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.