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Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's (Galaxy Books) [Paperback]

Donald Worster
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s 3.7 out of 5 stars (3)
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Book Description

3 Mar 1983 0195032128 978-0195032123 Reprint
In the mid 1930s, North America's Great Plains faced one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in world history. Donald Worster's classic chronicle of the devastating years between 1929 and 1939 tells the story of the Dust Bowl in ecological as well as human terms. Now, twenty-five years after his book helped to define the new field of environmental history, Worster shares his more recent thoughts on the subject of the land and how humans interact with it. In a new afterword, he links the Dust Bowl to current political, economic and ecological issues--including the American livestock industry's exploitation of the Great Plains, and the on-going problem of desertification, which has now become a global phenomenon. He reflects on the state of the plains today and the threat of a new dustbowl. He outlines some solutions that have been proposed, such as "the Buffalo Commons," where deer, antelope, bison and elk would once more roam freely, and suggests that we may yet witness a Great Plains where native flora and fauna flourish while applied ecologists show farmers how to raise food on land modeled after the natural prairies that once existed.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc; Reprint edition (3 Mar 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195032128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195032123
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 16.3 x 1.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,558,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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"Worster's book is the first to pinpoint the results of the mechanization and defiance of nature, and the sources of such practices. Definitely the best introduction to understanding the cultural sources of modern environmental crises."--A.R. Vasavi, Tufts University
"Over ten years old, in a field that is rapidly growing and changing and still the best environmental history of 20th century agriculture!"--Mart Stuart, Oregon State Univ.
"An exciting, provocative, and stimulating study....It has much to say to historians, environmentalists, and public policy makers."-- American Historical Review
"Superb social history....A gracefully written and fascinating book."--History: Reviews of New Books
"Well-written and students respond to it well."--Gilbert W. Gillespie, Cornell University

About the Author

Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas and the author of A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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ginia to Missouri and Arkansas, marked the hardest hit area of wilting crops, shrinking ground-water supplies, and uncertain income. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and insightful 5 April 2005
By Karic31
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A different approach to traditional US history, whilst taking into account the determined and rugged outlook of the southerners and the freak geological conditions of the period, Worster concludes that it was American culture itself that led to the land being over exploited and resulting in the Dust Bowl.
Graphic and humorous accounts punctuate an excellent analysis of the factors surrounding the Dust Bowl. Whilst his conclusions will no doubt be controversial, especially in America itself (the book opens with a quote from Marx) it is a valuable and powerful contribution to North American environmental history.
It is a pleasure to read to boot. Well worth a look.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent History, Excellent Reading 4 Jun 1999
By A Customer
This remains one of my favorite history monographs. Worster's argument is that the ecological disaster of the dust bowl had its roots in the economic, political, and environmental assumptions of farmers and politicians. These are not the sturdy frontier farmers who love their land and democracy, more akin to miners of the soil who push it far beyond its limits.
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0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars it sucked!!! 11 Feb 1999
By A Customer
It had totally false and misleading information,and from what i could tell it had been plagorized.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book about the Dust Bowl 16 Oct 2007
By Mike Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Looking at the cover, this book seems as if it's going to be something really academic--and it is scholarly and knowledgeable--but it's never academic in the bad sense, in the boring sense.

I read this right after reading Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time," and found this book's descriptions of the devastation caused by the 1930s Dust Bowl to be much more vivid and gripping, this book's facts to be much quirkier and more interesting, and this book's scope to feel much broader and more widely felt. With "The Worst Hard Time," I got the idea that the whole thing really only affected a handful of counties, which I knew was wrong, but with this book there was no denying just how epic the whole ordeal was.

I loved this book (despite its author's amusing tendency to quote Marx) and consider it to be perhaps the very best book I've read about the Dust Bowl--and I've read a few of them. You should read it, for sure.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most essential book for these times 12 July 2002
By Jerald R Lovell - Published on Amazon.com
As most persons are aware, these are times of climatic change, with the West becoming warmer and drier. These changes are episodic, but mankind's response to them is not so predictable. Professor Worster's excellent coverage of the Dust Bowl, one of the greatest agricultural and ecological calamities in history, shows that, with a little foresight and honest recognition of the limitations of technology, much of the harm caused by shifting climate can be prevented. In that respect, it is a hopeful text.
Professor Worster, however, views history from a Marxist standpoint, a trait that colors some of his conclusions. While I agree with him that land is frequently viewed by the shortsighted as a commodity to be used and discarded, I feel that the lessons of the Dust Bowl have resulted in safer, drought-resistant patterns of crop farming. However, as Worster adroitly points out, the shifting in agricultural practices in the Southern plains is accompanied by a wasteful use of available underground water, raising a peril of the Dust Bowl's return. So have we really learned anything? Time will tell, and not very long from now.
So far as Professor Worster addresses the socio-economic causes of the reckless destruction of the short-grass prairie ecosystem for quick profit, his discussion is masterful His organization of topics and chronology is excellent, and the reader will not soon forget the horror of living with the dust. The photos of dust storms and their effect are almost nightmarish.
Regardless of one's irritation at the myopia of those who try to farm mrginal land, his is a sympathetic portrait as well, waxing almost lyrical in his discussions of the effects of crop failures on the local populace. The book is copiously reserched and peopled with personal anecdotes of those who lived through the "Dirty Thirties". This narrative includes not only the local citizenry, but contains numerous passages about governmental attempts to allay the crisis.
I recommend this book very highly. I think anyone who likes history, who is concerned about the effects of climatic change, or both, ought to read this book very carefully. It should be an essential part of anyone's library.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family from Center of Dust Bowl 24 Feb 2000
By Randy Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Our family has farmed in the panhandle of Oklahoma for almost 100 years. We still farm there, and in Texhoma (North Texas) both in the center of the dust bowl. My mother grew up there and was always telling us how severe it was and we (as her children) didn't really believe that it could be as bad as she said. However, since that time, we have reviewed the book, and seen a video of actual motion pictures of that period, - in the very area that was the subject of the book. Everything we have seen, and heard from all of our relatives who lived there at this time appear to be in total agreement with the book.
We still farm there and it seems that the cyclical weathern pattern could be developing for a reoccurance of the same pattern, especially since the water table used for irrigation (so important in that part of the U.S., is decreasing yearly. Randy Miller
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting history and ideas in a very dry context 12 April 2007
By J. Green - Published on Amazon.com
In the midst of the Great Depression in the 1930's, the Great Plains states faced the additional hardship of one of the worst environmental disasters commonly known as the Dust Bowl. Traditionally grassland, the area was not well-suited to the kind of extensive farming that preceeded those years. And once the natural grass which held the soil together was gone and the regular cycle of drought hit, there was nothing to stop the wind from blowing it across the land or into huge dust storms that raged for weeks on end. History usually focuses only on the social and economic effects of the Dust Bowl, but Worster adds the environment into the mix and seeks to find the root cause of this man-made disaster. He opens with a quote from Karl Marx, and although he dismisses that in his newly added Afterword as mere bravado, it seems apparent throughout his writting that he's a Marxist in his beliefs. He places the blame on American culture and Capitalism - not on the people, but the culture that encourages and drives them to create bigger farms and use machinery that more effectively tills the land. He argues that inherent to American culture is this behavior of exploiting the land for profit and only through government intervention and control can we avoid this kind of disaster in the future.

I can agree that the greed of Capitalism is laid bare in this disaster and that the land is probably not suitable to the kind of exessive use that happens there. But I'm not convinced that his Socialist suggestions (which unfortunately are not offered in a very concise or summarized way) are the answer. He seems to dismiss and ignore the inherent problems in Socialism and it's failure to provide for the people under it's rule. Capitalism may not be perfect, but it taps into mankind's natural desire to better one's position through individual efforts, while Socialism in theory recognizes the brotherhood of mankind but fails to provide for even the basic needs of the people (even the author recognizes it is this Capitalist economy that provides food for most of the world). And his suggestions for population control or that the people in that area should go back to bare subsistence farming seems far-fetched. But at least the author is exploring new ideas (or probably just regurgitating old ones from the 60's and 70's), and for that I give him credit.

But while I found many aspects of the book interesting and insightful, overall it's pretty dry reading (pun intended). The statistics become a bit boring and make the book feel excessively academic. The lectures against the evils of American culture were tiresome, and I felt he had a very condescending attitude when discussing the people affected. And I would have enjoyed a better discussion on the natural ecology of the land and it's native plants and animals, which I think would have been more inspiring. But on a personal aside, the one thing that made me realize how boring the book was becoming for me was when I kept losing my place (I'd forget to put the bookmark back where I left off). But when I picked it up again I would read for several pages before I realized that wasn't actually where I left off before. It was like it didn't matter where I read - it all kinda flowed together.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Effective Environmental History 16 April 2002
By Z. Weir - Published on Amazon.com
In the book "Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's," Worster examines the reasons for and the ideological background behind the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. The author focuses his discussion around the devastation of the Southern Plains, as he presents his argument about the impact of American culture on both the ecological destruction of the land and the desolation of the people who depended on the land for their livelihood. The body of the work focuses on the multifaceted and sometimes diametrically opposed economic and ethical/ecological interests of the country during the Dust Bowl, which Worster brings into an examination of the pervasive capitalist mentality of early 20th century American culture. The author believes the root of Americans' misuse and destruction of the Southern Plains serves as just another example of irresponsibility in the means to obtain the end desire of capitalistic pursuits.
Donald Worster argues that a close link existed between the Dust Bowl and the capitalist mentality of American society during the early 20th century, as American zeal for wealth and expansion wrought devastating affects on both the land and its people.
In his treatise of the Dust Bowl, Worster focuses on the mindset of American culture both before and during the 1930's. Worster believes that before the Dust Bowl and the years immediately preceding it, the area of the Southern Plains enjoyed relative ecological stability as neither the Indians, nor the primary white farmers following them viewed their environment and land as expendable resources or commodities. However, as the Jeffersonian ideals of agrarian harmony with nature gave way to the destructive and selfish capitalist ideology, the Southern Plains became the victim of economic ambition. Subsistence farming no longer existed in the Southern Plains at the time of the Dust Bowl. Rather, Worster describes an area dominated by massive amounts of machinery, fewer farm laborers, and a construct known as the factory farm based on city assembly lines, business principles, and exploitative ends. As the ill-effects of factory farming came together with a period of significant drought, the resulting dust storms generated not only a environmentally destructive force, but also became a symbol of the filth and disparity of the capitalistic pursuits of American society, a symbol that would leave Americans searching for both a solution and a way to prevent such an incident from occurring again.
Worster describes the delicate ecological reality of the Southern Plains in great detail as he presents the scientific basis necessary to further support his claim of unhindered misuse of the lands by American commercial farming. The author presents the Southern Plains as an untainted grassland community, which remained largely in tact due before the period of great settlement and farming in the area. Worster shows that the commercial farming techniques during the early 20th century stripped the land of not only its productiveness, but also its ability to achieve an organic equilibrium in nature. Due to both governmental and personal economic motivations, American farmers felt compelled to plow, plant, and exploit every free tract across the Southern Plains, a trend only intensified by the importance placed on the American farmer during the period immediately following the onset on the Great Depression. Due to the impeding pressures of capitalism, the plowing of the majority of the land and focusing on planting and increasing production of only a select few cash crops resulted in a great loss in biodiversity in the ecosystem of the Southern Plains. This ecological imbalance would reap widespread devastation in the manifestation of not only the dust storms of the period, but also in the displacement of many who depended upon the land for their livelihood.
In the midst of the Dust Bowl, Worster presents the popularly held and supported proposals for solutions to the problem facing the Southern Plains. Worster provides examples such as the formation of the National Land Use Planning Committee and the conservatism of Roosevelt's New Deal to show the government's efforts to offset the devastation of the Dust Bowl and preventing the recurrence of another such disaster in the future. The author shows that, though the ideas of such prevention and regulation constituted seemingly positive ventures, these strategies proved relatively ineffective in drastically changing farming practice or preventing another such event to occur in the future. Worster presents historical information that exemplifies the attitudes associated with the expansionary, free enterprise oriented, capitalistic American culture, which actively participated in the destruction and exploitation of nature to satiate its ever-growing greed.
In Dust Bowl, Worster presents a well-developed and clear argument for his advocacy of American culture's inseparable tie to capitalism and its affect in the ecological devastation of the Southern Plains. The book not only contains a great deal of specific information, but also artfully ties the Dust Bowl into many underlying themes present in early 20th century America. The book supplements one's understanding of the time periods both before and after the Great Depression and provides insight into the affects of the nation's fallen economy on rural America.
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