The Strengths and Weaknesses of Donald Worster's ‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's'

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‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's' by Donald Worster gives a play back of the years in which The Great Plains—Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas—experienced devastating dust storms that effected the economy and many people’s lives. Worster, an American History Professor and child of those uprooted by the catastrophe called the Dust Bowl, gives his prospective on the causes of the disaster. Worster argues that the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl revealed fundamental weaknesses, one economically and the other ecologically, of society. He claims capitalism and the inappropriate interference with the environment allowed for the storms to happen (5). Although ‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's' has some weaknesses along with many strengths, it is pretty effective in supporting the idea that consumer America can have an effect on the environment, however it fails to provide strong evidence to support his argument.

‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's' includes research and also interviews with people that lived through the Dust Bowl. The book is split into five sections. Each of the five sections discusses a different aspect of the Dust Bowl. The first two sections, “A Darkling Plain” and “Prelude to Dust,” describe the displacement of many residents due to the drought and abusive agricultural practices. In sections three and four, “Cimarron County, Oklahoma” and “Haskell County, Kansas,” readers get firsthand accounts of the phenomenon when Worster gives interviews he had with survivors where they tell their story. The last section, “A New Deal for the Land,” discusses the relief programs that attempted to help, along with efforts of federal conservationists to create better dry land farming practices. One theme given in this book is the idea of human responsibility. Throughout the book, he provides details that humans were the cause of the Dust Bowl. He wants the reader to think about how human actions can effect the environment.

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One strength the book contains to support Worster’s argument is he provides a clear link between capitalism, the exploitation of the land and the Dust Bowl. Worster explains that in the Great Plains, capitalism is a complex economic culture. One maxim he gave was that nature must be seen as capital. Nature is “a set of economic assets that can become a source of profit or advantage, a means to make more wealth” (6). Because nature is seen as a way to make money, capitalists exploited the land in order to gain wealth. All of the exploitation of the land caused the Dust Bowl to occur.

A second strength in the book is that Worster uses many primary sources. The use of primary sources enables the reader to get a better sense of what exactly was happening at the time of the event. When Worster uses primary sources, such as photographs and interviews from people who lived during the time, his claim becomes stronger because the reader has a direct view into what he is arguing about. Photographs in the book show people farming and ruining the land, this provides evidence to support his claim that inappropriate interference with the land led to the Dust Bowl. The interviews he included in the chapters gave the reader a first hand account of what was happening and how it was affecting the area.

One weakness the book contains in supporting Worster’s argument is he often does not support what he says with objective evidence. For example, when Worster claims that capitalism caused the Dust Bowl, he does not provide an alternative that would have prevented it. The claim is subjective and could have been stronger if evidence was given that, for example, a socialist society instead of a capitalist society would have prevented the Dust Bowl. Although he does give examples that capitalism was a factor that lead to the Dust Bowl, by adding an alternative, the claim that capitalism caused the Dust Bowl could possibly be stronger. Another example of him not giving strong enough evidence is in an example he gave. He gave an example of the Plains Indians, who were another civilization that survived in the same area without destroying the environment. They did this by not wasting any resources, becoming another predator, and “they carefully kept their numbers down to what the ecological community could support” (77). Although this is a great example, he does not provide direct evidence that this was a choice rather than being due to starvation, migration, or other non-controllable reasons.

Overall, ‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's' was effective at supporting Donald Worster’s argument that capitalism and the abuse of the land caused the Dust Bowl to occur. Although the book supported his argument, the use of stronger evidence could have enhanced the effectiveness.

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The Strengths and Weaknesses of Donald Worster’s ‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930’s’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
“The Strengths and Weaknesses of Donald Worster’s ‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930’s’.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
The Strengths and Weaknesses of Donald Worster’s ‘Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930’s’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
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