My journalist niece reads a lot of serious books about politics, social issues and the environment and then posts her reviews on Good Reads. We share book titles and comments that way. This is what she said about "The Worst Hard Time:The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Dust Bowl" by Timothy Egan:
"I didn't really know anything about the Dust Bowl before reading this book. I basically thought it was just a drought that happened during the Great Depression.
The author paints a vivid picture of the misery that overtook a huge swath of the country during those years. Reading about the dust storms that often swept the land into people's homes and the thousands of deaths from "dust pneumonia" was especially horrifying. He also explains how the disaster was very much man-made, exacerbated by bad public policies, over-farming and over-grazing.
Unlike the most famous literary work about that era, "The Grapes of Wrath," this book focuses mostly on people who stayed on their land against all odds, rather than on folks who headed west.
Very well-written and informative."
"I am emotionally exhausted after reading it. Going six weeks with no rain and temps in the 90s and 100s in Madison is enough to freak me out — and that's with air conditioning.
Then to read this book and, like you, realize these problems were not caused only by drought but man-made as it were. I could hardly believe that people stayed, even though I understood how limited their options were.
I was especially interested in the early ecology information since it mentioned Aldo Leopold, one of Wisconsin's famous sons. The essay the author refers to is one of the seminal works on the subject of ecology and our interconnectedness to the land and all living creature."
To continue: The stories of the people who lived in the Dust Bowl during the 1930s are compelling and make this a virtual page turner. It's especially worth reading for all of us who've been experiencing this summer's heat and drought to understand how our own short-term thinking and actions can be responsible for unforseen results in the long run.
In fact, I followed up the book with the movie — "The Plow that Broke the Prairie" — the government produced that is described in the book. It, too, came from my local library. So I got to see some of the actual people mentioned and get an even more shocking sense of the time and place!
The worst storm of the Dust Bowl era — Black Sunday in 1934 — carried blowing dust from the Great Plains eastward, dropping 12 million tons of dust on Chicago. NYC, Washington and even ships 300 miles off the Atlantic coast were blanketed with dust from the plains.
. . .
OTHER NOTEWORTHY TITLES FROM MY SUMMER READING:
"Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street" by John Nichols. Nichols at his best: a quick read with a wide-ranging historic approach that sets these events in a larger context, esp. as related to James Madison and the First Amendment and Tom Paine. (Nichols is a former co-worker and long-time friend).
"Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From" by Richard Davenport-Hines. I got this from the library thinking it was a photographic history. Wrong; a chunk of photos but not nearly enough for my taste. But an informative book and worth reading; though at times it felt like the anti-"A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord. Most of the people who came off well in Lord’s book suffered a different fate here. In fact, few of the 1st and 2nd glass passengers got much praise from D-H; and he seemed to especially dislike the Americans.
What was most interesting was the information about the ships of the era: their speed, capacity and competition; and his serious look at the third class passengers, their backgrounds, ship accommodations, numbers, and fate. He presents touching letters home mailed at the stops where the ship picked up passengers before it began the main trip; tidbits about the largest group of 2nd class men (all from Cornwall) and about the only black man on board as well as the only Japanese passenger. The descriptions of the crew members, especially those who kept the ship going in the furnace rooms, are memorable. And he publishes quite a bit about the survivors: stats, memories and their later lives. He also talks about the 337 bodies ultimately recovered from the ocean; the book has a photo of one — the only image of this I’ve ever seen.
Got this at the Quinn-Ribble garage sale for $3. I’d always wanted to read it, and it was so engrossing and beautifully written that I’m glad I got the hardcover as I am sure I will read it again. Greenblatt looks at all the known facts and documentation about Shakespeare, and operates on the premise that he is the sole author of the works attributed to him. A well-known English lit author and Shakespearian scholar, Greenblatt uses the plays and the history of the period to flesh out Shakespeare’s own story in ways that are sensible and sensitive, and always fascinating. For those who love the Elizabethan era, the book provides an excellent overview of the political and religious goings-on as well.
Best mystery book of the summer: "The Royal Wulff Murders" by Keith McCafferty. A Montana setting, lots of compelling characters and fly-fishing. What's not to like? My husband is a fly fisherman and ties his own flies so all of this background was easily understandable to me, without any actual fishing experience. One of the premier trout streams in our region is located just outside Madison so all the environmental sub-text of the story was of as much interest as the mystery. This is McCafferty's first novel and I can't wait for the next one.