The Worst Hard Time

KU Common Book will promote community and academic engagement through discussions of a common reading experience among faculty, staff, and students. By participating in the program, you will enhance the skills and abilities that are central to success at KU and beyond, particularly examining others’ viewpoints and thinking critically. KU Common Book will also enable you to challenge and test your assumptions while giving you multiple frameworks to see and understand the world.

The Worst Hard Time

The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since.

Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times).

In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, “The Worst Hard Time” is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature.(Material provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Tim Egan Campus Visit

Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of six books, most recently “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America,” a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the Washington State Book Award. His previous books include “The Worst Hard Time,” which won a National Book Award and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice. He is an online op-ed columnist for the New York Times, writing his "Opinionator" feature once a week. He is a third-generation Westerner and lives in Seattle. (Material provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Notes from the Selection Committee

The Common Book Selection Committee chose Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl” as the 2013-14 Common Book for the University of Kansas. “The Worst Hard Time” was chosen because it is intellectually stimulating, lends itself to a variety of programming opportunities, has potential for classroom use within many departments and disciplines, and because it has a direct link with the people of Kansas.

The Dust Bowl years of the 1930s saw one of the nation’s first large-scale ecological disasters: widespread erosion of prairie soils, followed by lethal dust storms and economic collapse. The Dust Bowl was caused by a combination of natural events and human activities including years of severe drought coupled with farming practices unsuited to the prairie ecosystems. Although the Dust Bowl was centered in the plains states, its repercussions were felt across the nation, from storms that dropped tons of soil on eastern cities, to the large wave of immigrants from the Dust Bowl States to California.  

John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” told the story of the people who fled the effects of the Dust Bowl for California. “The Worst Hard Time” tells the stories of the people who stayed, the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of people living in Kansas today. Egan follows the lives of real individuals—Native Americans, Hispanic ranchers, homesteaders, Volga German immigrants—in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. Egan challenges readers to think critically about the causes of the Dust Bowl, individual and national responses, and the modern legacy of this era.

The Worst Hard Time” mixes historical records with first-hand accounts from this period. Some readers will recognize their own family’s roots in Kansas, while others will gain a better understanding of the history, landscape, and people of their adopted state.