Prairie Fires
The first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie book seriesMillions 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 story of her life has never been fully told. The Little House books were not only fictionalized but brilliantly edited, a profound act of myth-making and self-transformation. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser--the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House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, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books and uncovering the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life.Set against nearly a century of epochal change, from the Homestead Act and the Indian Wars to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Wilder's dramatic life provides a unique perspective on American history and our national mythology of self-reliance. Settling on the frontier amidst land-rush speculation, Wilder's family encountered Biblical tribulations of locusts and drought, fire and ruin. Deep in debt after a series of personal tragedies, including the loss of a child and her husband's stroke, Wilder uprooted herself again, crisscrossing the country and turning to menial work to support her family. In middle age, she began writing a farm advice column, prodded by her self-taught journalist daughter. And at the age of sixty, after losing nearly everything in the Depression, she turned to children's books, recasting her hardscrabble childhood as a triumphal vision of homesteading--and achieving fame and fortune in the process, in one of the most astonishing rags-to-riches stories in American letters.Offering fresh insight and new discoveries about Wilder's life and times, Prairie Fires reveals the complex woman who defined the American pioneer character, and whose artful blend of fact and fiction grips us to this day.

Prairie Fires Details

TitlePrairie Fires
Author
ReleaseNov 14th, 2017
PublisherMetropolitan Books
ISBN-139781627792769
Rating
GenreBiography, History, Nonfiction, Writing, Books About Books, Historical, North American Hi..., American History, Autobiography, Memoir, Biography Memoir

Prairie Fires Review

  • Beth Cato
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.When I visited Laura Ingalls Wilder's farmhouse and museum in Mansfield, Missouri, last year, it felt like a pilgrimage to me. Seeing Pa's fiddle, walking where Laura walked, was a soul-deep experience for me. Her Little House books had a major impact on my life and making me the author I am today.I have read several biographies of Wilder over the past two years, including the annotated version of her original, truer-to-life m I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.When I visited Laura Ingalls Wilder's farmhouse and museum in Mansfield, Missouri, last year, it felt like a pilgrimage to me. Seeing Pa's fiddle, walking where Laura walked, was a soul-deep experience for me. Her Little House books had a major impact on my life and making me the author I am today.I have read several biographies of Wilder over the past two years, including the annotated version of her original, truer-to-life manuscript, Pioneer Girl. Fraser's work is the most comprehensive book by far, encompassing the lives of Laura's parents and extending after her death to the actions of her daughter and the evolution of her literary estate. The amount of research involved is staggering. It's well known that the Little House books deviated from reality in major ways, and that Rose Wilder Lane was a major collaborative force in bringing the "juveniles" to publication. Sorting through the muddled mess of half-truths could be confusing, but Fraser lays out the facts through primary source materials, manuscripts and letters. The book is quite long; the galley is over 500 pages, plus citations, but it's a fast, intriguing read for people like me who are already invested in Wilder's world. The only challenge in the book is not the author's fault at all, but the dominating, bipolar presence of Rose Wilder Lane. She cannot be separated from her mother's legacy; she had too great a role in developing the books, and her influence on her mother is undeniable. But my gosh, Lane is exhausting to read about. She was mentally ill, vacillating between suicidal depression and manic spending sprees, and as she grew older her extreme politics took on a sinister bent. If she were alive today, she would be an alt right troll on Twitter.Fraser doesn't shy away from showing how Lane's politics--and Wilder's--evolved through the ends of their lives. It's not a pretty truth; actually, it's rather infuriating to see how Wilder's celebration of the can-do American farming experience was so far from reality. Her family was persistently poor. They settled on Kansas land they had no right to. They slipped out of Burr Oak, Iowa, in the dead of night to evade debt. Wilder's sisters and mother died, still utterly stricken by poverty. Wilder was only secure at the end because of her book sales, as her Missouri farm had always hovered at the edge of failure, too, intermittently blessed and damned by Lane's financial whims. While this book will be enlightening for anyone who loves Wilder's work, it should be regarded as a vital read for anyone with an interest in American history from 1860 onward. It presents on honest, brutal assessment of what Native Americans endured in Minnesota and beyond, the realities of farming, the interplay of politics on local and national levels, and how the west was settled--and unsettled in our modern era of oil pipelines and fracking.
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    My father was a young man when the Depression hit, in 1929. And although the line of work he was in, first building movie stars home, and then working for the studios building sets, did not suffer, the rest of his family did. He was, if not the sole supporter of his family, of his four, then three brothers, and parents, he was at least the main breadwinner. This effected him for the rest of his life. He knew how to pinch pennies like it was no ones business. Although he ended up building a house My father was a young man when the Depression hit, in 1929. And although the line of work he was in, first building movie stars home, and then working for the studios building sets, did not suffer, the rest of his family did. He was, if not the sole supporter of his family, of his four, then three brothers, and parents, he was at least the main breadwinner. This effected him for the rest of his life. He knew how to pinch pennies like it was no ones business. Although he ended up building a house for the family he had later, in a posh area of L.A., he would still shift through trash cans to find recycling material, on trash day, before recycling was a big thing.Laura Ingalls Wilder survived not one, not two, but three depressions. We, as a collective we, remember the one in 1929, because our grandparents, and parents remember it. But few today remember the ones that happened in the late 1800s.Laura did, and she, like my father, knew that there might, and would be another one around the corner, and so stayed as thrifty as she could be, even when her farms in the Ozarks was doing well, and she was relatively comfortable. And, because she had survived, she figured that others could do the same, without government help.I bring this last point up, because this is a major theme going through this very weighty tome about Laura's life. The second major theme, that is hammered home, is that the homestead act was a disaster, and caused the Dust Bowl. And because the Homestead act was help from the government, Laura was a hypocrite in later life.You may think you know about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, because you have read all the Little House books, as I have. You may think, well, I have also read the ones that came out after her death, such as On the Way home (her leaving the Dakotas for the Ozarks), West from Home (about her trip to San Francisco to hang out with her daughter Rose), or even Little house in the Ozarks the collection of her columns she was writing for the newspapers, before she wrote the little house books. Yes, I too have read those as well, and yet, much of Prairie Fires covers even more than that. It brings in the history of what was really going on, when her stories were supposed to have taken place, as well as the history of what happened after she left the Dakotas, until, in the height of the depression, she started writing about her life, to bring in a little more money.Have you ever wondered why The First Four Years is so very, very different from all her other books? This book answers that question. It also explains how the books are really out of order, how Little House on the Prairie should have come first, then Little House in the Big Woods.And although I love her books, and probably always will, it is amazing to see how she and Rose, her daughter, changed the narrative, so that everything was built on self-reliance, that no one ever needed a hand out if they all stuck together, and by gum, you could have a farm, and make a living, and it was all good, despite that not being how it ended up.Warning, this is a long, and weighty book, filled with footnotes, and citations, and a boat-load of research. Highly recommend it to all of those of us who grew up on these stories. Everyone should add this book to their collection. Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
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  • Naberius
    January 1, 1970
    This book, written by the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books, is a thoroughly researched biography of not only Laura Ingalls Wilder, but of her daughter, Rose. Using unpublished manuscripts, letters, financial records and more, Caroline Fraser gives fresh insight into the life of a woman beloved to many, and whose life everyone has known about through the Little House books. I found this book to be fascinating. I had recently re-read the Little House series, surpr This book, written by the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books, is a thoroughly researched biography of not only Laura Ingalls Wilder, but of her daughter, Rose. Using unpublished manuscripts, letters, financial records and more, Caroline Fraser gives fresh insight into the life of a woman beloved to many, and whose life everyone has known about through the Little House books. I found this book to be fascinating. I had recently re-read the Little House series, surprised that I found it on the shelves in the Fiction section. Now, after reading this book, I understand why the books were shelved in fiction because they aren't true nonfiction, but are more like historical fiction, based on true events and people, but not purely factual. I really appreciated that the author did so much intensive research because while this book is very readable (i.e. not dry at all), there's a lot of information here. I liked that in addition to telling the story of Laura and her family, the author added a lot of historical information, so that you can put things into context when you're reading.I found I was surprised by a lot of things, as well. I was aware that there was some speculation about Laura's daughter, Rose, really writing the Little House books, but I didn't know any more than that. After reading this, I have a much better understanding of their mother-daughter relationship and really learned quite a bit about Rose. No spoiler about how much influence Rose had on the Little House books. But a spoiler of a different sort --- Rose is not a great person. I was surprised by how awful she was in real life. I suppose it's easier to imagine that these people are just like in the stories, but in a way, I found the real stories of them to make them much more compelling. Laura's books sometimes tell of how gritty her life was a child, but reading this book and understanding more about that period in time in the United States gave me more of an appreciation for her parents and how they kept their family together (and alive). Definitely a fascinating read, and one that I plan on reading again --- maybe the next time I re-read the Little House series. Great book!
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  • Robin
    January 1, 1970
    Fraser has done exhaustive research into the life and times of Laura, husband Almanzo, daughter Rose, and other figures that were involved in their lives, which has resulted in the most complete and unvarnished biography of LIW ever published. Also included are 80+ pages of extensive footnotes of books, unpublished documents, letters, and more, which are almost as interesting as the main text. As a huge fan of anything Laura Ingalls Wilder, I was totally absorbed, and while I was fascinated by t Fraser has done exhaustive research into the life and times of Laura, husband Almanzo, daughter Rose, and other figures that were involved in their lives, which has resulted in the most complete and unvarnished biography of LIW ever published. Also included are 80+ pages of extensive footnotes of books, unpublished documents, letters, and more, which are almost as interesting as the main text. As a huge fan of anything Laura Ingalls Wilder, I was totally absorbed, and while I was fascinated by the actual life and events of Laura's life, I felt a little sad about her and Rose's contentious relationship, and, frankly, how unlikable and disagreeable Rose turned out to be. And the final resolution of what happened to Laura's property and royalties was heartbreaking. Someone asked me if this would be interesting to anyone who hadn't read the Little House books and I'm not sure but I would say knowing the books would definitely enhance reading this comprehensive biography. A good book to have by your side while reading this is the newly released The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books by Marta McDowell. Thanks to Macmillan publishers for the advance reading copy.
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  • Erin Cataldi
    January 1, 1970
    I was initially intimidated by the sheer size of this book, but I needn't have worried because it's fast paced and fascinating. Like most kids I grew up reading and LOVING the Little House book series. It filled my imagination and I found myself returning to the series again and again. The detail, rich illustrations, simple storytelling, and perseverance has lasting impressions on millions of readers. Many sequels, spin offs, biographies, and histories have been written by the Little House estat I was initially intimidated by the sheer size of this book, but I needn't have worried because it's fast paced and fascinating. Like most kids I grew up reading and LOVING the Little House book series. It filled my imagination and I found myself returning to the series again and again. The detail, rich illustrations, simple storytelling, and perseverance has lasting impressions on millions of readers. Many sequels, spin offs, biographies, and histories have been written by the Little House estate but this may be considered one of the greatest. Author, Caroline Fraser does a masterful job of weaving together the true portrait of the Ingalls-Wilder family though the woods, prairies, and shores and readers will be shocked to learn all that was omitted and/or changed. It get's really fascinating as Laura gets older and Rose enters the picture. Learning about their political beliefs, financial hardships, and Rose's brazenness was darkly fascinating. Especially interesting was how the books were written in the sunset of Laura's career and at her daughter's urging and editing. None of these insights make me think any less of the original series but it helps shed some light on this dynamic and interesting family and makes me appreciate it more. A WONDERFUL non-fiction read for all.
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  • Jennifer Pino
    January 1, 1970
    Y'all Rose Wilder Lane was THE WORST.
  • Linda
    January 1, 1970
    This is an excellent biography of a dearly loved children's author, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Well documented and detailed, Caroline Fraser has filled in gaps that other biographies and books about Wilder have not covered. One question that Fraser answered was what was Pa doing during the Civil War. Charles and Caroline Ingalls were married in 1860 and Mary was not born until 1865 and I had wondered if Charles had fought in the War. The short answer is that he didn't but what he actually did is unce This is an excellent biography of a dearly loved children's author, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Well documented and detailed, Caroline Fraser has filled in gaps that other biographies and books about Wilder have not covered. One question that Fraser answered was what was Pa doing during the Civil War. Charles and Caroline Ingalls were married in 1860 and Mary was not born until 1865 and I had wondered if Charles had fought in the War. The short answer is that he didn't but what he actually did is uncertain. An excellent point that Fraser made was that the paper trail on poor people is much less than those who are better off and just like the rest of his life, Charles Ingalls was never well off. The birth of his second daughter Laura in 1867 starts a life that was filled with ups and many downs and covered much of the time period of pioneer westward expansion. As Fraser details the truth behind the stories covered in Wilder's fictional children's series, you can see how Laura Wilder and also her daughter Rose changed and edited the story. It was only when I read the annotated Pioneer Girl that I realized that Rose Wilder Lane and her mother were dedicated Libertarians, believing that the government had no place in American lives (while conveniently forgetting the help that the Ingalls and Wilders had received). The notion of the individual American who depended on no one but himself became a major theme in their writing. Laura and Almanzo Wilder come across as hard working people with individual flaws who, on the whole, made a good life for themselves. Their only child, Rose Wilder Lane, comes across as a deeply troubled individual who became more bizarre as she aged. For all the former children who have loved the Little House books, this wonderful biography gives you a chance to not only find out, 'what happened next?' in Laura and Almanzo's lives but what actually happened.
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  • Kim McGee
    January 1, 1970
    Laura Ingalls Wilder amazed and delighted generations of children and adults with stories of her childhood. Caroline Fraser gives us a comprehensive look not only at her life but what was really going on in the world around her. She takes us from the beginning in Minnesota to the prairie and from the easy times, which there weren't many of, to grasshoppers, fires, crops going under and Pa's big dreams. Laura had to work at an early age especially after Mary went blind and was the family's major Laura Ingalls Wilder amazed and delighted generations of children and adults with stories of her childhood. Caroline Fraser gives us a comprehensive look not only at her life but what was really going on in the world around her. She takes us from the beginning in Minnesota to the prairie and from the easy times, which there weren't many of, to grasshoppers, fires, crops going under and Pa's big dreams. Laura had to work at an early age especially after Mary went blind and was the family's major breadwinner for years. This pioneering upbringing pushed her on later in life when her family had it's share of hardships. Meticulously researched, this is a comprehensive guide to life on the prairie. It is a first hand look at the myth, the child, mother, wife and writer of books that continue to draw our attention still. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
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  • Janilyn Kocher
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to a kind Metropolitan Books's publicist, who graciously sent me an advance copy, I was able to unhurriedly read Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser. It's been almost twenty years since the last biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder was published. Fraser's book is a compelling read. The author deftly meshes the background of American history into Wilder's story. The notes are extensive and I found myself more interested in those than some of the actual text. Fraser utilizes a myriad of resources Thanks to a kind Metropolitan Books's publicist, who graciously sent me an advance copy, I was able to unhurriedly read Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser. It's been almost twenty years since the last biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder was published. Fraser's book is a compelling read. The author deftly meshes the background of American history into Wilder's story. The notes are extensive and I found myself more interested in those than some of the actual text. Fraser utilizes a myriad of resources, but scholars, researchers, and historians have known about all of the resources for years, including the differing manuscripts. Overall, enthusiasts for Wilder will be pleased with this new biography.
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  • Holly Senecal
    January 1, 1970
    I have loved reading the stories and newspaper articles of Laura Ingalls Wilder since I was old enough to read. The subject matter of Prairie Fires was of huge interest to me but I approached it cautiously. Would it strip away all the bonnet wearing, fiddle playing notions I had romanticized in my head? No, it didn't. In short, it gave a true historical look at Laura's life that I had only read glimpses of before. I loved this book. The one thing I will say is that it humanized Mrs. Wilder. Inst I have loved reading the stories and newspaper articles of Laura Ingalls Wilder since I was old enough to read. The subject matter of Prairie Fires was of huge interest to me but I approached it cautiously. Would it strip away all the bonnet wearing, fiddle playing notions I had romanticized in my head? No, it didn't. In short, it gave a true historical look at Laura's life that I had only read glimpses of before. I loved this book. The one thing I will say is that it humanized Mrs. Wilder. Instead of thinking of her as the perpetual scamp Half Pint, aided by Melissa Gilberts (amazingly good) portrayal on television, readers have to remember she was human just like us. She wrote stories to honor her family, not to tell things exactly as they happened. After she had written them, Laura wanted to just live her life. With the resulting fame from her stories, that was made nearly impossible. Her political views and such may not be something we all agree with, but Laura Ingalls Wilder stands as a hard working woman who did just live her life and honored her Ma, Pa, sisters and her brother. I am still very proud to have loved the Little House books for so long, especially since I know how much of her love for her family and care for the worlds memories of them, went into each book. Prairie Fires is excellently done and I will be highly recommending it when the time comes for it to be published.
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  • Darcysmom
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review. I savored Caroline Fraser's biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a life long devotee of the Little House books, I am always interested in learning more about the real stories and people that populated the novels. I really appreciated Caroline Fraser's willingness to uncover the woman behind the stories - a woman who was temperamental, imperfect, and heavily influenced by her daughter's politics. Getting to I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review. I savored Caroline Fraser's biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a life long devotee of the Little House books, I am always interested in learning more about the real stories and people that populated the novels. I really appreciated Caroline Fraser's willingness to uncover the woman behind the stories - a woman who was temperamental, imperfect, and heavily influenced by her daughter's politics. Getting to see some of Laura Ingalls Wilder's warts didn't make me like her less; if anything, I have a greater appreciation for the crafting of her stories. I also enjoyed the notes section tremendously - I like seeing the scholarship behind the writing. I think this is a must read for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder and an excellent book for anyone interested in the massive changes the United States went through in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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  • Gracebaldwin
    January 1, 1970
    Never out of print, made into a television show, Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books are a well-known part of American culture. If you've read "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography" you may not think "Prairie Fires" would have anything left to tell. But it does, very much so. Caroline Fraser has done a tremendous amount of research in order to provide historical context for Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and writing. And there's so much here you've never read before, or perhaps you've read Never out of print, made into a television show, Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books are a well-known part of American culture. If you've read "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography" you may not think "Prairie Fires" would have anything left to tell. But it does, very much so. Caroline Fraser has done a tremendous amount of research in order to provide historical context for Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and writing. And there's so much here you've never read before, or perhaps you've read something in Wilder's books or about her life, but not really understood the ramifications of it. I, as an example, never realized how truly poor the Wilder family was, nor how dependent they were on others for the betterment of their lives. Fraser points out how much the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" philosophy stated in Wilder's books is in contrast to all the help they got: free land from the government, clothing from missionary barrels, help from friends and neighbors. And Pa, the upstanding citizen? Well, there was that midnight flight from the debts he owed in Iowa. Funny how that never made it into the books. Which brings me to another excellent aspect of Fraser's work: the actual writing of Wilder's books. The tug of war between daughter (and oh, my! What a difficult and unlikable person she was!) and mother over what to write and how to present Laura's pioneer experiences is examined in depth. That's quite a fascinating story. While discussing difficult and hard truths, Fraser never loses respect for Wilder's work and shows great understanding of her times and character. If you'd like to read a well-researched, very accessible book that not only puts Wilder's life and work in historical context and perspective, but also lets you come as close to the real Laura as you'll ever get, this is that book. Highly recommended for those with an interest in Wilder's books or the history of the American west.
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  • Marika
    January 1, 1970
    I read an advance copy and was not compensated.
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