Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

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 sto...

Title:Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder Reviews

  • Robin

    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 Also included are 80+ pages of extensive footnotes of books, unpublished documents, letters, and more, which are almost as interesting as the main text.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 Also included are 80+ pages of extensive footnotes of books, unpublished documents, letters, and more, which are almost as interesting as the main text.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

    by Marta McDowell.

    Thanks to Macmillan publishers for the advance reading copy.

  • Naberius

    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!

  • Laura

    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

    (her leaving the Dakotas for the Ozarks),

    (about her trip to San Francisco to hang out with her daughter Rose), or even

    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

    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

    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

    should have come first, then

    .

    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.

  • Deanne Patterson

    Like so many of you I got my love of reading historical fiction as a child after reading the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is an immensely researched gritty historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I learned so much after reading this it was though I were visiting old friends and they were explaining to me how things used to be during this time period. It's really amazing how anyone survived this time period in the areas they lived in from blizzards to exha

    Like so many of you I got my love of reading historical fiction as a child after reading the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is an immensely researched gritty historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I learned so much after reading this it was though I were visiting old friends and they were explaining to me how things used to be during this time period. It's really amazing how anyone survived this time period in the areas they lived in from blizzards to exhaustive intense heat,from dust bowls and extreme poverty to near starvation to prairie fires. Pioneer life was not easy but Laura and her family were strong people and survive they did. The book covers a good time period from the covered wagons of her very young childhood to an airplane ride near the end of her life. What progress. This book is just amazing and I suggest anyone who has read or watched Little House on the Prairie to read this, you'll love it!

    Pub Date 21 Nov 2017

    Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Company for a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

  • Jennifer Pino

    Y'all Rose Wilder Lane was THE WORST.

  • Beth Cato

    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,

    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.

  • Amy

    Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a fascinating read. I enjoyed every word and learned so much more about the Wilder and Ingalls families. Highly recommended!

    5 plus stars

  • Cynthia

    I know I’m not the only one whose love of reading was sparked by Ingalls Wilder’s books. Prairie Fires is, of course, about Wilder and her family but along the way Fraser provides an enlightening chronicle of American history focusing on the issue of how Native Americans were treated. We always think of Abraham Lincoln as the great emancipator but his record with legislation regarding land preserved and taken away from the first Americans was less than foresighted, in fact, it set off horrible c

    I know I’m not the only one whose love of reading was sparked by Ingalls Wilder’s books. Prairie Fires is, of course, about Wilder and her family but along the way Fraser provides an enlightening chronicle of American history focusing on the issue of how Native Americans were treated. We always think of Abraham Lincoln as the great emancipator but his record with legislation regarding land preserved and taken away from the first Americans was less than foresighted, in fact, it set off horrible consequences for almost everyone involved including the Ingalls/Wilder families. I learned so much from this book because of how clearly and sequently Fraser describes this shameful period. If you’ve never even read Inglalls’s books by you enjoy history you’ll enjoy this book.

    Thank you to the publishers for providing and copy.

  • Kathleen

    Wow. The amount of research by author Caroline Fraser is impressive. The final 20% of the book consists of detailed notes, many of them cite handwritten letters, journals, and manuscripts. Often the author notes differences between the handwritten manuscript written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the edited version submitted by her daughter and editor, Rose Wilder Lane, or the final published copy. I think it is fair to refer to this research as exhaustive. By the time I reached the final chapters

    Wow. The amount of research by author Caroline Fraser is impressive. The final 20% of the book consists of detailed notes, many of them cite handwritten letters, journals, and manuscripts. Often the author notes differences between the handwritten manuscript written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the edited version submitted by her daughter and editor, Rose Wilder Lane, or the final published copy. I think it is fair to refer to this research as exhaustive. By the time I reached the final chapters of the book, I was relieved. There is so much mother-daughter drama between Wilder and Lane, that I was exhausted just reading the product of all the author's research. One can only imagine how painstaking it must be to track down so much primary source material to try and understand such complex experiences and relationships.

    I am probably not the typical reader drawn to this book. I don't have any particular affection for the

    books or TV show, just a fascination in their phenomena. I think I've read one of the books in the series, but I don't remember much more than the cover art and the inconsistencies having watched the TV show. When I was a little girl growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in rural Midwestern America, there was a bandwagon of girls reading the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and families who loved to watch the show together, talk about the show together, make references to the show and/or the books that I didn't understand... I think its fair to say I just didn't see the attraction. I knew a lot of families that were fairly self-sufficient, but I didn't know anyone as perfectly contented as the Ingalls family. Maybe even as a kid I was already too cynical. I wasn't a huge fan, but I was familiar with the books and tv show, and I've read recently about the libertarian beliefs of the Wilder women, so I jumped at the chance to review this title on NetGalley. Thank you to the publisher and author for providing me with a copy for review.

    My real interest in

    was not in Laura Ingalls Wilder specifically, but just to read about this period of American history without the romantic, nostalgic patina. The author does a wonderful job of presenting the hardships of the frontier. I appreciate how much background is given to illustrate the sensibilities and the challenges that Laura Ingalls Wilder experienced in her time.

    I enjoy reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder because she puts my own life in perspective. Something about growing up with rotary phones and early computer technology makes me feel older than my years to look around at younger generations with their smart phones and newest technology and wonder if they realize what a marvel it really is. As a child, Wilder's parents took her to a new homestead in a covered wagon through unknown territory. As an adult she traveled from Missouri to California by automobile, and to Connectict on an airplane. It's hard not to admire her for the life she was able to make for herself through remarkable challenges and a rapidly changing country. Whatever story I can up with about "Back when I was a kid in rural America...", doesn't hold a candle (or an iphone app) to Laura Ingalls Wilder's life experience. Unlike the

    series, this book is not committed to wholesome, happy endings. There is much sadness in the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Personally, I find the reality much more fascinating and relatable than the fictionalized version of her life that lives on in the books and syndicated television. I'm grateful that Wilder took on the challenge of publishing her stories, and Caroline Fraser helps us to separate the fact from the fiction.

  • Rebecca

    This new book about Laura Ingalls Wilder sounds fascinating.

    I had no idea about this:

    “But on several occasions, [Rose Wilder] Lane had gone all-in for the practice of creating fictive kin, recruiting young men as surrogate sons without legally adopting them. The last was Roger MacBride, an ardent young conservative who would run in 1976 as the Libertarian Party’s candidate for president. Having found common cause with her protégé in “promoting a conservat

    This new book about Laura Ingalls Wilder sounds fascinating.

    I had no idea about this:

    “But on several occasions, [Rose Wilder] Lane had gone all-in for the practice of creating fictive kin, recruiting young men as surrogate sons without legally adopting them. The last was Roger MacBride, an ardent young conservative who would run in 1976 as the Libertarian Party’s candidate for president. Having found common cause with her protégé in “promoting a conservative antigovernment agenda” Lane designated MacBride, when he was 27, as her sole beneficiary. After Lane’s death in 1968, MacBride ignored the terms of Wilder’s will and transferred her copyrights to himself — locking in place a tie between the “Little House” books and an immoderate conservative ideology.”

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