Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dust Bowl tale ‘The Worst Hard Time’ chosen as KU’s next Common Book

December 12, 2012, 5:49 p.m. Updated December 12, 2012, 5:56 p.m.


Kansas University's second-ever "Common Book" will be an account of families who lived through the Dust Bowl by a Pulitzer Prize-winning news reporter.

KU announced Wednesday that its Common Book for 2013-14 will be "The Worst Hard Time," by New York Times reporter Timothy Egan.

The book will be distributed to all incoming freshmen during orientation next summer, and they'll be urged to read it before classes start in August. Programs incorporating the book will take place next fall, including a visit from Egan, a New York Times reporter.

Egan served along with recently retired KU historian Donald Worster as an adviser on the Ken Burns "Dust Bowl" documentary that aired recently on PBS.

KU and Egan have not yet been able to nail down a date for his visit, but it will likely take place in mid-September, said Christina Kerns, who coordinates the Common Book and other programs for KU's new Office of First-Year Experience.

The program is part of KU's efforts to connect and involve freshmen and improve retention rates.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a release that Egan's book was appropriate for several reasons, as Kansas was obviously struck hard by the Dust Bowl, and environmental issues are still prominent here today.

"The Worst Hard Time" was chosen by a committee from a pool of 125 nominations at the same time as KU's first Common Book, "Notes from No Man's Land" by Eula Biss, which was picked for this school year.

That early selection should allow more time for instructors to incorporate next year's book into their courses. Kerns said the book could be applicable to a number of different subjects, including sciences, history, policy and more.

"I think this next book has a lot of different angles," she said.

Kerns, who worked on common-book programs at two other schools previously, said she had been "pleasantly surprised" at the program's success during its first year this fall.

A survey showed that about 42 percent of incoming freshmen and first-year transfer students had used "Notes from No Man's Land" in at least one class. That was a surprise, Kerns said, as the book was not announced until April, giving instructors only a few months to add it into their lesson plans.

But this year's earlier announcement should allow for more integration, she said.

"It helps us grow the program if students can see academic tie-ins," Kerns said.

KU also announced that it's now accepting nominations for the 2014-15 Common Book from students, faculty and staff. They can submit nominations at

Nominations will be accepted until the end of January, Kerns said, and the announcement of the 2014-15 book should come at this time next year.


Joe Hyde 5 years, 5 months ago

Excellent choice. "The Worst Hard Time" is a great book that details horrific conditions that many Kansans had to cope with.

I hope one of these years the Common Book pick will be: "1491 -- New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus".

hujiko 5 years, 5 months ago

There is a course specifically covering 1491 in the Geography Department taught by Prof. Bill Woods - who is often cited by Charles Mann. Check out 1493 if you haven't already, fascinating stuff really.

riverdrifter 5 years, 5 months ago

Great choice. It's one of the best books I've ever read.

insidR 5 years, 5 months ago

Agree with riverdrifter. Great book. I had no real understanding of what some of our parents and grandparents lived through and managed to overcome. Read this and you'll realize most of our problems today pale by comparison.

tomatogrower 5 years, 5 months ago

I hope Egan speaks, and for the general public too. Very good book.

KU_FYE 5 years, 5 months ago

@Antonym and @tomatogrower - We are excited about you interest in the author visit. His presentation will be open to the public. Please look for an event announcement mid-spring. You will also see an increased level of programming throughout the community. We would love to have you involved. Please email if you have any questions.

bd 5 years, 5 months ago

Saw the show on PBS, should be shown to all Kansas school children, it was an eye opener!

verity 5 years, 5 months ago

Haven't read the book yet, but saw the Ken Burns series. What is going to happen when the Ogallala Aquifer runs out?

"He who learns from history has to stand by and watch those who didn't."

(from a source)

verity 5 years, 5 months ago

The settlers who originally broke up the prairie didn't know any better. We are using better conservation practices now, but nothing can stop the damage a severe drought will do and the Ogallala will run out, probably sooner rather than later.

While it will cause a great disIocation for farmers in western Kansas to quit irrigating, eventually they will be forced to. I really question the value of using the aquifer for irrigation at a much faster rate than it can replenished.

We will be remembered as the generation who didn't learn from the past and chose to close our eyes to the future.

notaubermime 5 years, 5 months ago

You cannot look at the aquifer as a single monolithic entity, so asking when the aquifer will run out is a question with no answer. Some reasons might fall below the level needed to sustain some forms of commercial agriculture in the next few decades, but some areas have higher water levels than when records were first kept. It mainly depends on what the land use is, how water-demanding the crops are (corn demands more water than wheat, for instance), what methods are used to irrigate, and the rate of recharge.

The Kansas Geological Survey does a good job of monitoring the system and is a good place to learn more about the subject:

blindrabbit 5 years, 5 months ago

Need to get Ken Burns, Donald Worster and Egan on campus together for a KU "Alf Landon" styled "Dust Bowl" symposium.

riverdrifter 5 years, 5 months ago

Good idea. That would be a don't-miss deal.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 5 months ago

The state legislature should be required to read this book. Economically and politically, we are setting ourselves up for another dust bowl.

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