From Publishers Weekly
Egan tells an extraordinary tale in this visceral account of how America's great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the ferocious plains winds stirred up an endless series of "black blizzards" that were like a biblical plague: "Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains" in what became known as the Dust Bowl. But the plague was man-made, as Egan shows: the plains weren't suited to farming, and plowing up the grass to plant wheat, along with a confluence of economic disaster—the Depression—and natural disaster—eight years of drought—resulted in an ecological and human catastrophe that Egan details with stunning specificity. He grounds his tale in portraits of the people who settled the plains: hardy Americans and immigrants desperate for a piece of land to call their own and lured by the lies of promoters who said the ground was arable. Egan's interviews with survivors produce tales of courage and suffering: Hazel Lucas, for instance, dared to give birth in the midst of the blight only to see her baby die of "dust pneumonia" when her lungs clogged with the airborne dirt. With characters who seem to have sprung from a novel by Sinclair Lewis or Steinbeck, and Egan's powerful writing, this account will long remain in readers' minds. (Dec. 14)
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Following the fortunes of representative settlers of the southern Great Plains, Egan's narrative of the dust bowl during the Depression begins with the seeds of environmental disaster. The area was the last tract of the continental U.S. to be homesteaded, the last episode of open-land real-estate showmanship that enticed people to start over. "Settlement was a dare," writes Egan, a dare of plowing rain-sparse, blustery grassland. And briefly, around World War I's inflated grain prices, the dare paid off: towns materialized on the horizon, homesteaders such as Bam White moved in, cheered on by boosters like John McCarty, editor of the Dalhart Texan
. "Every man a landlord" was the slogan of the era, a banner of optimism that eroded into despair due to dust storms of relentlessly increasing ferocity. In vivid fashion, Egan reports on the grit, the drifts, and the figures bent against the gusts. All the elements of the iconic dust bowl photographs come together in the author's evocative portrait of those who first prospered and then suffered during the 1930s drought. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved