One of the insights offered by Lookingbill is how the adversity of the great drought and desertification was used as material for art. Based on the themes of drought, economic despair, mass migrations, etc several important novels, paintings, country songs were produced. John Steinbeck’s great novel The Grapes of Wrath is a classic example that treated the effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl at great length. Likewise, country music of the time reflected the pathos of the rural Midwest of the 1930s. To Lookingbill’s credit he does survey and refer novels, plays, periodicals, newspapers, government releases, personal and official correspondences relating to the period and offers a coherent analysis.
Much as the subject matter is about a public policy and civil planning failure, Lookingbill does not forget to highlight the heroic aspect. For example, though the Dust Bowl wreaked havoc to the lives and livelihoods to a sizeable population, there are those who survived it through their ingenuity and industry. The book pays due homage to examples of brave people who came through the crisis stronger than before. This is evidence of the book’s patriotic and nationalist strand, although the book doesn’t expressly promote a particular political ideology.
In conclusion, the book has several merits and only a few demerits. The simple and clear prose makes it accessible to even readers of moderate language proficiency. More than being merely a straight forward presentation of facts, the book excels in showcasing an informed discourse on the environment. Concepts such as natural equilibrium and the systematic causes behind environmental disasters are sought with the help of scientific knowledge. The research is generally robust and thorough. There are hardly instances of the author passing off his opinions as fact. If there is any bias to be witnessed at all, it is in omission rather than commission. In other words, the choice of topics and their theses are contrived in some cases. Even the broadest thesis undertaken by the book – to relate the economic crisis with the ecological distress – is not satisfactorily supported by the weight of arguments. Barring this drawback, the book offers value as a compendium of historical facts. The fact that the Dust Bowl crisis was not given equal scholarly attention as the Great Depression justifies the necessity of Lookingbill’s work. It is a useful addition to the public libraries and universities in the country.
Lookingbill, Brad. Dust Bowl USA: Depression America & Ecological Imagination, 1929-1941. Published by Ohio University Press in 2001. ISBN 978-0-8214-1375-3.