date started: 2.13.2014
date completed: 2.21.2014
thoughts:i've been obsessed with narrative non-fiction for many, many years, and this book has been on my shelf for far too long.
about the dust bowl in the 1930s, egan goes to great pain to paint a complete picture of the event without condemnation of those involved. moving between the stories of the lucas, white, osteen, borth, and hartwell families, and a few other primary figures, egan demonstrates just how afflicted various areas of the great plains were during this time. the book drips with dust--bringing the terror of the dusters to life.
he also focuses a good deal of time on hugh bennett and franklin roosevelt and their attempts to bring sanity back to the area.
what i found most thought provoking in this text is the realization by many scientists in 1938ish that the dust bowl was not a weather event but rather an entirely preventable environmental catastrophe caused by men. egan is able to draw this point out without condemning the nesters considered responsible. after all, they were lied to by developers and their own government (through the homestead act), encouraged to overproduce wheat, and had little to no knowledge of the environmental impact that tearing up the grass would have.
what is uplifting is that many of nesters who remained to the end eventually began heeding hugh bennett's soil conservation service's advice and practicing safer planting practices and reseeding the plains with drought tolerant grasses.
i must admit that i'm a bit obsessive when it comes to historical accounts, especially when they are so geographically close to me. i live just six hours by car from one of the main cities focused on in the book, dalhart, texas. after reading the text and researching the images referenced in it, i want to go to dalhart, boise city, and baca county just to see them...to stumble upon a row of trees roosevelt so desperately wanted planted that still stand, a monument to the foresight and understanding of one of our greatest presidents...to see grass green and growing in the ground...to know that, while it will never be the land that it was before the dust bowl, that it has recovered some and life continues to go on.
all in all, this was a deeply moving text for a reason i can't quite put my finger on. well done, mr. egan.
probable next read: red rising by pierce brown