- and food-themed literature available in a bookstore near you. The ideas on those pages were strong enough to get past a number of reviewers and editors, so we figure they must have some merit. Because of that, we didn’t want to just give you an article with our opinions (we’ve already done that), but we did want to give you a few thought-starters to mull over as you read the book.

Wondering if this book is for you? Here’s a quick summary:

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan: Most of us know the 1930s as the decade of the Great Depression, but the Dust Bowl got a smaller footprint in our history books. Though it was most acutely experienced in only a few states, the Dust Bowl had far-reaching effects on public policy and the notion of conservation, not to mention the American agricultural psyche. As memories of those who lived through it fade, we risk losing both heart-wrenching national history and practical knowledge about the origins of farming practices that took hold in the aftermath of dusters who stripped the topsoil from vast swaths of the Plains. “The Worst Hard Time” takes readers back to the time we grew up hearing about in stories from our grandparents and great-grandparents — from a perspective that deserves to be heard.

Thought starters:

  1. Where were your ancestors during the 1930s? Did they experience the Dust Bowl first-hand? If so, does this book come close to their stories of that decade?
  2. What farming practices are used today that were probably implemented as a result of the Dust Bowl?
  3. Hindsight is 20/20. Was the Dust Bowl a confluence of unforeseen events that created the perfect storm? Or was this primarily a man-made disaster? Looking back, what was the biggest red flag?
  4. We know that American culture in the 19th and 20th century was greatly influenced by immigration. Where were your ancestors from before coming to America? When? What types of jobs did they find when they arrived?
  5. “But even by the 1920s, there was still a chance for a family to make history [by staking a claim on the High Plains]. ‘Every man a landlord’ meant something.” (p. 56). Does that still hold true today?
  6. How did the Great Depression highlight the importance of local business in far-flung rural communities?
  7. Revisiting last month’s book, $2.00 A Day – How would being poor during the Great Depression be different than being poor today?
  8. “Conservation – that was the new word” (p. 178). What would we be missing from today’s farming practices if the Dust Bowl had not happened? How long would it have been before the word ‘conservation’ came about?
  9. The government men told Lucas he could do the shooting, or they could let the cowboy they had hired execute the Lucas animals. He chose the cowboy.” (p. 146). Which would you have chosen: doing it yourself or letting the cowboy do it?
  10. “The problem with history is that it was written by the survivors…so Hartwell started his diary at the darkest hour.” (p. 242). Have you ever recorded your own history with a diary or journal?
  11. Hartwell described his amazement at the fine details, such as the crack of the bat, heard over the radio during the World Series in his October 2, 1936 diary entry. What technology are you most excited about today that you wouldn’t have dreamed about 10 years ago?
  12. Would you have joined the Last Man Club?
  13. What would be different today had the Dust Bowl not happened? Can we learn from history?
  14. The Dust Bowl lasted nearly a decade, but we’re still seeing the effects today. Would you have stuck it out or left in search of better conditions?

What did you think about the book? Were these thought starters helpful? Drop a comment below!

The #AgBookClub Twitter chat takes place on Wednesdays at 8pm CT. View our book list to see what we’re reading now and feel free to jump right in next Wednesday!

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