Could the '30s 'dust bowl' recur today?; The Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s, by Donald Worster. New York: Oxford University Press. 288 pp. $8.95.

Donald Worster says America's future prosperity depends on understanding the cultural assumptions that caused the nation's most severe ecological disaster.

For what many plains farmers call ''providence'' - not only the ''dirty thirties'' but also the much milder ''Dust Bowl III'' of the '70s - the author blames squarely the assumption that a farm, like a Burger King, should be run to maximize production and profits.

Worster fires a barrage of statistical information into his polished prose to trace inexorable cultural forces that forced a ''soil mining'' system onto a region where barren desert may be its most predictable long-term product. He says that the government has generally reinforced the factory-farm ethic, often subsidizing ever-larger doses of irrigation, fertilizers, and technology as topsoil disappears and land deteriorates. This is a radical, controversial view - as challenging as it is timely.

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