Prairie Fires

Prairie Fires

The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Book - 2017
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The first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie books

Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls--the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains, and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser--the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series--masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder's biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder's tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.

The Little House books, for all the hardships they describe, are paeans to the pioneer spirit, portraying it as triumphant against all odds. But Wilder's real life was harder and grittier than that, a story of relentless struggle, rootlessness, and poverty. It was only in her sixties, after losing nearly everything in the Great Depression, that she turned to children's books, recasting her hardscrabble childhood as a celebratory vision of homesteading--and achieving fame and fortune inthe process, in one of the most astonishing rags-to-riches episodes in American letters.

Spanning nearly a century of epochal change, from the Indian Wars to the Dust Bowl, Wilder's dramatic life provides a unique perspective on American history and our national mythology of self-reliance. With fresh insights and new discoveries, Prairie Fires reveals the complex woman whose classic stories grip us to this day.

Publisher: New York : Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2017
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781627792769
Branch Call Number: 921 WIL
Characteristics: xii, 625 p., [16] p. of plates :,ill., map, ports. ;,25 cm


From the critics

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Apr 22, 2020

Although I must say I ran out of time and did not finish the book, I enjoyed most of what I read. I grew up a big fan of Laura's and still love each series from her family. Her books were from a child's point of view, very innocent even when describing the harsh living conditions of that time. This book filled me in on what the government was doing to influence each of their moves. I got background info on characters from her stories and found out that one of their good friends was Canadian. Always love it when photos are included throughout the book!

Dec 31, 2019

Last on page 174

Oct 21, 2018

Fraser provides the real story and the context of Wilder’s life and times. I read this as a study in the concept of manifest destiny I’ve been studying this year. I didn’t complete it past that discussion as I’d read 'Laura Ingalls Wilder Prairie Girl: The Annotated Autobiography,' edited by Pamela Smith-Hill, and I was covering similar ground. Author has strong opinions. Interesting, even when I didn’t agree.

Sep 22, 2018

I never read the Little House books, but I read Fraser’s biography of Mary Baker Eddy: God’s Perfect Child, and I thought this would be interesting. I was very impressed with the historical background Fraser provided, and her insightful study of grandmother, mother, and daughter and their complex relationships, as expressed in their books and their lives. I believe that nobody will need to write another biography of Laura.

Sep 07, 2018

I was disappointed as the book was more about the life of Rose Wilder than it was about her mother, Laura.

Jul 06, 2018

Lots of history most people don't have a clue about. Wish there would have been a family tree drawn up for Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her books were not all fiction. She only told the good parts. Life was hard and brutal back then. Would not have made a good read for children who could not comprehend life back then. This book was more about the dynamics between Rose Wilder and Laura Wilder. It could have been a lot shorter. As someone else commented this book would have been better served to readers in two volumes. One about Laura and her life. The other about Rose.

Jun 08, 2018

I'm happy other people liked it but I hated it.

The whole second half of the book was a back and forth between Lane's right wing nut job ideology and the author's left wing nut job dogma. Struck me as a microcosm of America today. Too bad Lane is not with us today. She and the author deserve to live together.

I only finished it because I grew up very close to Walnut Grove, MN.

Waste of time for me.

Just my opinion.

May 24, 2018

This tome (it has 85 pages of footnotes) requires a serious commitment by the reader. Fraser has written a comprehensive biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. She describes the creation process for the Little House books and makes a case that it took the talents and efforts of both women to create the iconic series. Fraser also explores the social context and history during the women's lifetimes and exploits the myth that a small farmer could ever make a living by hard work and self-reliance. The book ends with a very clear picture of the difficult and tortured relationship between Laura and Rose. If you prefer the version of pioneer life described in Wilder's book, this is probably not the tome for you.

May 05, 2018

I am glad I read this biography. It helped me understand Laura Ingalls Wilder and her motivation for writing. I was one of the thousands of little girls who wanted to grow up and be Laura. As I child I didn't understand why these books were in the Fiction section of the library.
But now that I know how the books relate to reality I am glad for the choices Laura (and Rose) made.

This book also contains biographical information on Rose Wilder Lane that is not easily available elsewhere. She would probably do better in this century with access to better healthcare.

I appreciated the references to authors contemporary to Laura. And, the effort to understand the societal conditions she as she grew up. It's hard to believe this work would receive the Pulitzer Prize if it was heavily biased or inaccurate.

Apr 04, 2018

A different biography than I’d expected. My interest in protagonist Laura Wilder was overpowered by her daughter Rose who was, like eye floaters, to dazzle and disturb.
Trying to shake off ridiculing the lady writers, I don’t feel cheated for being viscerally touched at certain points, my mind can focus on the landscape (nature, human, culture, economics, politics, literature) that the book masterfully paints.

Nevertheless it’s the most important (crushed my kaleidoscopic imagery of a romanticized pioneer life) and objective (journalism, political & economic movements involving many figures known and yet known to me) book I’ve read on frontiers lives.

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Jan 27, 2018

In the 1890s...”human caused climate change combined with natural weather patterns to wreak absolute havoc.”

Wo source citation. Because there is none. There is no scientific source to support human caused climate changes were occuring in 1890.

Dec 20, 2017

It is beyond all human power to tell all the facts....Facts are infinite in number. The truth is a meaning underlying them; you tell the truth by selecting the facts which illustrate it.

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