The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder - Prairie Fires

ByCaroline Fraser

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I read this book in (almost) one sitting over a Thanksgiving weekend. Revisiting these beloved books of my childhood and finding out what had happened to the "real" Laura throughout her long life was fascinating. The story of her life and work is awe-inspiring. She was able to take the darkness and bitterness all of us face in our adult lives and redeem it into core values of honesty, integrity, and thankfulness. Reading about Laura's life in the context of American history is fascinating. A great read!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
buratino ho
This is a gift for my mom. She’s a huge fan of Laura Ingles Wilder. I thought this would be great for her collection. While I haven’t read this book, I don’t appreciate paying full price for something that is damaged.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
meghann hollingshead
A WONDERFUL book: exhaustively researched, passionately written, engaging and informative of all the seemingly insignificant yet important facts that help give us a frame through which to look at the life of writer Laura Ingalls Wilder. These facts, so carefully chosen and exact, help us to see and feel the difficulties of life for a young married pioneer woman, one who tried with her husband to make it as a homesteader on the great barren Plains of the West--at that point Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, etc. Caroline Fraser is an amazing researcher and writer, and I encourage all who want to learn what the West was REALLY like, as well as what drove Laura Ingalls Wilder to write---with the editorial assistance of her daughter Rose--to read "Prairie Fires." If ever a book deserved a Pulitzer Prize, this biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser surely does!
A Suspenseful Psychological Thriller - Behind Her Eyes :: Hild: A Novel :: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH :: Tales from Watership Down :: Salvage the Bones: A Novel
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I am an avid reader but was disappointed with this book. I know it is getting rave reviews but I found it very slow and difficult to get interested in. I finally put it down without finishing it. I have read everything related to the real little house family but found this to be more about Rose, who turned out to be a very unkind and ruthlessly competive daughter.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
This book ought to be really good. It’s well-researched; it’s about an interesting subject; Fraser obviously really admires Wilder and writes passionately about it. But the book suffers a major flaw that makes it ultimately a failure: Fraser’s political agenda intrudes time and again into the book and infects her judgments on both Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. By the end of the book, it’s become an almost monomaniacal focus condemning Lane, even for petty things, and this feature is so distracting that it contaminates Fraser’s biographical judgment.

Fraser’s a liberal, who has no compunction about making statements such as “Socialism…helped” farmers on the 19th century frontier or portraying the New Deal solely in terms of compassion for the poor. That’s fine—she’s entitled to her political viewpoint. But it leads her into making omissions no competent historian would make, such as entirely ignoring the critique of the New Deal as a system of cartels for big business. This is a critique even liberals have acknowledged at least a little bit. The Progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis agreed with it, striking down a major part of the New Deal in the 1936 Schechter Poultry case, for instance. But it appears nowhere in Fraser’s book.

That’s important because both Laura Wilder and Rose Lane were intense critics of the New Deal. Lane, particularly, is a major figure in the history of libertarianism. But Fraser never, in her 500+ pages, even attempts to address Lane’s substantive criticisms of the New Deal—even to refute them. Instead, she just asserts that “more discerning” people support government welfare—and she resolutely portrays Lane’s political views as a function of alleged mental illness. Thus we’re told that Lane wrote against the New Deal out of “a personal sense of grievance against the federal government,” or that she opposed FDR because “she found it easier to locate villains outside herself.”

This sort of psychologizing is simply infantile. No doubt Lane was a complex and cantankerous figure, perhaps even unlikeable. But to ascribe her political beliefs to that does a disservice not just to Lane, but to Wilder, who, after all, agreed with her daughter. Fraser recognizes this, so she is forced time and again to portray Wilder as having not REALLY believed in free markets and limited government, or of having somehow been duped by her daughter—which is a demeaning and fundamentally antifeminist perspective, not to mention flat-out wrong. Laura Wilder was no pushover. Fraser’s hostility to Lane transforms into misogyny, in fact; Lane was a remarkably modern figure—a world-traveling independent journalist who refused to compromise her career dreams to settle down to married life; she deserves recognition at least as one of the pioneering female intellectuals of the 20th century—yet Fraser manages to transform this into a character flaw that springs from Lane’s lack of a conscience and failure to act out stereotypically female versions of compassion. This, Fraser says, proves there was something wrong with her. No ’20s chauvinist could’ve said it better. (This is also false; Lane sponsored, at considerable personal expense, the educational and careers of several young people she “adopted” as her own. Fraser manages somehow to make this still more proof of her lack of charity.)

Fraser’s portrayal of opposition to the New Deal as a psychological disorder also does a disservice to those who believe the New Deal was a good idea. That’s because it’s not coupled with any substantive discussion or defense of the New Deal. That’s because it’s not coupled with any substantive discussion or defense of the New Deal. It makes no effort to address its merits, but rests upon an emotionalistic caricature of history, with good guy New Dealers against the Snidely Whipash capitalists. And that leads her into some real whoppers—such as when she quotes Rose Lane’s saying that “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty”—and then calls this a “nationalistic” statement, which is simply the opposite of the correct adjective, whatever one’s own opinion might be. Or her statement that the 1930s was “a time of the most widespread food insecurity Americans had ever known.” Assuming “food insecurity” means anything, surely Americans in, say, 1863 or 1837 or 1873 or 1620 faced worse, no? Or her statement that the Nineteenth Amendment “was the most important advance in civil rights in America since Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” So much for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875. She says that the Ingallses failed as homesteaders—a disputable claim—and then says their generation were essentially duped into homesteading because nobody could really have succeeded at it—also dubious—but then praises Progressive era banking laws that “would have provided a lifeline” to the Ingallses by giving them “low-interest loans”—after just telling us what terrible credit risks they were. And she even claims that “the Chicago tribune [in 1877] urged homeowners pestered by [the homeless] to spike handouts with ‘a little strychnine or arenic’ and poison men as if they were vermin.” This is just not true. That article was a satire. But because it supports her cartoonish sterotypes of the Gilded Age, she falls for a hoax.

As for historical issues of greater subtlety, they’re far beyond Fraser’s ken. She criticizes Lane for giving Mussolini and Hitler some measured approval in the 1920s and early 30s—ignoring the fact that many conservatives did so, including Winston Churchill. Hardly proof she was a fascist. She praises Laura Wilder for saying that “If I had been the Indians I would have scalped more white folks before I ever would have left [the prairie],” by saying that this “was a startling statement for a woman of her day.” It wasn’t. Such sentimentalism and romanticism—which was certainly well-grounded—was commonplace throughout Wilder’s lifetime and before; see the works of James Fenimore Cooper, for instance.

Her vendetta against Lane also blinds her to BIOGRAPHICAL issues of greater subtlety. Time and again she condemns Lane (and more gently, Wilder) for introducing false or inaccurate anecdotes into their writing—most notably the anecdote about Almanzo narrowly escaping the notorious Bender family of serial killers. But she never addresses the way in which people tell family stories over the years. Families tell stories back and forth over the years and often forget what actually did happen; they don’t always double check their records for factual accuracy. Over generations, these tales evolve and expand, and become treasured, so that they become “lore.” We’ve all seen this happen. Maybe Wilder and Lane knew that the Bender story weren’t true, but it’s also possible that these tales were told back and forth for so long that they became lore, and they themselves didn’t know what was true or not. In the 1930s, Laura openly said it wasn’t true. But the 50s, did she even remember this? Maybe, maybe not—and Fraser makes no effort to address this. She simply takes the fact that it wasn’t true as proof of Rose’s dishonesty. (The fact that Laura also repeated the story? That’s just proof of Rose’s nefarious influence.)

This sort of sloppiness—even cattiness—ruins the book, which degenerates into a redundant, superficial, attack on Lane and on the libertarian political movement in general. That’s nothing new to libertarians, of course—always the red-headed stepchild—but it’s so poorly done that it not only fails to persuade, but it ends up as neither a satisfying biography nor a satisfying critique of the ideas. I mean, for example, on pages 498-99, she criticizes, of all things, Rose Wilder Lane’s GRAVESTONE—which includes a passage from Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice—for being written in all capital letters. Seriously, she calls this “shouting,” and then says that her dear friend who chose the words, Roger Lea MacBride, “and conservatives like him,” “had not read” Agrarian Justice, which, she says, was an argument in favor of a welfare state. Even putting aside the petty nastiness of such comments, and this dubious characterization of Agrarian Justice, and her misrepresentation of MacBride as a conservative, when he was actually a libertarian, what proof does Fraser have that MacBride and Lane didn’t read Agrarian Justice? She certainly doesn’t provide any.

This book features page after page of such millimeter-deep partisanship.

What it ultimately is, is a failure of imagination. Fraser just can’t CONCEIVE of how someone could have opposed the New Deal in the 30s, and thinks it must just prove that Rose hated poor people, was mentally ill, and didn’t know anything about history (and that she manipulated or brainwashed her otherwise independent-thinking mom). What it really proves is that Fraser doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to learn, about the context of the subject she’s writing about or to understand Laura Wilder or Rose Lane as they understood themselves. That’s a disservice to them and to the reader—and it’s a disappointment, because we all deserve better.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
What a phenomenal look at the fascinating life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, including the complexity of her relationship with her daughter over the 7 decades they shared. A fascinating analysis of facts, fiction, and the nature of how we choose to remember our past. I’m going to re read the whole series!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
This started out really good telling the story of young Laura and her family, her wedding to Almonzo, moving to Missouri and the birth of her daughter. From there it stops being a story about Laura only and becomes a biography of Rose...and it gets very boring. The author wrote about each article that Laura wrote as well as Rose, how it was published, etc. That was probably 3/5 of the book. Too much detail about articles written, too much info about Rose and her travels. Even talking about Laura writing the Little House books was dragged out. Finally after Rose pass away, the story still continues with Rose's "adopted" grandson. It's the never ending story! I skimmed this story a lot!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dalia hazem
Excellent book! Very thoughtfully written with deeply researched content not only of the Ingalls family, but also of what was going on at the time. It’s an academic read but not SO academic that it becomes a bore and a chore to read! I loved the in-depth historical information about the politics of the day, the ways in which the people were hoodwinked into thinking the land was more hospitable than it was, the Native American aspects, natural disasters, etc. And it was most fascinating to read about Rose Wilder and the relationship between her and Laura, and how the series of books came to be. I feel like I want to re-read the entire set of the beloved Little House books all over again! I definitely recommend this book!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
If you are a Wilder fan, you might like this book. While some of the history was fascinating, the main subject matter did not interest me. But even for Wilder devotees, the obsessive detail, particularly regarding the mother/daughter relationship, made the book burdensome to finish.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I couldn't wait to read this book and I couldn't wait for it to end. I have been a fan of Laura and her family ever since I read the Little House books for the first time in elementary school. I have reread them several times as an adult and bought boxed sets for my children and grandchildren. I made the trek to Mansfield and stood in awe on the ground Laura walked on! I guess I am trying to tell you that I am a true fan of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder. With 2 exceptions... The TV show that veered so far off course and this book. I found it dry and at times boring. I fought with myself to finish it but being the stubborn sort I generally finish a book once I have started it. There were parts concerning Laura that kept my interest. The parts about Rose and her politics couldn't hold my interest. And those parts made me very much dislike her. I think she bullied her mother and in general wasn't a nice person. I also found myself a bit disappointed that Pa wasn't exactly the man his daughter painted him to be. That's to be understood because she adored him. I guess I didn't want to be enlightened to the fact that he was not the perfect Pa. I know I will never read this again. The author did her research and her writing style was fine. I just found it too political and more about Rose than Laura. In the end Rose managed to make sure Laura's dreams were not truly realized when she altered her mother's wish of where she wanted the royalties from her life's work to go. All in all this book disappointed me. I didn't even like the cover art.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bhawna chauhan
Amazing book! I have read many texts on Laura Ingalls Wilder, but this one is a perfect mix of biographical information and historical context. Fraser describes the turbulent, complex relationship between mother and daughter Rose Lane while also exploring the questions about their editorial relationship. The sections on Lane's lack of ethical journalistic standards was surprising. I was also intrigued with how tragedy and failure impacted both women in such different ways. I highly recommend it!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
leonardo hickstein
I enjoyed reading the book. It arrived with the front binding torn which made it a little difficult to hold. The first set of photographs were upside down. So, while the reading of the book was interesting, the quality of the physical book was unacceptable. I would expect to find a book in this condition in a free for all basket in a discount store.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
john scanlon
I appreciate that this was exhaustively researched and most likely accurate, but I found it repetitive and overly long as a result. This is a pity as, as a biography it has something interesting to say, but lost impact and became just plain boring. I fail to see why things already said are said again and then once again for good measure (in case you didn’t get it the first two times?) Same quotes, same passages, exactly the same words used! The book could have been some 400 pages rather than over 600 and made the point just as well, if not better. I gave up in the end as by 75% through the book, I felt I had read it all. Perhaps some stricter editing would help. Disappointing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dyah wijayanti
Having grown up in the 70s, I watched the series religiously. I remember reading Little House in The Big Woods as a part of a Christmas gift set of American classics. I still own the yellow boxed set with the Garth Williams drawings my parents bought me the following Christmas. I appreciated the writing and research in this book. As a history teacher, I found it engaging and well-written.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kathleen haley
Probably the most comprehensive treatment of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder that I have read, the author must have put a tremendous amount of research not just into the biographical details but life on the prairie during the 19th century. Caroline Fraser provides the reader with the economic and political aspects of what Laura's birth family faced, what she faced as a bride, and into old age. She also explores the relationship with Laura's troubled daughter Rose, who became her mother's mentor when she began to write the famous Little House books. Almanzo is more of a shadowy presence, but the author's recounting of Laura's final parting with her beloved Pa brought tears to my eyes. I have to admit to being surprised when I realized how little Laura saw of her mother into her old age.

Ms Fraser does not spare the reader the rather contentious aspects of Laura as an adult, particularly her relationship with Rose. Laura grew into a woman very similar to the often head strong girl we came to know in the series. Although this book is quite long it is never boring, especially for those of us who want the details Consider this an excellent present for a fan of the author.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
As a child I read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books at least 3 times each, so I was very excited when I learned that this biography of LIW was available. Unfortunately, while this is a meticulously-researched volume and is probably the most thorough biography of LIW, it is dry as dust and a slog to get through. One of the "trends" among biographers today is to put every iota of information they find into their books, and this makes for tedious, pedestrian reading. LIW lived through some of the most difficult times in American history, and she was a first-hand witness to several ecological disasters, grasshopper infestations, and much severe winter weather during the course of her long life - but that alone does not an interesting life make. One finishes the book and has no real sense of who this woman was. We know she loved her husband, was fond of all animals, and had a very difficult and unhappy relationship with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, "ghost" writer and editor of her mother's books. Perhaps most annoying of all were Fraser's constant "lectures" throughout the book about the terrain, farming techniques, soil conditions, Indian raids, etc. - so much so that each time a new chapter began and Fraser started of on another one of her long and drawn-out asides, I kept thinking "Oh, no, not again!" and invariably just skimmed the text. And what a poor choice of photos to include in the book! I HATE when biographers or other non-fiction writers talk at length about a photograph or a series of images and then do not include the photo in the book. Why do we need photos of an Indian warrior whose deeds pre-dated LIW's life, or a reproduction of an apple farming catalog? What do these add to the narrative? I went on Google Images and found these missing photos and more - so why weren't they in the book? And some of the photos of the Wilders are also puzzling in their inclusion, such as a photo of A.J. Wilder, her husband, plowing a field: his visage is impossible to see. I suspect that so much "filler" was poured into the book because LIW's life is really rather ordinary, except for the fact that she became a best-seller children's author in her 60s. There are no synopses of the 8 books in the biography, only brief mentions of the time periods covered therein. At the end of the book, I was wondering: what really made this woman tick? Yes, she was more complex than your "ordinary" American farm wife, and she certainly produced some charming books - but aside from the endless minutiae, I don't know who LIW really was. Fraser is so busy trying to cram every darn factoid into her narrative that it completely loses its soul. At the end of the day, one realizes the Lane, LIW's nut-job of a daughter, was a far more interesting personage and far more deserving of a critical biography - if only for the fact that she is such a big part of the story of the "Little House" books. The book came closest to being "enjoyable" when detailing Lane's foibles, idiotic political philosophies, bull-dozing personality, as well as the many notable women and men she knew intimately throughout her equally long life. This is not meant to demean LIW's life experiences, or the horrible hardships she had to live through - so many others did so as well but never got to tell their tales. The book devolves into LIW hagiographic territory much too often with too little evidence to back it up. I don't understand why the NY Times Book Review said it was one of their 10 best books of 2017 when the review of the book, which appeared just weeks before the end of 2017, said very much the same thing as I have said here. A very disappointing tome, all things considered.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
It would have been a better read if the author hadn't used so much space agonizing over Wilder and Lane's politics, and speculating on their political and moral values. Not everything needs to be politicized, something Wilder succeeded at in her children's series. Perhaps author could take a cue from? Sorry I spent what I did on this dog which really doesn't reveal anything in detail about Wilder or Lane than much better written biographies that came before it, but merely uses both women as a soapbox from whence to gripe about the political and social landscape of the time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Prairie Fires is a must read for any Laura fan. It's more like Prairie Girl (another must read) than other works written by/about Laura in the style and feel. Caroline Fraser is meticulous in citing and researching minute details of Laura, and later her daughter Rose's lives. It starts before Laura's birth and finishes with the ins and outs of Laura's estate after her and Rose's deaths. It's not an easy read per se, there is lots of detail, sometimes almost too much, as well as historical information about world events and other instances that influenced the Ingalls family and their travels. After Rose becomes an adult, the author focuses on both women and their complicated relationship. It is a fascinating read however, and I think the author did an amazing job of showing what a strong woman Laura was, and yet more fragile than the her books or the tv show let on. My only complaint is that pictures are mentioned, but not shown. It would have been less jarring to not have to try to search Google images every time she described a family photo and merely flip to the back of the book. Overall though, Prairie Fires is a very enjoyable read. If you're a Laura fan who wants every little detail, even if they show her in a more realistic (and perhaps, not always flattering) light, you'll want to read this book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
erin legacki
This book places the ( mostly) sweet and uplifting stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder into the larger context of American history, specifically the struggles to settle and farm the Midwest. There have been many books written about LIW, and this one doesn't really add anything new, but the historical background is interesting and I learned quite a bit about the settlement of the Midwest. There is way too much time spent on Rose Wilder Lane, LIW's daughter, who is, frankly, an unpleasant and unsympathetic character. Much has been discussed on how much RWL "contributed" to LIW's stories. I think this book answers that question fairly. Read this for the history, but be prepared for a LOT of slow passages about RWL and her politics.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I was so excited to get this book because I love Laura Ingalls Wilder and have everything she ever wrote. But the book was not very satisfying at all. The author is too judgemental and opinionated. She repeats her judgements throughout the book. Also, she tries to psycho-analyze the mother daughter relationship between Laura & Rose. I found it annoying that she kept referring to photographs that weren't shown in the book. (And one of Rose is particularly disturbing.) I usually am excited to recommend new books, but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. In fact, as much as I love books, I am not going to keep this one because I will never want to reread it. Ironically, another book I didn't keep was one of the "sequels" written by a modern author. It totally bastardized LIW legacy and she would have been livid because it was crude and vulgar.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
This is a dual bio of Wilder and Lane set against a heavy dose of historical backdrop. And almost immediately this is where Fraser goes off the rails. She will recover at times and I stuck with her because the topic is so interesting to me. Fraser is no historian and it shows. She makes many mistakes that sometimes appear to be just sloppy work; while others are clearly set piece to support a bias. For which she has many. I gather from a quick look at her other work she has done some environmental writing. And she brings this to Little House as subtle as a Hurricane.

The Homestead Act, homesteading and westward expansion are fundamental to the story. A clear understanding is obviously the foundation to the entire work. Fraser brings her environmental focus like a crusade into the story. The Ingalls and Wilders were simply duped into a “scam,” destined to fail because the Homestead Act was a failure and then were complicit in fraud and get this - climate change. Yes Almanzo with his two row sulky plow caused global climate change induced drought.

With that the reader may ask if Fraser has a grasp on 19th century agricultural practices, as this would form another foundation to the story? Well no, she doesn’t. For example, she will indict Almanzo as committing fraud in his HA claim because he left. She ignores the fact that a homesteader had six months to occupy said claim & this was because they would have had no crop or supplies to support the stock.

Unbiased scholarship as presented in Edwards, Homesteading the Plains shows that 50-60% of homesteaders proved up and were on the land a year later. As well, less than 10% of the cases show any indication of fraud. And in many of these it was not the intention of the homesteader to game the system, but instead they were within the spirit of the law while not with the letter. The Homestead Act, a complicated law covering many years and a massive geographic area is complicated; however, the old tropes that it was a “failure” and a “fraud” have been called into serious question. Unfortunately, Fraser continues this and reinforces it with her bias.

Little picture things are sprinkled throughout. For example, a “Missouri posse” fought a “proxy war” in “squatter Kansas.” Boy that’s a lot to unpack. A posse is a legal group raised by a sheriff. She does like a posse and will use the word incorrectly multiple times. The Missourian’s were most often called Bushwackers. The era known as Bleeding Kansas was not a “proxy war.” I am not sure what her “squatter” context even is. But there is no historical one for it. I imagine it is another bias against the entire settlement process.

When covering the move from Wisconsin to Mo/Ks she will use 1850’s overland travel as an example. The Wilders were not going 3,000 miles across unsettled land on a trail of tears covered in burials. It was 1869 in settled Iowa and Missouri. In general the entire life of Wilder will be set against a backdrop of hardship. Was it hard? Certainly it was, however, a historian would provide context for this.

Simple facts are incorrect, for example, Keystone South Dakota is not at 9,100 ft elevation. Google can be a friend to an author’s fact checker. Although I doubt one was used, a history undergrad intern would have caught most of this.

It is unfortunate we have another title in the Little House pantheon by a literary critic. While it is important to provide historical context to the work, Fraser will take large journeys into geography she has inadequate equipment for. She would have done well to stick hard and fast to her area of expertise. I found the literary sections interesting, but always there is the “can I trust this on a subject I am less knowledgeable in?” when the author has presented the historical background with such bias and obvious errors.

Even more unfortunate is the Little House fan who wants more and uses Fraser exclusively will take this as history. It most certainly is not and note the store did not classify it in that category. Fraser’s presentation is not for the faint of heart Little House fairy tale reader so be ready for a bumpy ride if you are. If one wants to learn Wilder and her times, Pioneer Girl would be a much better source. Then one could read other secondary sources on areas of interest. For the literary period, Frasers work is an engaging read.

Note- I also purchased the Audible version. The presentation is excellent. There are few local pronunciations issues, for example, Pierre South Dakota doesn't have a French delivery. Nevertheless it is even and pleasant. A must for audio books.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gottfrid w nnberg
Are the classic “Little House” books memoir or historical fiction, and were they written by Laura or by her daughter? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. In this epic, absorbing biography of her great-grandmother, Fraser tells us. Between her congenial narrative and careful, detailed documentation, this author has created a masterpiece. Lucky me, I read it free and early thanks to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers.

Laura’s early life was considerably harder than the sepia-toned, heartwarming stories with which she recounts it. Little children could not stand to hear the grueling poverty and crushing losses her family sustained.

“Her autobiographical novels were not only fictionalized but brilliantly edited, in a profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation. As unpublished manuscripts, letters, and documents have come to light, we have begun to apprehend the scope of her life, a story that needs to be told, in its historical context, as she lived it. That tale is different from the one she wrote. It is an adult story of poverty, struggle, and reinvention—a great American drama in three acts…Showing American children how to be poor without shame, she herself grew rich.”

Wilder was a legend unto herself, a fierce, strong woman that could survive anything, anything, and everything. Her story recounts not only personal hardships, but the wide sweeping history that she lived through, from the Westward movement and Manifest Destiny to the suffrage movement, the Dust Bowl, and the Great Depression, as well as the elephant in the room: Indian removal and genocide.

The book, some 600-plus pages, recounts not only Wilder’s story, but that of her daughter, Rose Ingalls Wilder, who was, frankly, a real piece of work. Their lives were so intensely intertwined that to do this any other way would render Wilder’s story incomplete. And I appreciate the scholarly objectivity with which Fraser treats her subject; it’s not without warmth, but she is clearly not manipulating facts, as some authors do when writing about famous relatives.

And although I previously named a different title as the go-to biography of 2017, I have to recognize that Fraser’s book is a contender. Highly recommended.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
amanda andrews
Ms.Frasier obviously had a,political agenda in writing this book. I adored each and every one of Laura's books and re-read them many times beginning in the second grade. I'm now in my 60s and still relish those memories! I believe Laura Ingalls Wilder was one of the greatest reasons I fell in love with reading! Needless to say,that's why I picked this book. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was laced with the authors personal views and opinions many of which I vehemently disagree! The author obviously felt that Laura's choice to omit certain details from her stories implied that she was being dishonest. This lead Frasier to refer to them as "myths". I found this to be a shameless plug for her own agenda and overstepping the boundary of the long deceased author who is obviously unable to comment . I don't understand the thinking that we should tell the truth in graphic detail in a children's bokk. I'm going to use some slang here and say that is just messed up and just one example of what is so wrong in modern culture! Please rethink this, Ms. Frasier! There is much more i could say about Frasier's obvious desire to use this as a vehicle to put forth her own agenda but space won't allow. I think there are many who will read this and see through this and may also find it very disappointing. I expect better from a true historian.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
emily chancellor
I found this, the true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, to be an exceptional read.

A lot of biographers are good at providing facts of interest, but few can get you, as the reader, to feel the sentiments of the subject with the skill that Ms Fraser does, right from the start.

I shed a tear as I read of Laura’s realization, at age 57, (upon her mother’s passing) that the remainderof her own years would be spent recalling memories of her youth, rather than of building new memories.

As with so many artists, Laura was great at picturing the good memories, but that skill was gained through experiencing her hardships, poverty, and disasters involving her sister, father, and even her own husband.

Although Laura did not share those negatives with us, I am grateful that another author came along to provide us with these scenes, so beautifully drawn for us.

Don’t expect to read this in just one sitting or two. Do expect, though, to weep and reflect upon what you always imagined to be a better time to have lived. Yes, we have our hardships and challenges. Nothing close to those of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Five stars out of five.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Make no mistake -- this is an incredible book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fraser has painstakingly researched and cited every last detail, and the result is an exceedingly impressive tour-de-force that spans several regions and multiple decades. I have spent the better portion of my life trying to explain to others (and myself) exactly why I find Laura Ingalls Wilder so endlessly fascinating. Certainly, it all started with a childhood love of her books and the loosely-adapted television show that resulted. But I've since consumed everything written by Wilder, everything written by Rose Lane, and quite literally every book written about both women. This is no exaggeration: I have nearly a full bookshelf dedicated to this topic alone. So up until I encountered this book, I truly felt like I could answer any question on the subject -- rather exhaustively, at that. But Fraser's systematic and scrupulous exploration managed to unearth dozens of fascinating details I'd never before encountered. It frankly made me want to stand up and applaud her efforts; I can't imagine how much time it took to compile all this! And the first half of the book extends well beyond the Ingalls family to offer an absorbing compendium of early frontier life. My only minor quibble is that the latter part of the book begins to betray a fairly strong author bias against Lane. I'd previously encountered numerous eyebrow-raising details about Lane's general demeanor and eccentric lifestyle, so I'm not necessarily arguing that she merits defending. But toward the end of this lengthy essay, Fraser becomes somewhat preoccupied with impeaching Lane's words, actions, ostensible thoughts, motives and personal integrity at practically every turn. For me this eventually grew just a bit... distracting. However, that one slight criticism aside, "Prairie Fires" is an amazing triumph. It's not a quick read by any stretch of the imagination -- but it's utterly brimming with fascinating, well-researched information. This one earns a true place of honor in my already-overflowing LIW collection. If you're a dedicated "Laura" fan, this is definitely worth your time.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
andrea arief
I don’t know why she wrote this book, she clearly doesn’t like the people. She also lacks the understanding of another persons political view. Just because someone doesn’t share her view does not make that person wrong. Also,I agree with many others in saying, the book was more about Rose than about Laura. Aside from that, It was well written and in the beginning I couldn’t put it down, but then as it got longer, it seem to drone on. I got fairly far in the book before i just started to skim to the end.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
neha asthana
I'll admit that I squealed when I got this book in the mail. I had bought the Pioneer Girl annotated biography awhile ago but have never given a thorough read because its textbook style format is a little daunting. Prairie Fires was a great read because even though it clocks in at over 500 pages (with another 100 pages as a bibliography) , it is more like a typical biography.

While this book thoroughly examines the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I was pleasantly surprised how much information was included about her daughter, Rose. I knew a little bit about their relationship prior to reading, but this book really provided the details of their complex history with one another. There have been rumors that the Little House books were ghostwritten by Rose and that subject is brought up in the book, and in my opinion the author proves the author was Laura and Rose acted as more of an editor. The book also does a good job piecing together what in the series was factual and what may have been exaggerated or false. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the Little House books!

I won a free copy of this book in a giveaway but was under no obligation to post a review. All views expressed are my honest opinion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I live in SD and it is fascinating to see how few here have a real sense of how widely known Laura Ingalls' books are! I loved them as a child in South America, and I believe they will be around for a long, long while. The books offer a rare combination of a mesmerizing story, a historical setting of a fascinating time and place, and extremely talented, poetic writing. But even these factors together, I think, may have missed the mark. Laura's books are beloved all over the world because she tells the story of a real girl, imperfect and yet yearning for virtue: integrity, justice, honesty, gratitude, faith. A real girl who strives constantly to improve herself, acknowledging her faults and learning from them, and life-lasting words of wisdom woven into the tales. Great books are made of such characters: think Dostoevsky, Alcott, Austen! Laura' books speak to the human spirit, coming to meet the longings of the human heart in any age, in any space--that top off the happy combination of factors making the Little House books extraordinary in every sense.
This is a comprehensive and updated biography of Laura. I wanted to know details of her personal life, and the book satisfied me in that end. I could have used way less information on her unfortunate, awful daughter. Another reviewer asks how Laura could "raise someone like Nellie?" and my answer is, we all are, in the end, who we decide to be. Rose was a major sorrow in Laura's life, a source of profound grief for the beloved author, I am sure. But are we to blame our parents for who we become in life? Is Rose's character and life's choices the fault of her mother?
Laura created in her work a character who valued integrity, honesty, cheerfulness, gratitude. These attributes are the makings of a great soul. And that she was, the real Laura, through the end of her life--the book shows me that through all of her lengthy correspondence quotations and more. Therefore, although in literary terms one can say the Laura in the book is a fictional character based on a real person, what I find is that the character and the real Laura are one. I always thought that--had she created a character who did not mirror herself, she would have talked about it later in life. Laura was an admirable woman who embodied the virtues she lauded so vividly in her work.
(Albeit the erroneous pronunciation of Pierre, capital of SD, the audible narrator was very good.)
Took one star off because of two problems: too much Rose and her politics, and too little on Garth Williams' illustrations. The illustration, in my opinion, such a visual landmark of her books, deserved much longer treatment as they embody so much of our common Laura Ingalls imagination! Much more so than the awful daughter's comings and goings and empty life. I could have used several chapters on that creative process, and what others have written about them!
Interesting that Laura's books are perennial presence in literature, while her daughter Rose's books, on the other hand, are forgotten and ignored, steamy romances or personal political opinions. Rose is quoted saying, "I wonder what conscience is... and why I don't have it." Bleh. We all have a conscience, but anyone can do a very good job at justifying one's errors and pettiness, and ignoring it. The difference between Laura and her daughter was virtue. The lasting values Laura stood for and promoted all her life. Her books are classics, transcending time and space, because these things speak to the human heart.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
eleanor kauffman
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser is a comprehensive look into Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life. I’ve been a lifelong reader about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I could not pass up the opportunity to read this one. I felt this book answered so many of the questions I’ve had about Laura’s life after she married Almanzo Wilder in De Smet, SD. I often wondered why her father and mother moved around so much in the early years. I was also very curious to know more about Laura’s relationship with her daughter Rose. Prairie Fires answers these questions and so much more. I started reading the Little House books in the 1970’s as a teen. Now nearly forty years later I can say I’ve come full circle. Prairie Fires provides a very comprehensive and historical account of one of the most interesting pioneer/settlers of all time. This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever picked up a book written about Laura Ingalls Wilder. It contains the full breadth of knowledge about her early pioneer days. I read this book at quite a clip but found myself going back and re-reading the rich information found in it. Readers will find it is hard to put down. I highly recommend Prairie Fires to all Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, historians, those interested in the early pioneer history, and homesteaders. I requested this book from NetGalley to review due to its subject matter, and rave reviews.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah braud
I am extremely interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder and have read many books by and about her and I find her life absolutely fascinating. I have been to two of the homesites (Pepin, WI and Mansfield, MO) and have visits to the others on my bucket list. In Mansfield, I cried at my first site of Pa's fiddle in its display case. This is all to say, I pretty much know my Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane stuff. However this beautiful book gave me more than a few bits of information I never had read before. Ugh, I want to write what these things were because I am kind of shocked by them and yet, I can't because I really want you to read this book! I will say that over the years there has been a huge debate on how much Rose was involved in the creation of the Little House books. There is no debate on the fact that she had a lot to do with the books. She introduced her mother to the world of publication and pulled a few strings to get Laura's work in the right hands. She also did anywhere from a modest to large amount of editing on the series. Some scholars take it a bit further and say the works are entirely Rose's creation based on her mother's memories and stories. "A Ghost in the Little House" is one book that takes that extreme view. This book feels the most authentic to me. It claims Laura Ingalls Wilder had plenty of writing experience herself, dating from her school years until her late middle age years when she wrote articles for local farm journals and newspapers. It shows several examples of the first drafts of Laura's books and how the beauty and the content of the stories are there from the get go. Rose made editing changes from the small grammar corrections to sometimes larger corrections in editing out entire passages and plotlines that didn't help move the story forward. Still it was editing. To be honest, I have seen no greater proof for this argument than simply reading three of Rose's novels and comparing them to Laura's books. Several of RWL's books have the exact same plot points and themes as the Little House books and yet they are completely missing the narrative, and the heart of the children's series. They do no seem to me that they could have been written by the same person. "Prairie Fires" adds several pieces of information to the Ingalls/Wilder/Lane history. The book doesn't always paint Laura as perfect because she wasn't. She was a feisty and sometimes grouchy woman who saw amazing things in her life, but also lived through extreme poverty and disappointments. Rose is portrayed here as a smart but mentally ill woman. I believe this to be true when taken in conjunction with other things I have read about Rose. On this topic as well, "Prairie Fires" offers some new (to me at least) information about Rose and her different beliefs and possible mental illnesses. However, I found myself more sympathetic to Rose while reading this book because she obviously was never able to overcome her life of poverty. She did some shady things both professionally and personally that I am not sure she could get away with today. Still I really enjoyed every minute of this book and I recommend it to other diehard Laura fans and scholars. The casual reader, however, may be overwhelmed starting with this book.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Very diappointed in this book. Obviously this author is not a admirer of Laura Ingalls Wilder and absolutely HATES Rose Wilder Lane. The author is definitely pro Native American (which is not necessarily a bad thing but she is out to show that all settlers were bad people.) I have read other biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder that had all the same information but without all the negativity. I truly do not understand how she won an award for this terrible book. The thing that pains me most is that I put money in this persons wallet.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
gregory gould
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 Little House 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 Prairie Fires 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 Little House 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.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Confession time: I was once one of those kids who was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books. I never really got into the television show, but I read and reread the eight books in the series until their bindings were falling apart. I had a sunbonnet, and my family, like many others, made pilgrimages to the various Little House sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Missouri. I’ve also read other biographies of Wilder, as well as her published letters and diaries. So you’d think that I --- and the countless other Little House fans like me --- wouldn’t have much left to learn about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Well, it turns out that’s not the case. PRAIRIE FIRES, the new biography of Wilder by Caroline Fraser (also the editor of the Library of America editions of Wilder’s novels), will absolutely offer new perspectives and information for even the most diehard Little House fan. Comprehensive and incredibly well-researched, Fraser’s biography traces Wilder’s life from before her birth to her ongoing literary legacy, consistently placing Wilder’s life and work in its historical and political contexts.

Fraser opens her book with a riveting and harrowing account of the 1862 Dakota War in Minnesota. This war took place a few years before Wilder’s birth, but it --- and the accompanying ways white settlers viewed and approached their Native neighbors --- set the stage for the stories she herself would tell decades later. This kind of background information and research is what Fraser’s biography does especially well. It’s easy, especially when reading as a child or with a child, to gloss over the historic framework of Wilder’s very intimate family stories, but Fraser consistently and painstakingly illustrates the relationship between Wilder’s literary interpretation of her upbringing and the very real events that informed it.

Fraser also addresses head-on the allegations that Wilder’s daughter, the journalist and novelist Rose Wilder Lane, is the real author of the Little House books. She compiles compelling evidence, including Wilder’s memoir as well as manuscripts and letters between mother and daughter, to trace their collaborative, at times contentious, relationship. Wilder and Lane were at odds much of the time --- failing to agree on financial matters as well as literary ones --- but Fraser convincingly argues that Wilder owned the stories she told, while acknowledging Lane’s more artful embellishments.

Modern-day readers of Fraser’s biography might be surprised to learn how much Wilder shared politically and philosophically with her anti-government daughter, who was famously a vocal critic of Roosevelt and the New Deal and was a fervent admirer of Ayn Rand. As with the rest of the biography, however, Fraser traces Wilder’s own criticism of government assistance and other New Deal–era programs to her upbringing and the lessons about self-sufficiency and independence hard-won during her childhood. Granted, much of the suffering Wilder experienced during her childhood and in the early years of her marriage could have been alleviated by a more robust social safety net, but one can see, based on Fraser’s account, how Wilder arrived at her values.

Perhaps most surprising --- and, in many ways, satisfying --- is the realization of how full and varied a life Wilder led after the childhood and youth she chronicles (and fictionalizes) in her novels. Even readers who have visited her home in Mansfield, Missouri, will be interested to learn about her contributions to civic life, journalism and politics in her eventual hometown. After a childhood spent traveling ever westward, Wilder seemed to come into her own when she finally had a permanent home of her own. Fraser’s outstanding biography invites readers into the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder --- and I suspect more than a few of her readers will be inspired to crack open their own well-worn copies of the Little House books to read with fresh eyes.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jenn davis
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 lifelong 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.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
m m sana
I read The Little House series literally to rags when I was a kid, and loved Laura and her family.
That said, I couldn't wait to read this book.
It is very well done, exhaustively researched, and the author places Laura and her family's experiences in a broader framework of what was going on in the country at the time, which definitely provides perspective.
But I found her life as an adult unrelentingly grim, full of tragedies, sadness, and poverty. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, is intensely unlikeable, and a big chunk of the book is dedicated to the dynamics of their mother-daughter relationship.
All in all, I think it was depressing and grim, without enough Laura and WAY to much Rose.
I can't really recommend it, although this is just my own opinion. I wish I hadn't read it as I came away not liking any of them as much as when I started the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A comprehensive and realist portrayal of the Laura and Little House Series
Caroline Fraser’s biography of American frontier girl Laura Ingalls Wilder cuts through the whitewash version of the much loved televised Little House on the Prairie series. This detailed biography goes well beyond the life of the much loved pioneer girl Laura and the stories that cover her early married life as farmer of a homestead then acclaimed author. Fraser provides a rich context by including the history and politics that cover life on and around the frontier and prairie, even before Laura Ingalls Wilder was born, to including public figures that readers can identify with. In the keeping with the Little House series Laura is presented as feisty, dignified and essentially well liked, however, more realist than how she is portrayed in autobiographical fiction. Similarly the biography confronts hardships such as fire, locust plagues, debt, poverty and homelessness in a way that it is edited out of the series. Although, Ingalls lived by the creed that family, the love of nature and a wholesome life was worth more than wealth, the biography exposes family tensions and human failings, for example, highlighting Pa Ingalls’ recklessness often resulting in the family’s poverty. Fraser’s work almost embellishes the relationship between Laura and her only daughter Rose Wilder Lane. Much of the book details their close, but turbulent relationship where Rose is presented in an unflattering light. Laura and Almanzo and Rose, like Pa, are fuelled with an almost unquenchable ambition that follows making poor financial decisions. Fraser challenges Laura and Rose’s assertion that the Little House series is entirely constructed from facts. She asserts that the stories are a mother daughter collaboration carefully packaged to become best sellers that essentially become another great American rags to riches story.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
ed grams
I enjoyed the telling of the relationship between Laura and her daughter Rose. While some of political narration was needed to understand Rose, it was overlong, throughout the book, tedious and boring. This author also included the political background oh Roses attorney....who cares. I felt it was simply a filler. I was also disappointed the author described numerous photographs and not a single one was included in the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Laura Ingalls Wilder. Who hasn’t read at least one of her Little House books—and goodness know, millions have (her books have sold more than 60 million copies in 45 languages!)?

In Caroline Fraser’s “Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” we see her life as a pioneer girl on the Great Plains in the late 1800s, which, eventually, led her to her legendary literary reputation!

Her "Little House on the Prairie" (and the rest), Ms Fraser tells us, are highly autobiographical and represent a “profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation.”

Fraser traces the rough life of misfortunes and failed crops that were the bases of some of the stories. Interestngly, she sets Wilder as part of a wider history that includes “the Homestead Act, the spread of railroads, the closing of the frontier.” She also explains Wilder’s daughter Rose’s role as her editor, who had much to do about “presenting” her mother, the author. Fraser readily recognizes Wilder’s enduring victories showing American children how to be poor without shame, and valuing simple pleasures like “a song, a carpet of wildflowers, a floor swept clean.”

What her books didn’t do, then the TV series certainly did (re-runs can still be seen today). Wilder, as readers know, seemed to be a staple, at least in the middle school years, for young readers, alongside Carolyn Keene, Franklin W. Dixon, and Lois Lenski, among others. This biographical sketch reads easily and relatively fast. Some readers might find that the book offers “more info than I really wanted to know,” but that aside, Wilder’s influence on readers is readily acknowledged.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I found this book disappointing and depressing. I felt that the emphasis was on anything negative that could be found. Also, "Give us this day our daily bread" is not the beginning of the Lord's prayer, something which could have been easily checked.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alex d
Drawing on a multitude of primary and secondary sources, this comprehensive biography presents convincing evidence that clearly establishes the Little House saga as a fictional memoir — autobiographical rather than autobiography — while in no way diminishing its significance and appeal as classic children’s literature. The real story of Laura Ingalls Wilder is complicated and filled with fascinating characters from all sides of the Ingalls/Wilder families, perhaps none more complex than Rose Wilder Lane, the only surviving child of Laura and Almanzo Wilder. Lane was a well-traveled, well-connected journalist who provided extensive editorial advice to her mother. A fervent libertarian, Lane encouraged Wilder to emphasize themes of individual effort and responsibility in the Little House books. (Ironically, Lane doubted that writing for children’ could be a lucrative endeavor, even as she assisted in creating one of the most successful juvenile series ever published.)
Written in clear, straightforward prose reminiscent of Fraser’s informative editor’s notes in the Library of America edition of the Little House novels, this scholarly work is as accessible to general adult readers and older teenagers as it is to literary scholars and historians. Highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
cheryl l
I am a native of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and picked the book up to read the descriptions of the Ingalls family's time there.
I really am having a hard time putting it down, and the family left Walnut Grove quite a ways back in the book.
It is just an excellent read, and filled with information that is new to me, although heaven knows I am a Wilder fan and have read many of the books about her and her books. I highly recommend it. Right off the bat, it describes the 1862 uprising by the natives. I have heard about this for almost all my life, but this contains things I did not know.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
edvige giunta
A comprehensive and realist portrayal of the Laura and Little House Series
Caroline Fraser’s biography of American frontier girl Laura Ingalls Wilder cuts through the whitewash version of the much loved televised Little House on the Prairie series. This detailed biography goes well beyond the life of the much loved pioneer girl Laura and the stories that cover her early married life as farmer of a homestead then acclaimed author. Fraser provides a rich context by including the history and politics that cover life on and around the frontier and prairie, even before Laura Ingalls Wilder was born, to including public figures that readers can identify with. In the keeping with the Little House series Laura is presented as feisty, dignified and essentially well liked, however, more realist than how she is portrayed in autobiographical fiction. Similarly the biography confronts hardships such as fire, locust plagues, debt, poverty and homelessness in a way that it is edited out of the series. Although, Ingalls lived by the creed that family, the love of nature and a wholesome life was worth more than wealth, the biography exposes family tensions and human failings, for example, highlighting Pa Ingalls’ recklessness often resulting in the family’s poverty. Fraser’s work almost embellishes the relationship between Laura and her only daughter Rose Wilder Lane. Much of the book details their close, but turbulent relationship where Rose is presented in an unflattering light. Laura and Almanzo and Rose, like Pa, are fuelled with an almost unquenchable ambition that follows making poor financial decisions. Fraser challenges Laura and Rose’s assertion that the Little House series is entirely constructed from facts. She asserts that the stories are a mother daughter collaboration carefully packaged to become best sellers that essentially become another great American rags to riches story.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I love this book so much that I'm reading it slowly so it won't end too quickly. I have learned so much about American history that I feel like a real dullard in the subject. Such as: the Panic of 1893. More like the Complete Disaster of 1893. It sure tells me a lot about the USA in the present.

I remember a book from about 20 years ago that was about a supposed incestuous relationship that Laura had with her pa. I think the author was trying to show that Laura was very much like her father, not that there was an actual physical manifestation. Many readers hated that book, and apparently many readers don't like this book either. I guess both books interfered with their images of Laura and her family. I don't imagine that there's much else to know or say about Mary, Carrie and Grace. I found the research on Ma and Pa to be extensive, and I am so glad to have learned about their earlier lives. Again, I don't think Fraser was "blaming" Pa for the failures that many are defending. Sometimes facts are just facts. And now we know where Ma learned about button lamps, for example.

I was also astonished by her research into the location of the prairie home. I had understood that it was not to be found. Good work!

As for Laura and Rose, oh boy. I have to say I hate their politics, and I believe that Laura exhibited quite a lack of judgment in depending on Rose too much for her own opinions. You can practically feel Rose's mental illness through the pages. So much of what the woman did was antithetical to her supposed beliefs, such as self-sufficiency and taking care of practical matters - such as neither a borrower or lender be!

I did feel some satisfaction that the Fourth of July passage when Laura (supposedly) says that God is America's king. That always felt very phony to me, and apparently was made up and inserted by Rose - with Laura's concurrence. Bad move. And deliberating omitting that part or all of Mary's tuition at the school for the blind was federally funded.

For my 50th birthday, I visited Walnut Grove and DeSmet. I am a long-time fan and will continue to be so. Sometimes you're sorry to learn things you don't like about somebody, but in this case, I'm so grateful to have this book, to learn about our country and these most creative women.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jennifer m
The people who found this book boring must not be interested in history. I found the interplay between politics, economics, and climate and Laura's childhood fascinating. And, of course their life on the frontier was idealized. Life is messy and people are a combination of good and flaws. I enjoyed finding out the real story. And, yes, the person their daughter Rose turned out to be was selfish and self-involved, but that gave me more sympathy and admiration for her parents in their loyalty to her. Discovering how significant Laura's contributions were to the town where they eventually settled in Missouri was also delightful. Well written, well-documented, and sympathetic without being fawning.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In this incredible biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Caroline Fraser digs deep and presents a fair and well-documented account of Wilder's life.
What truly sets this apart from other LIW biographies is the amount of research that clearly went into it, and the rich historical detail. Fraser consistently gives the reader the larger historical context of the world and the nation in each period in Wilder's life, and then zooms in to see how it shaped Laura, and how Laura was involved in these events. Rather than just telling her story, it tells of the nation that grew to love her.
I appreciate that Fraser begins with the history of the Native Americans in Minnesota, the New Ulm Massacre, and the subsequent hangings. As a resident of Mankato, MN it often seems that that important history is known to locals, yet lost to the rest of the world. Yet these events shaped our part of the nation, and greatly influenced the development of this area.
The entire book is this way - Fraser paints the backdrop, and then moves the Ingalls and Wilders into the scene. The rich historical context is very helpful.
Fraser writes with depth and knowledge, and has created both a memorable biography and a history of the early homesteaders.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
zamil ahmad
Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser is the very well researched “true” story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family of pioneers. It is also the story of how the beloved Little House books came into being. I felt like the story was compelling and read like a good story vs dry nonfiction. I believe the author did a particularly fabulous job in her portrayal of Rose Wilder Lane, whom is a difficult person to like on a good day. You not only learn about Laura but you get a glimpse of what happened to all the members of her family. A definite must buy for history buffs and Little House fans. Thank you Net Galley for providing the book in exchange for a fair review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
elizabeth pinborough
Fraser's Prairie Fires is the best book I've read in a long, long time. I'm a Wilder fan, have read every Wilder book multiple times, and all of Lane's books (and essays) as well, at least all that are still in print. Although I live on the west coast, I have traveled to the DeSmet home sites, including the surveyor's house and the Ingalls claim. Fraser thoroughly investigates the Little House series, the people, time frames, geography, and events, in the context of U.S.history and the westward migration of the 1860-1880's. She adds evidence to support, and in some cases refute, the narrative, all of which serves to authenticate the Wilder books. The adult relationship between Laura and Rose is also examined, through the letters they wrote to each other, to friends, and to their literary agent, as well as interviews with the press. Fraser connects the salient events and comments brilliantly, answering many questions about the troubled Rose and the challenging mother-daughter relationship. Of the many LIW and RWL books that have appeared recently, this is the definitive one, essential to understanding the Wilder-Lane saga.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A really good biography by a really good writer about someone fascinating reads like a good novel full of intriguing characters, events, and places. In the peculiar alchemy of literature, such biography creates a literary chiaroscuro, an iridescent interplay of light and shade alloyed in the alchemy of words laced with an internal rhythm of the words that delightfully flavors otherwise flat discourse of nonfiction. On top of this magical incantation, all-around erudition of a writer cognizant of the historical and social contexts armed with exhaustive scrutiny into the subject is the Rosetta stone that consummates the performance by contextualizing the subject’s motivation, actions, and vicissitudes of life that is all very much like a plot. In this regard, Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires about Laura Ingalls Wilder, a prodigious American literary heroine enshrined in the great American literary pantheon, fits into such definition with gusto.

I first came across this book from an article about The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, a significant achievement award in Children’s literature, from The Los Angeles Times a few months ago. The award changed the name into “The Children’s Literature Legacy Award” because Wilder’s stereotypical attitudes toward people of color were not in harmony with today’s social core values of inclusiveness, integrity, respect, and responsiveness to the epochal changes. In defense of Wilder’s works, Fraser argued that her works were product of her life and that the reception of her books should be more complicated than we might hastily believe based upon the cursory reading of her books as social or historical contexts. In fact, it was this very reason that piqued my curiosity about Wilder and her biographer Fraser. As someone who always inclines to someone whose views and attitudes are dauntlessly expressive and intellectually provocative, I wanted to know more about the accused and her public defender. Hence, Prairie Fires is a testament to its quality that sheds light on the myths and misconceptions on the literary world of Wilder and her fascinating self.

To many of us, Wilder is most well known by A Little House on Prairie, also translated into television firmament by Michael Landon in many a language, making it a kind of household name in everyday life. I remember watching it with the unforgettable leitmotif music that rendered the ambience of a story of a pioneer family with none other than faith, charity, hope, and themselves on the Great Plains. Notwithstanding a streak of fictionality laced with idyllic romanticism portrayed in the TV show version, it was this very ambience Wilder cherished the most and delineated in words despite her seemingly perpetual struggle against impoverishment in the epochal changes of economic climates of her time. She was something of a pioneer troubadour who sang the chaste and rustic beauty of the wild prairie as well as the acuteness, coarseness, and strength of a pioneer spirit found in her beloved father. Through a series of poverty after poverty, struggle against struggle, and hope against hope on the life of the open prairie, Wilder was already in training to become a great writer.

It is one of Fraser’s literary finesses that she alludes to “prairie fires” as a metaphorical means for illustrating Wilder’s character and situations that ultimately spurred her on to writing professionally at a relatively late age in her life. Wilder’s circumstances pushed her into a reluctant lifetime position of a breadwinner and caretaker, making herself to the hostage of Fortune. Her stoic, matter-of fact manner belied overwhelming fear, dismay, disappointment, and grief as a result of taking a vow of self-denial against her feisty feminine self. All of her aborted dreams and hopes and projections smothered under daily duties that life demanded by a succession of misfortune and became her pant-up fury that was manifested in prairie fires, real or phantasmal.

Fraser is also excellent in providing us with very intriguing information on Wilder’s inseparable relationship with her writer daughter Rose, who is also believed to influence her mother to write professionally. Rose was a very complicated woman whose literary talent seemed to be prevented from blossoming into full fruition on pedestals by her endless windy rage and self-doubt. She loved her mother and father dearly for sure because whatever money she had earned from writing was a munificent largess to them in the forms of a house and other apparatuses. Moreover, it was Rose who induced Wilder to write about her dramatic life that ultimately resulted in A Little House on Prairie. And yet Rose was also always out of reach of her beloved parents. She loved independence, living in the New York City and Europe with a penchant for cultural sophistication and extravagance, measuring herself against the burgeoning careers of her peer. But even her foibles are pathetic and sympathetic in Fraser’s punctilious portrait of Rose colored by the language she employs from her arsenal of words and narrative skills that guard Rose from misconceptions.

The paramount achievement of Fraser in this biography is her contextualization of Wilder’s philosophy of life, her viewpoints society, and most importantly her backgrounds of the oeuvres in the context of regarding the epochal social and historical contexts of her time, all of which are gleaned from her comprehensive research into the relevant subjects and her impressive erudition fascinatingly laced with her acute feminine sensitivity in the magical play of the words. In fact, her knowledge on the 19th and early 20th centuries are so impressively and naturally incorporated into the discourse of Wilder’s story that you come to understanding of Wilder like never before and appreciate her oeuvres in the canon of American Classics and exonerate the accused from being a jingoistic literary figure. Rather than pontificating the blind idolization of Wilder, Fraser serenely but efficaciously narrates the facts of the controversial author and her meritorious achievements both in life and literature in an expense of will, belief, and truth, producing a mesmerizing biography of a riveting character in literary Americana.

The book does succeed in shedding light on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder by recasting this famous American literary figure in a candid way which none other than Fraser could have possibly done on the topic with her magistral knowledge of Wilder armed to the teeth with thoroughly exacting research on historical and social resources with utmost solicitous attitude and tenderness. Wilder’s oeuvres should read as a classics not as a historical textbook of the bygone era whose zeitgeist irks the populace of this modern time. Literature is an art, and therefore its value lies in Art for art’s sake. We use the real to perfect the ideal, and the real encompasses anything – including our foibles and idiosyncrasies – we deem worth sublimating into beauty, which is what art is all about by appealing to our senses, the pleasure of reading something beautifully profound, evocative, and enduring. In this regard, Wilder was and is an artist making the beauty of life out of the reality of life. All this makes this book an enjoyable and illuminating read with Fraser’s irrefutably magical alchemy of words and consummate storytelling skill devoid of expression of infelicity and authoritativeness. This is a canonical biography of a great American writer by another fascinating writer who deserves of the applauding to the very echo.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
camille broadway
I read and re-read the Little House series as a child and loved the books. When my niece began reading them, I purchased a few for her for birthdays and the holidays, hoping that she would enjoy them as much as I did. When deciding which ones to buy for got me thinking about Laura Ingalls Wilder, her family, and how hard life was in the 1870's and 1880's compared to life now (at least when thinking about modern conveniences). I remembered this book and that it cited criticism of the Little House books (the latter being more fiction than non-fiction). I had not read any biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and it made me wonder whether she had indeed fictionalized at least some of her life in her Little House books.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book because it covered quite a bit of her family history, not just the time frame for the Little House books. What struck me, given the attention in the media to income and wealth inequities and how difficult it is for poor children to move up in terms of social and economic class, was that these were the same problems the country faced 130+ years ago. When I was a child reading her books, I understood that she and her family were poor--Laura and Mary received a tin cup and a candy cane for Christmas, Nellie Olsen looked down on Laura and her family because the Ingalls family didn't have as much as the Olsens, Laura going to work as a teenager and giving her earnings to her parents to help out the family, but after reading this book, I now know that the Ingalls were not just poor, they were poverty-stricken, and they lived during a time before there were food stamps, Section 8 housing, benefits for heating fuel, etc. to help them (I am not sure that they would have accepted the help, had it been available). I was shocked that Laura's father skipped out without paying his bills, that he tried to scam the system (re homesteading), but as I thought about it more, it should not have been shocking. He was desperate, and desperate people will often do whatever is necessary to survive, be that scamming the system, skipping out on his bills, etc. Her father's family lived in poverty during the colonial era, and without much education or land or wealth or anything else to pass on to children, it is not surprising that future generations also lived in poverty. It was heartbreaking to read how Laura's mother's family equally poor, how the children didn't go to school on laundry day because they only had one set of clothing, so they stayed in bed while those clothes were washed. I was also surprised to learn that Laura began working to help support the family much earlier--at age 9, working in a hotel (in the LH books, she was about 14/15 when she got a job sewing sleeves on men's shirts).

I was also surprised by how much I disliked Laura's daughter Rose after reading this book. Rose, unlike her mother, graduated from high school, got a series of jobs, but turned into a poster child for grifters--her life seemed to be a series of bad choices (jobs, moving about, men) and always trying to work the next scam. I understand that she didn't want to farm after seeing her parents struggle their entire lives to make enough to have a roof over their heads and food on the table from farming. But what I didn't understand was her blaming her parents, particularly Laura, when things didn't go right in her life. At some point Rose should have taken responsibility for her own choices.

I am glad that the author addressed the rumors that Rose was the actual author of the LH books (she wasn't, but there was a good deal of collaboration and help with editing) and put it to bed once and for all. I liked the background in the book, not only of the Ingalls, Quiner, and Wilder families but also of history and what was happening at the time Charles and Caroline married and began their family, and why they struggled so much (it is much more than a lack of a social safety net)--much of the hardships faced by the Ingalls and others could have been avoided but for bad government policies (such as encouraging settlers to farm in the plains, which eventually destroyed the fragile eco-system and brought about droughts, dust bowls, failed crops, etc.) and corruption, very much like today.

This isn't a book for children, but maybe older (teens and college) kids who want to learn more about a famous children's author.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kelly johnston
How much do you know about Laura Ingalls Wilder? If you've only read her Little House books and/or watched Little House on the Prairie on television, you probably don't know as much as you think you do. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder explores the life of the beloved author (as well as that of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane). Shedding light on little-known facts about the Ingalls and Wilder families—as well as the history of the times they lived in—will allow Little House fans to understand Laura in ways they never imagined.

What I Liked

At 640 pages, Prairie Fires is a BIG book—a tome, if you will—and I was as excited about that as I was about the subject matter. It's been a while since I indulged myself in a lengthy read, so I was looking forward to spending some quality time with this book. It needed every single one of those 640 pages, because there was a lot of fascinating material covered in this book. It isn't a book solely about Laura—in order to get a better understanding of her life, Fraser included bits of history throughout that allows the reader to have a complete picture of what things were like during a particular time. The amateur history buff in me adored reading those portions, because I love learning about history.

I loved learning things about Laura I never knew, such as finding out she was a descendant of Martha Ingalls Allen Carrier—hanged as a "witch" during the Salem Witch Trials. Another fascinating tidbit was about her uncle, Tom Quiner, who in 1874 ventured into the Black Hills—part of the Great Sioux Reservation established by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868—inciting the gold rush that would ultimately culminate in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

It's simply not possible for me to write about everything I liked about this book, because there are far too many things to list. Suffice to say that I was thoroughly engrossed as I read, and finished reading with a greater knowledge of who Laura Ingalls Wilder truly was—flaws and all.

What I Didn't Like
There is nothing I didn't like about this book.

Final Thoughts

Fraser's impressive research is evident throughout, and makes for a captivating read. Relevant historical information is seamlessly blended in with the biographical aspects of the book, and that information serves to enrich the reading experience and provides clarity for matters that the modern reader may not fully grasp without that lens into the past.

I feel this is a book every Wilder fan would enjoy reading, and I highly recommend it not only to them, but to any reader who has an avid interest in the history of homesteading pioneers in America.

A word of caution, however, for Little House fans—Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote beautiful stories that we all treasure, but she was only human, and had her share of foibles and flaws, as we all do. Like anyone, if she's been put on a pedestal, she will tumble to the ground... so don't be surprised if you find she had certain attitudes about things that you find disagreeable.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Metropolitan Books via Netgalley.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
katie jacobs
Anyone who has read the Little House books or tuned into the TV series will know some of what this compendium contains. But it is far more than a recapitulation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life from which her books are derived. In this dense book we learn about the years' long antagonism and competition between Laura and her daughter, Rose, herself an author, who can rightly be accused of plagiarism insofar as she regularly stole some of Laura's writings and many of the stories about those days on the prairie and in the woods of Wisconsin.

Also part of this book is an historically accurate retelling of the changes that took place in the Great American west, or at least that portion consisting of what we now call the Great Plains and how so much topsoil, to say nothing of the farms that depended on the crops grown there, both before as well as during the Great Depression. In this book, I learned that stripping the ground of the native grasses results not only in dust but a dramatic increase in temperature. As we face dramatic changes in climate change today, the fires that swept the great plains 70-100 years ago are a foretelling of what is happening again. What remains to be determined is whether we will be smarter about our attempts to enable the ground to recover.

If you enjoy history, even as it is leavened with information about a much-beloved author and how she came be so beloved, this is a both worth delving into.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This biography is set in the context of the bigger picture of the settlement of the Great Plains, which made it fascinating to me. The author describes how the wholesale destruction of prairie grass helped bring about long years of drought, which devastated families like the Ingalls. They met with crops destroyed by grasshoppers as well as drought. A bank failure contributed to what amounted to abject poverty in the case of the Ingalls and others. The Little House books don’t hide the fact that the Ingalls are poor, but it seems not to affect their lives that much. This biography makes clear the immense struggle the family endured, and admirably so. They were, of course, not alone and government policy at that time was indifferent to the suffering or felt no responsibility to help.
The biography contained more about the manic-depressive daughter Rose than I would have liked perhaps, but her flamboyant lifestyle in the public eye made her no doubt easy to research.. I knew she preceded her mother in becoming a well- known author. I did not know the extent of her collaboration until I read this book. It is documented in Pioneer Girl, a disappointing book about Laura Ingalls Wilder. (More footnotes than narrative, and many not particularly relevant such as the origin of baseball.)
The mother/daughter relationship was very interesting particularly as they worked together on the Little House books, Laura as writer, and Rose as editor. Rose’s practice of passing off invention as truth seemed to have infected Laura as well. I would have liked to have known more about the Laura/Almanzo relationship, but there was no doubt not that much to go on.
Rose’s horrific and hypocritical attitude toward government along with her ranting untruths if they fit her narrative was abhorrent to me and I hated to learn of Laura’s agreement even if she didn’t parade her feelings. The fact Rose was a contemporary to Ayn Rand et al who gave helped give birth to the Libertarian party and no doubt to the later tea party was mind-blowing. The author hints provocatively at the idea that severe privation psychologically creates resentment rather than empathy for others in the same boat who receive help.
I don’t know why it bothered me that the author used last names of Wilder and Lane for Laura and Rose. Perhaps, it created a distance from the Laura of the Little House books.
I found this a most important book, but it is best read by those who are past the stage of enchanted youth and ready to accept the reality of one’s heroines..

PS I didn't find the author's view of Laura negative as some negative reviewers did. She pointed out contradictions in her beliefs, and tried to help us understand where she was coming from. I believe she showed admiration for her hard work and sympathy and understaning for her views.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser is a good book but not a great book. There is information in the book that you either won't find elsewhere or won't find without having to locate numerous sources. The book is important because it is the first comprehensive biography of Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.

In spite of the title, the book is as much about Rose as it is Laura. The title is also misleading in that much of the book has nothing to do with the prairie, prairie fires or Laura's American dreams. And the title suggests that whatever Laura's American dreams are, they are prairie fires, consuming whatever is in their way, but the book doesn't show that at all. Fraser attempts to tie the book and title together in her Epilogue, but it doesn't quite work.

The book's biggest problem is that Fraser seems to lack empathy with her subjects. Biographers do not have to love their subject, but in order to understand someone, they have to enter their world completely. In Wilder's case, that is a world far from Fraser's soft world where women have equality. Fraser seems to sneer at her subjects at times, particular when writing about Rose Wilder Lane. This was a turn off, and I had to discipline myself to finish the book.

Early in Fraser's discussion of Rose, it is obvious that Rose suffered from some kind of mental illness. Fraser seems to recognize also that Rose suffered from mental illness, but she shows no empathy for her. Fraser obviously dislikes Rose's libertarianism, the same libertarianism embraced by Ayn Rand and Isabel Paterson. While I share Fraser's dislike of that particular brand of libertarianism, showing Lane's hypocrisy, Wilder's hypocrisy, Paterson and Rand's hypocrisy because they did not always adhere to their beliefs are not adequate arguments against libertarianism. Many people do not live up to the standards of their beliefs. That by itself does not invalidate their beliefs.

Fraser also indulges in some generational chauvinism, which William Manchester defined as “Judging past eras by the standards of the present.” Fraser declares that Wilder is a racist because she writes about a black face minstrel show. How does that make Wilder a racist? Wilder's inclusion of the minstrel show does not include any information about whether or not she approved of black face minstrel shows. She is simply recording something that happened. It is no more racist than Harriet Beecher Stowe recording the whipping of Uncle Tom.

As a writer, Fraser also has some minor but annoying habits. She can't seem to use a noun without including an adjective, or a verb without modifying it with an adverb. These adjectives and adverbs reveal Fraser's prejudices, ideology and dislike of her subjects. Removing the unnecessary and often irritating modifiers in her book would have shortened it by many pages and subdued its imperious tone. Then there is her habit of beginning sentences with conjectures about Laura or Rose with the word “undoubtedly.” And I can't end this review without mentioning Fraser's fascination with the male derriere on two occasions in the book. And her description of a photo of Rose showing "post-coital flush" in her face is bizarre since the photo is black and white and "post-coital" facial flush, if such exists, would undoubtedly have disappeared from her face by the time an old fashioned camera was set up and operated.

After reading Prairie Fires, I was surprised to learn it won a Pulitzer Prize. It's a good book but not Pulitzer Prize quality. In spite of my issues with the book, I recommend it to anyone interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, the Little House on the Prairie books and/or the history of the American West. Hopefully, in the future someone will tackle the subject again and will be as comprehensive as Fraser but more empathic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jo angwin
Exhaustive, or is it exhausting??? research reveals the life between the lines.

I read the Little House books as a child and adored them, and resented that they were classified as fiction. I reread them as an adult, and found them utterly depressing--and that's without the insights available here!

No one could do this much research on any subject without a passion for the material, and with passion comes passionate opinions. It is helpful to recognize these facts when reading this book, because although Fraser's work is excellent, her biases are intense. She absolutely cannot stand either Rose or Eliza Jane. Yeah, I know, E.J. was hard to take, but Fraser has her being smug about taking in Rose when Rose was in High School and not even there can find something nice to say about E.J., who was doing her little brother a huge favor by feeding and taking care of the annoying Rose.

It probably is unfair to be too tough on Rose, anyway, because her mental illnesses went unrecognized and untreated. Yet, what is it about a horribly impoverished childhood that made Laura square her shoulders and persevere, but Rose whine and confabulate? That question is never answered.

Fraser also seems to zoom past the obvious in the death of Laura's second child, who was born weighing ten pounds. Fraser says we'll never know what happened, and while that might be true, this would be the right place to speculate that the diabetes that tortured and killed many an Ingalls was also in place at this time in Laura's life.

One thing this book makes the reader painfully aware of is that Laura (always referred to as Wilder) was selling a product: the NOTION of independence. Did she work hard, was she thrifty? Yeah, but all the thrifty hard work in the world would not have kept them alive without government help (handouts! OHHHH NOOOOO!) including the college for the blind, the "free land," the list goes on and on. Even with these things, the Ingalls and Wilder families were poor for a long time.

But when they got financially secure, it was from a capitalistic sale of the idea that they did it all on their own. It is brilliant, really. Then again, even while working in government loans Laura seems to have believe her mythmaking--does that make her inspired? Or just kinda dim?

Laura's books were fiction. So, it seems, was Ghost in the Little House. Fraser takes that one down with skill, while carefully showing how Rose was an editor and contributor when she really was a novice herself. Fraser also shows why Laura's writing style has legs and Rose's has mostly faded from popularity.

I don't like Laura any less for this book. I feel sorry for the whole clan.

But it is good, good reading.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
anthony oliva
This book could have been 100 pages shorter and been a much better book. The author spends way too much time discussing the relationship between LIW and her daughter Rose. For that matter, she spends too much time discussing Rose. I bought the book to read about Laura and her family (Ma, Pa, sisters) not her daughter. The author also repeats herself many times when covering the Laura/Rose relationship. After a while my thought was "enough already, we've covered this." I also found the author putting her own personal opinions into the text when, in my opinion, she should just report the facts and let the reader decide. If you are a huge fan of the books (and I am) the book would be worth a read. If you are a casual fan, I would pass on the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I would call myself a longtime fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. At age eight, I spent many summer hours devouring her Little House books, not just once or twice but many times. I would frequently find myself going back to favorite stories and daydreaming about living in a log cabin and traveling by horse-drawn wagon.

In my thirties, I relived the series while reading it to my children. It didn't disappoint. Then I found books about her life in the Ozarks, which were incredibly interesting. Now I'm in my fifties and have discovered this fabulous biography, which I couldn't put down once I started reading it!

This book gives us the historical context of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, as well as giving us a bird's eye view of her writing process. She worked closely with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was also a writer and gifted editor. It was not all rosy between the two of them, yet they collaborated and created some of the best-loved children's stories of all time.

I highly recommend this book. It's not just for fans of the Little House books, but for everyone who has an interest in American history and literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
barbara garrey
I chose to read Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser because I loved the idea of finding out the story of the actual history taking place at the time of the Ingalls' and Wilders' journeys across the United States. And, for the most part, the book wonderfully fulfilled my expectations. The author's background research and attention to detail regarding everything from the country's worst forest fire (that you probably never heard about before) to the Farm Loan Program gave a whole new dimension to Wilder's life. My only problem with the book is that it shifts focus from Laura Ingalls Wilder to her daughter, Rose, to the point that Rose completely takes over the book for almost 150 pages. And, it is not the world history through which Rose travels that is described, but Rose's life in great detail: what she bought, who her friends were, where she traveled, what jobs she held down and lost, etc. And, that to me seemed like a huge tangent that distracted from the reason for the writing of the original book rather than an informative addition to Wilder's story. Otherwise, I was very happy with the thought, care and writing that told of our country's journey through the journey of one woman.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
laura brown
Someday I would like to read a completely objective biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This book is not it. Clearly Fraser did exhaustive research for Prairie Fires, however, she has a definite point of view and it peeks out more often than not.

As for me, I feel like there is some type of bitterness that creeps into Fraser's writing and it colors most of this book. Also, it was a bit too long and I found myself having to plough through sections where the author repeated herself.

However, I love how Fraser weaves the history of America into the fabric of Wilder's stories and separates truth from myth. The Little House books will always be one of my favorite series and no amount of fact finding will ever change that.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jess van dyne evans
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.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
karen yoho
When my daughter Sarah was a young girl, she and I both loved the Little House on the Prairie books, and while I knew they were not pure memoir, I always assumed they were more truth than fiction. After reading this book, I think that’s accurate—probably best expressed by Laura Ingalls Wilder herself in saying, “All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth.”

The real story of Laura Ingalls Wilder—as meticulously researched and thoroughly told by Caroline Fraser—was so laden with hardship, loss, and crushing poverty that it would never have been a best-seller if told as a straight memoir. By wrapping her true writing ability and her gift for evoking scene and emotion in an “overcoming all odds” theme, Wilder’s stories appealed not only to those who had also survived hard times but also to those who wanted to be assured there was a way to overcome them should they arise.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is impressive in depth and scope. Author Caroline Fraser—editor of the Library of American edition of Wilder’s Little House books—pulled from diaries, letters, and transaction records as well as a wide variety of other sources to create a reliable biography of Wilder and her family, her husband’s family, and her daughter Rose, a troubled woman—later author and journalist herself—who clearly did not inherit her mother’s resilience. Fraser vividly chronicles Laura and Rose’s dysfunctional relationship.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in Minnesota and lived past her 90th birthday in 1957, so her story is intertwined with not only the 19th century pioneers like her parents but also the mistreatment of Native Americans, early and rocky politics of our nation, the expanding railroad, WWI, women’s suffrage, the greed and ignorance that led to the Dust Bowl, various economic bubbles that made (and ruined) millions, WWII, fears of Communism, and an America with no safety nets other than charity. Ironically, she and her daughter both railed against FDR’s attempts to provide a safety net, feeling it was counter to the spirit of independence and self-reliance Wilder’s books so fiercely embraced.

Wilder did not enjoy financial success until she was in her 60s, and the series of relentless setbacks in her life certainly made me question anyone who ever opines for “the good old days.” If you’ve ever read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, you’ll have a flavor for the story of the Ingalls and Wilder families as told in Prairie Fires.

I was particularly interested to learn that Wilder’s books—especially The Long Winter—had been translated into Japanese and inspired many Japanese who suffered during the awful post-WWII hardships of their country (famine, poverty, and disease).

Some reviewers criticized this book’s length and heaviness, calling for more judicious editing. I can’t argue with that. Just breaking it up into more sub-sections and adding pictures where they belonged throughout the book (instead of grouped together in only two places) would have helped move it along. I was also frustrated by the detailed description of many photographs of Wilder’s family that weren’t included in the book.

Overall, however, I felt both edified and enlightened—not only about the person of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but also about several decades of American history I now know better.

As the book closed, Fraser did a good job of tying up loose ends and bringing the reader back to the book’s subtitle and theme:

What were Wilder’s dreams? She told us again and again. She wanted to save her father’s stories from being lost. She wanted to promote her parents’ values, which were her own: “courage, self-reliance, independence, integrity and helpfulness.”

Prairie Fires is a remarkable story about a fascinating woman. Fans of her books will want to read “the rest of the story” and learn what became of her after she married and moved away from home. You’ll learn a great deal about the 19th century westward expansion of this country, and you’ll reflect on what it takes to survive when life throws you more challenges than many could bear.

This review was originally posted on my blog.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
rodaina al sholah
I know the books paint a pretty picture and the tv show is not the book but this garbage account of how poor and mismanaged the family was is terrible. To say that a family can only be happy with land, money, and possessions is bunk. Facts sometimes do not tell a story...Laura told of family love, devotion, and finding a rainbow after a storm. Perhaps we all should follow that lead.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lisa kelso
There is so much more in “Prairie Fires” than a history or biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder; it is a cultural history of a time and place not often honestly told. The frontier and pioneer stories of the Little House books are well known. However, this is a rarely told view of the frontier and the small towns of the mid-west. Additionally, it is the story of family relationships: siblings, daughter and parents, mother and daughter.
The Little House books paint a picture of loving brave families, beautiful vast landscapes, innocent fun, strong self-reliance, and honest hard work, and there is definitely a truth in that picture. But behind that and just as much of a truth is hardship, selfishness, exploitation, and heartbreak. The author does a great job in combining those threads into the story of the real Ingalls and Wilder families and the relationship between family members and the relationships between that family and the culture of the time.
Rose Wilder Lane, the only daughter of Laura, is an equal focus of the book. Laura may have experienced the adventures and misfortunes of the frontier, but those stories would not have been so imaginatively told if it had not been for Rose. Rose’s political and cultural experiences and influences make for fascinating reading. Libertarianism as a political ideology becomes clear in the story of Laura and Rose.
“Prairie Fires” is a well-researched book that is much more than the story of a children’s book series.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
trae lewis
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 an e-copy.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
camille stottlemyre
I just finished reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. As a big Laura Ingalls fan, I was almost hesitant to read a book that the publisher describes as "revealing the grown-up story" of her life that was "harder and grittier" than anyone knew. I needn't have worried. Caroline Fraser's book isn't a tabloid biography - bent on revealing sensational character flaws or the dark side of the beloved icon of childhood literature. It's a book that strives to reveal truth: separating legend from historical fact, untangling the fictional aspect of the Little House books, and examining the myth of the American Pioneer.

One of my favorite things about the book was the fascinating history it included. I had never heard of the Peshtigo Fire in 1871, or examined the oddities of a species called the Rocky Mountain Locust. An intriguing chapter about the Dakota Boom included samples of government and railroad propaganda that convinced thousands of settlers to flock to the Dakota Territory. Is the oft painted picture of the American Settler — one of self-made success — accurate? Was the Dakota Boom successful? For some it was, but Fraser argues that for most it was an economic failure — and an ecological disaster. "In the first thirty years of the Homestead Act, more than a million failed to prove up on their claims, and an untold number proved up but then sold out, unable to make a living. Charles Ingalls was one of them."

In a respectful manner, Fraser humanizes Charles Ingalls without destroying the heroic picture that Laura painted of him. She uncovers the depth of the poverty that the Ingalls faced their whole lives.

"If Wilder's life was triumphant - and it was - “ Fraser says, “it was a different kind of triumph than we are accustomed to recognizing. She wrote no laws, led no one into battle, waged no campaigns. If we listen to her, we can hear what she was telling us. Life in frontier times was a perpetual hard winter. There was joy...but it was fleeting. There was heroism, but it was the heroism of daily perseverance, the unprized tenacity of unending labor."

But the portion on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood and early marriage is only a fraction of the book. Fraser traces the Wilders journey that ended in Mansfield, MO. She discoverswho Laura was as an adult, and how her memories affected her later in life, driving her to write. I had never considered the settings in which the books were written. Laura recalled the comfort and abundance described in Little House in the Big Woods against the backdrop of the Great Depression, The sweet and wholesome landscape of the Little House on the Prairie was remembered during the dreary years of the dust bowl. The latter half of the book includes an in-depth exploration of the eccentric— and often baffling — life of Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, the complicated relationship between the two women, and how it affected the content and genre of the Little House books. Are they Fiction or Autobiography? Even Laura Ingalls Wilder herself complicated that question.

Finally, the book introduces us to Rose’s prodigy — Roger MacBride — and his questionable involvement in the Little House legacy.

Fraser ends her book with this summary: "Critical or adoring scholars and readers might agree about one thing: the Little House books are history. They are not, as Wilder and her daughter had claimed, true in every particular. Yet the truth about our history is in them. The truth about settlement, about homesteading, about farming is there, if we look for it--embedded in the novels' conflicted, nostalgic portrayal of transient joys and satisfactions, their astonishing feats of survival and jarring acts of dispossession, their deep yearning for security. Anyone who would ask where we came from, and why, must reckon with them."

For those of us who love Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books, it is the history - and the truth - that makes Prairie Fires a must-read.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
fredrik k hler
"Prairie Fires" was like four books in one, and I liked roughly two of them.

I read the book hoping to learn more about Laura Ingalls Wilder: specifically, about her adult life and how she came to write the "Little House" books. "Prairie Fires" told this story well, and I enjoyed reading it.

The book began with Wilder's childhood; this part was a mixture of events already familiar from the "Little House" books and also events not contained, or altered, in the book. I was only interested in the latter.

The book also explained the historical and economic events (i) against which the "Little House" books took place, and (ii) during Wilder's adult life. Some of this information was interesting, but I found myself skipping pages.

Finally, the book had much too much information about Wilder's daughter Rose. In fact, as I read I began to suspect that the author really wanted to write a book about Rose but disguised it as a book about Wilder in order to appeal to a wider audience. I skipped these pages actively.

So I would recommend it to a "Little House" fan, but with some trepidation given that it neededbetter editing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mary jane
Outstanding… in its depth and breadth! Caroline Fraser delivers a fine biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a heady glimpse into the life of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and much about the relationship between the two writers.

The historical, environmental, political, and setting details bring incredible perspective throughout the biography, perhaps because they are perfectly placed and rendered in such sensory, specific, and statistical language. Caroline Fraser’s narrative makes palpable the experiences of devastation wrought by a number of powerful and frequent threats to homesteaders on the northern Great Plains ---extremes of nature, contagious illnesses, isolation, and lack of financial safety nets, to name a few.

For fans of the Little House series, there has been a lingering controversy for decades: Did Laura Ingalls Wilder really write the series? Did her daughter, a well known writer of the time, ghost-write the books? Did they collaborate in some way? Caroline Fraser painstakingly examined manuscripts and stacks of primary documents to provide a lucid explanation of why the authorship was muddy for decades. As someone who writes about my own family's history, what the biographer discovered makes sense to me. This biography does not read quickly, but is a rewarding journey!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This was an amazing, non-biased story for anyone who loves Laura Ingalls Wilder or her books. The book is a balanced blend of her life and the American history of her lifetime, as well as her ancestors' lifetime, and her generation's impact on American expansion and values. It also reads as valid literary criticism and addresses issues that are now problematic in Wilder's books (treatment of Native Americans, for example). I was also interested to learn a good deal about the interplay of Wilder and her daughter, Rose, in her writing career and her personal life. I was surprised to learn that theirs was a contentious but fruitful relationship - true of many mothers and daughters. Brilliant glimpse behind the curtain of a well loved franchise that I grew to love as a child, through my mother reading these books with my sister and me.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
leslie connor
I think in my opinion that there is to much about history and Rose's story. I was expecting more about Laura's life.
I enjoyed Pioneer Girl hardcover better. If you like a lot about history its about at 30 percent of back history.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I found this a thoughtful and engaging study of the times surrounding Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose. As the author points out, much about the Ingalls' past is lost since they were poor people, living on the edge; thus much about their lives was not recorded. So a lot of the early life detail in the book is not particularly new if that is what you are looking for. However, the author excels in placing the women in the midst of the very exciting historical moments they were part of, writing with passion and clarity about complex economic and ecological issues. This might not be the book for someone who is passionate about hearing about Laura's early life (though there is plenty about that too), but if you are interested in her life and times and how the times helped shape her and her family, I recommend the book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
dawn trovato
The book was good except if you want to know about ALL of Laura's life from beginning to end. I have read most of the books about Laura and her family. I thought the author was very complete in her historical points and her research was well done. I learned several new things I did not know about Rose and Laura. What really turned me off to the novel was Frasers very apparent bias against the settlers. To read the novel you would gather that the Native Americans committed no atrocities of their own, that only the settlers were horrendous blood thirsty killers. There were also other glaringly apparent hits at other political issues in the book which really distracted from the story.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rita macdonnell
This was an amazing, comprehensive read. I really enjoyed that the author gives a thorough and historic view of so many topics: manifest destiny. American farming, pioneer living, dust bowls and fires, as well as Native Americans and the American view of self reliance as a political stance. And then of course we have the ongoing battle between mother and daughter and the editing of these beloved books as well as their fraught relationship. I would say the people who will really buy into this book's grand ambitions are people who are interested in learning about American history, biography, psychology, relationships, farming, nature and how they effect politics. The author covers everything in Laura Ingalls Wilder's world and she makes a beautiful tapestry of it all. If you are just vaguely curious about the Little House books and the author and don't want much else, this is probably not the book for you. But if you love to immerse yourself in a topic- then you will love this book as I did.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
lech jankovski
I just finished this book on Easter Sunday and I did NOT enjoy it. I got her series of Little House books when I was 21 and I read them almost every year and I'm 65 now and I have to say I hated this book. Seems to me Laura TRIED to write the books but actually her daughter Rose wrote them. I'm saddened by the things I did pick up on about the family but it was a real boring book. It will be in my next yard sale!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
julene jefferson
I love the angle that Fraser uses to put Laura and her family into historical context. It is certainly eye opening.

Like others, I find the plethora of information about Rose to be dry and not especially illuminating. Historical books about LIW suffer from the fact that there are not many extant sources about Laura, Almanzo, Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Grace. Many (most?) of the letters that the family wrote after Laura left Dakota Territory were not saved which is a loss for all of us. Rose, on the other hand, was in public life for a large part of her life. The letters that she and Laura wrote back and forth were preserved. There is a great deal of fodder for historians to regurgitate regarding Rose. Therefore, that is what we get. We get more than enough to know that Rose was not a very nice person, and she may not have been very honest, either.

Nonetheless, the portion of the book that explains how, as settlers on the frontier, Pa and family made choices and lived with the consequences is well worth the time it takes to read and absorb it. Highly recommended!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Like most of the reviewers who have posted, I am a lifelong fan of the Little House books, having begun to read them as a child. My great-grandmother, Cora Keck, was the daughter of pioneers, born about the same time as Laura Ingalls, in 1865 in Fairfield Iowa. I leaped at Fraser's biography because I wanted to know what was behind my beloved stories.

I always wondered about how the Ingalls' courage and industry could not overcome the financial struggles that threatened to engulf them in social oblivion. After Pa died, poverty swallowed Ma, Mary, Carrie and Grace, even after their sister Laura was already turning their childhood dreams into literature.

Fraser also examines Laura and Almanzo's life together. This link between past and present is an essential part of the Wilders' story. I disagree with the other reviewers who would have preferred to have less about Rose. Rose was her mother's creation as much as the Little House books. Ask any mother, "What is your greatest creation?" Especially a mother who is a writer, whose main topic is family values, character, self-discipline, love, dependability, etc.

As much as we admire the way that Caroline and Charles raised their daughters, we cannot say that Laura and Almanzo raised Rose the same way, or even in a good way. It is hard not to see Rose as a spirited young woman who was deformed because she was over-indulged. She entirely lacked self-discipline. She was the classic monster example of a spoiled "only child." Her character problems were way worse than Nellie Olesons'. Whoops! Laura, what were you thinking???

The independent career girl in the big city had her two pioneer parents wrapped around her little finger, and Rose appears to have been completely corrupted by this power dynamic. Nevertheless, she was gifted with talent, for we learn that Rose worked over her mother's manuscripts until they were nearly perfect, and according to their editor at Harpers', the manuscripts for the later books ranked with E.B. White's for needing almost no revisions. Rose was obviously very intelligent and a superb writer. But lacking a robust inner vision, her own novels were empty of interest and meaning for most readers. How ironic that Laura was so effective in conveying kindness and good character values to millions of readers, while completely failing to do this for her own child, and how sad that Rose went off the deep end into some kind of toxic haze of un-regulated emotional outbursts as her life went on. Rose's disfunction is almost a metaphor for the toxic haze of dust and agri-chemicals that has clouded the lost prairie landscape that Laura loved so deeply.

I'm giving the book four stars instead of five because Fraser skipped over certain fundamental women's issues. Pioneer women survived because they helped each other. Fraser did not examine this issue, or explain why Caroline was portrayed as a kind of lone wolf "superwoman" who was able to do everything for her family by herself. In reality, that was not physically possible. By mostly ignoring her mother's friends and relatives, Laura greatly distorted the social networks that enabled her family to survive, and Fraser should have called her out on this. "Every favor had to be reciprocated," Caroline laments in one quote--yes that's right, because that's how pioneer women shared the dangers and burdens on the frontier. Most women loved the companionship, and they would have died every time they gave birth if they didn't. To pretend that Ma could steer clear of her relatives and friends and go it alone is really strange.

If you are interested in reading more about the daughters of Midwestern pioneers, please take a look at my family memoir about my Iowa great grandmother, Cora Keck, called The Quack's Daughter: A True Story About the Private Life of a Victorian College Girl.
The Quack's Daughter: A True Story about the Private Life of a Victorian College Girl, Revised Edition
Cora Keck is also on Facebook! Visit her page!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bridget conway
Laura Ingalls Wilder's books are some of the first I remember reading to myself. I have read them to classrooms of students, re-read them to myself, and read (and re-read them) to my own children. Although it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized not everything in Wilder's books was factual, that has not deterred my interest in them.

Prairie Fires is the best combination of sharing details of Laura's life that are familiar to Little House readers and adding to them by providing historical details about the time and more background for what was happening in Laura's life. Fraser has done her research (there is almost one hundred pages of end notes at the book's end) and provides a detailed picture of Laura's life. Although this book is not a fast read, it is entirely absorbing.

The author doesn't stop at writing about Laura. Rose Wilder Lane is also a focus of this book, and although I have read some things about her, I was certainly not as familiar with her as I was with Laura. I enjoyed learning more about Laura's daughter, even though I didn't find her particularly likable.

Prairie Fires is a fantastic book for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder who want to know more about this beloved author.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Hats off to a phenomenal researcher and interpreter of articles and letters left by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose! I am barely in the middle of this long but absorbing tract and I could not be happier. I have learned a great deal about the materialistic and soul-wrenching manipulations of the frontier as well as the deprivations that were suffered there by settlers. The newspapers were in collusion with the government to sell a dream, sad to say, right out from under the feet of the native Americans. When Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter grows up the relationship between her and her mother is downright astonishing. #netgalley #picador #PrairieFires
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alan petersen
This is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It talks about Laura's life and how she wrote the Little House books with the help of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Although the author makes the case that the books were historical fiction and not non-fiction she does a good job detailing Laura's life and her relationships with her daughter and other family members. Clearly, Almanzo and Laura were in love and married for 64 years when he died. Even though Laura apparently was exasperated by Almanzo's buying machinery on credit early in their marriage and they struggled mightily, she really loved him and it was a love match. Rose's recipes money management is also detailed and made me wonder if she didn't inherit this trait from her father. A really interesting and enjoyable read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
shelby frahm
I almost didn't get past the first part of this book! The first section is a very hard read, the author details the treatment of the Native Americans as she begins to follow Caroline and Charles Ingalls through their journey. I love the Little House books, growing up in the plains of Kansas, I wanted to be Laura when I was growing up; reading her books, watching the TV show. Fraser does an amazing job with her research, there are so many interesting topics and themes that run through this book - you really don't have to be a Little House fan to enjoy it - including family dynamics, professional women in the early 1900s, mother/daughter relationships, politics of farming, editing and publishing & politics of America! At times, I sensed the authors voice come through with her own political leanings, but it is her book after all. The relationship between Laura and Rose is thoroughly covered through their letters, manuscripts, timelines and friends/townspeople reports. I'm not sure I would have come to the same conclusions about the true nature of their relationship but the book definitely offers some great insight! Rose was a fascinating person - in many ways a pioneer woman of her own in the world of journalism. The saddest part of the entire story (besides when Almanzo dies....) was there was no one to care for Laura's legacy in a way that was deserved from the loss of family heirlooms and misuse of manuscripts and others cashing in on Laura's stories. Very interesting, well written and worth the read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sue mckeown
Very interesting read! I have been a fan of Laura's books since childhood. I already knew quite a bit about Laura's actual early life, but Fraser includes sweeping views of the times in which her whole life occurred. I learned, or re-learned, a great deal about America during the early-to-mid 20th century--economic hard-times, the dust bowl, agriculture, and the politics involved from viewpoints not often seen. I knew very little about her daughter Rose, and this book is almost as much about her as about Laura, so entwined were their lives, for good and not-so-good. Recommended for anyone interested in Laura's real life story, or in American history.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
janel c
I enjoyed this well-researched book and felt it painted an interesting portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder. There was much I didn't know about her life, including some things about her personality and political views that surprised me. This book also dealt with Mrs. Wilder's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane (also a writer), who apparently had a great number of issues that impacted on the family.

I'd recommend this book for those interested in delving deeper into the life of the Little House series author.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Despite its appealing subject, this biography drowns in its own padding. It's a mystery as to why one would want to pad out a book so as to bring it to over 500 pages (excluding references) but so it is. Pages of unwanted historical and poltical background stuff its pages and far too much attention is devoted to Laura's deeply tiresome, tedious and narcissistic daughter Rose. If most of that material had been dumped, we might have had 250 pages of lively biography. To make matters worse, the author, despite all the padding, fails to make clear the degree to which Rose's reworking of Laura's scripts actually damaged the final works. As Rose was the far less talented writer, and also gripped by a host of personal agendas and irrational ideas, the harm must have been considerable. It was unfortunate because the editing of Laura's work could readily have been done by her publishers; unhappily, Laura was persuaded by Rose that she lacked the necessary technical skills to work directly with publishers' editors. The question must be not how much of Wilders' books were written by Rose, but how much of Wilders' work did Rose destroy. It is chilling to read that immediately after Laura's death, Rose set about burning many of her papers. Those might have supplied some answers. Fraser's biography must find a place on the shelves of Wilder fans; it's a pity that it so graphically proves the observation that in many fat books is a thinner, better book struggling to get out.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kelly vasquez
This was SO good-- I was staying up way past my bedtime reading every night. I really enjoyed the insights and behind the scenes Ingalls tales. I came away absolutely hating Rose, though. I wonder if she had some sort of personality disorder fomented by poverty. I'm gad she pressed her mother to write her stories, but beyond that she really stressed me out. I was dismayed especially by her anti-Semitism. But I still love the Little House Books.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kelli frostad
Anyone who grew up in the US in the second half of the 20th Century read “Little House on the Prairie” and watched it faithfully on TV. It is part of the fabric of our lives. So this very detailed look into the fact and fiction surrounding the real
life Laura Ingalls Wilder is mostly an enjoyable read. With painstaking research, seemingly every detail of Wilder’s life is scrutinized and analyzed. The first 40% of the book moves right along, the second 40% is kind of slow, but the last 20% is just fine. I do wish the author was not quite so negative (at times even mean-spirited?) about Laura’s daughter Rose, but overall this is a good read,
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
tarun rattan
While details in the book are in depth and interesting ,the author politicized the book to what is obviously her point of view. I'm also disappointed the way Rose Wilder Lane was portrayed as an angry reactionary, because her political beliefs didn't fall in line with the authors. It just has no place in a story about a pioneer womans life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
heather mcgrail
As clearly indicated by the range of reviews, this book is not everyone's cup of tea, but I found it to be very thought provoking. I have always loved the Little House books, but even with the harsh reality glossed over I knew that the lives of the Ingalls children were more as Abraham Lincoln described his own youth - "the short and simple annals of the poor." We Americans have always cherished a fantasy about pioneering self sufficiency. I think what we cherish are many of the things that Wilder focused on in her books - familial closeness, appreciating what one has rather than always wanting more, solving problems with ingenuity (I recall the button lamp and the pies made from green pumpkin). These are things that we see as strong and admirable elements in our national character. However, these are not necessarily dependent on living a life of self sufficiency off the land. Because the LH books focus on this aspect of it, and are set on a backdrop of westward movement and land-seeking, these values sometimes become conflated with those activities. The reality is the one Fraser illuminates - that it was, and continues to be, very very difficult to live a self sufficient life based on the proceeds of a small agricultural holding. Most farmers today who have a quarter section (160 acres, the amount that could be claimed under the Homestead Act) would find it very difficult to support a family on that income alone unless they were raising a very high value crop. That does not even touch on how back breaking and long the hours can be in small scale farming.

I know that many disliked the extensive coverage of Rose Wilder Lane's politics, but this too was interesting. The theme of the tension between this idea of being self sufficient and free of government interference, with the reality that many people (particularly in rural areas) do depend on some kind of government program, is not unique to this book. J. D. Vance explored it in "Hillbilly Elegy". Lack of choice and opportunity is a big issue in rural America; I believe this is a contributing factor to opioid abuse and dependency. I wish I had a solution for it.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I will confess I did not buy the book but asked our town's library to buy it.I am a big Wilder fan and I own a lot of books that RWL has written and all the books written about Laura and her family. This book did not show anything new. Same old photos of the family that has been printed in many books and a couple of times the book reminded me of John Miller's book Becoming Laura Ingalls and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town. My sister did buy the book and she thought the author painted Charles Ingalls in a negative light being lazy and careless. I felt that the author did try more then once to show that she did think Charles did not think things through what was best for his family but you must remember back then there was no social programs for families to get help unlike today's society. I noticed politicians have not changed about blaming people for the weather like that Gov Pilsbury did during the grasshopper season and everyone lost their crops, homes etc. He made sure he received money from the federal government for himself but anyone else that needed help he said they were lazy so he decided to have a day of Thoughts and Prayers. As for Rose I think if she was living today she would be diagnosed with Bi polar . I also think after reading many many books about both mother and daughter that Laura did indeed write her books and Rose told her mother how to "PLUMP' up the story more . I think Rose as she got older had no original ideas for book materials so she "stole" the ideas from her mother regarding family history stories and changed names and she knew what she was doing was wrong that is why she tried to hide it from her mother and she knew her mother would be hurt.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I loved the beginning of this book.

For years when I was a kid I read the "Little House" book series every single year. I'm fascinated by Laura and her experience so the beginning of the book where the author discusses Laura is what got and kept my interest. Then, about 1/2 way through, the book turns to Rose, Laura's daughter. While I understand that Rose played a huge part in getting Laura writing books, editing for her mother, etc.... I really was not interested in a blow by blow description of Rose's life. I felt like Rose's story should have been second to Laura's while still explaining the huge role she played.

I kept reading but eventually got tired of Rose so I skimmed the rest for parts that included Laura. How Laura ended up with such an awful daughter would have been interesting to find out...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hailey scott
Are the classic “Little House” books memoir or historical fiction, and were they written by Laura or by her daughter? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. In this epic, absorbing biography of her great-grandmother, Fraser tells us. Between her congenial narrative and careful, detailed documentation, this author has created a masterpiece. Lucky me, I read it free and early thanks to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers.

Laura’s early life was considerably harder than the sepia-toned, heartwarming stories with which she recounts it. Little children could not stand to hear the grueling poverty and crushing losses her family sustained.

“Her autobiographical novels were not only fictionalized but brilliantly edited, in a profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation. As unpublished manuscripts, letters, and documents have come to light, we have begun to apprehend the scope of her life, a story that needs to be told, in its historical context, as she lived it. That tale is different from the one she wrote. It is an adult story of poverty, struggle, and reinvention—a great American drama in three acts…Showing American children how to be poor without shame, she herself grew rich.”

Wilder was a legend unto herself, a fierce, strong woman that could survive anything, anything, and everything. Her story recounts not only personal hardships, but the wide sweeping history that she lived through, from the Westward movement and Manifest Destiny to the suffrage movement, the Dust Bowl, and the Great Depression, as well as the elephant in the room: Indian removal and genocide.

The book, some 600-plus pages, recounts not only Wilder’s story, but that of her daughter, Rose Ingalls Wilder, who was, frankly, a real piece of work. Their lives were so intensely intertwined that to do this any other way would render Wilder’s story incomplete. And I appreciate the scholarly objectivity with which Fraser treats her subject; it’s not without warmth, but she is clearly not manipulating facts, as some authors do when writing about famous relatives.

And although I previously named a different title as the go-to biography of 2017, I have to recognize that Fraser’s book is a contender. Highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
el quijote
While I found many parts of this book a joy to read, other sections bored me to tears. Never have I read a biography of one person that focused a good third of more on another family member. I learned far more about Rose Wilder Lane than I ever expected for a book supposedly about her mother. Descriptions of Rose made me question just how often a person can be described as "even more depressed."

Ironically, the author focused a lot on the editorial relationship that Rose provided her mother yet seems to have written this book with little input from an editor. I question the editorial decision to use Wilder and Lane in place of Laura and Rose while needing to use first names for so many other characters.

Overall, this book provides a decent a mount of fact, a ton of political opinion (some of which actually belongs), and way too much explanation of Rose Wilder Lane's crazy life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Best biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder I have ever read. Meticulously researched. The author keeps the prose flowing. Biographies can be dull, and full of the author's opinions as opposed to facts. But this book never suffers from that.

Knowing some of the darker details of Laura's life does nothing to tarnish her legacy. I am looking forward to going back and reading the Little House books again.

And Rose - what a piece of work she was.

Great biography, I recommend it highly.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
stefan karlsson
This is a very detailed look into the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not a book to be read quickly, this is over 500 pages and is filled with information of all kinds. It begins with the years before Laura's birth and what happened in the region she was born into and continues on from there. Very informative and deeply sad. I learned more than I ever knew about the woman whose books shaped my view of pioneer life.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
When I started this book I really liked it. I enjoyed that it had even more details than other books I have read about Laura and I have always been a fan or shall we say obsessed with her and I have just about every book about her. The further I got into the book and read about Rose the more I was getting upset as this is not how Laura and Rose have been talked about before. While reading this book I visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield and talk to them about what I reading and how I felt. I found out I was not alone in my thought, in fact some of the volunteers of the museum wanted to know where the author receive her facts from - one who had lived in Mansfield her entire life. One thing I asked the museum about was an argument that happened between Laura and Rose over a book that Rose wrote and according to the author was still talked about in Mansfield. I was told that this was not true - it is not talked about and there was no big argument that the town still mentions. They said both women were very strong and had their opinions as well as they did but heads at times. There is also a line in the book where the author says the people of Mansfield say "Rose was not well - liked here", I do not believe that especially after talking to people in the town just two weeks ago. I put this book down more than once saying I was not going to finish it but with only having 150 pages left I knew I had to finish. I was disappointed in this book when all was said and done.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Annoyingly biased. It became painfully clear about a third of the way in to the book that the author has a very "particular" view of politics during the 1920s and 30s. In my case, listening to the audio version of this book, it is even more annoying listening to the narrator as she changes the tone of her voice to express Rose and Laura's seemingly insufferable complaints. The author has done a great job in compiling all the correspondence and facts but absolutely RUINS it by not allowing the reader (listener) to make up their own mind.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tom whedbee
I'm a history buff in a very smallish way and especially enjoy learning more about America's pioneers so Caroline Fraser's Prairie Fires was right down my alley. Pulling from historical papers and documents, Fraser provides a picture of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, but more than that, provides a strong portrayal of the pioneering spirit that both compelled and inspired her. I recommend this book to all lovers of the Little House series and history buffs of all stripes.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A wonderful exploration of the differences of the fictional and real Ingalls family and how the books came to be written and published. The author did an excellent job putting it all into the bigger historical context. A must for every adult Little House fan.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Much of this book was about Rose Wilder Lane. I understand that she edited her mother's work, and lived at Rocky Ridge for a time as an adult, but the great detail the author went into about Lane' s adulthood, marriage, affairs and travels was almost a biography of Lane itself. It took away from Laura's story. Additionally, nothing I read about Laura was new.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mary preston
I've always been a Laura Ingalls Wilder Fan. As a child I read, and fell in love with, all The Little House books. Reading Prairie Fires was so eye-opening. Caroline Fraser did an amazing job writing the true story behind L.I.Wilder's adventures and identity. From living among the Osage Indians on the dangerous and wild frontier to the birth and life of her child, Rose Wilder Lane, Prairie Fires is extremely well-written and will keep you turning page after page.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I devoured this book. I did love the Little House on the Prairie series as a kid, and this learned work puts the series in historical context. I completely fell for the message in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, which among other things, idealized the hard working individual. It seems that the story was more complex than that (rather like life in general!). The story of the people who were taken in by government promises of good farmland where there was little rain fall, the human contribution to the disaster of the Dust Bowl, and the difficulty (and likely mental illness) of Laura's daughter Rose were all fascinating and well researched by the author. I also loved that time was spent describing the creation and growth of Laura the writer, it was very convincing and interesting. I wish that more books were as well researched and thought out as this one - sometimes I pick up nonfiction and it is just the author spouting their personal opinion with little substance. This books really stands out!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This is a remarkable recounting of the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Though the details are a bit much, the recounting night of the nineteenth century hardships on the prairie were captivating. It was a difficult time for all, but especially for those who worked hard to scrape by. A great read do overs of the Little House books or those who are Midwesterners.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
wanda roxanne
I liked the research put into this book because I have always been interested in Laura’s life after “The First Four Years.” I learned a lot of things that I hadn’t read elsewhere and it’s clear that Caroline Fraser put a lot of effort into pouring over old letters, diary entries, and interviewing experts, but my enjoyment of the facts is far outweighed with my distaste for the author. This is the most opinionated biography I have ever read and I found myself angry each time I picked it up.

Ms. Fraser clearly has very different political leanings than those of the Ingalls/Wilder family, which is totally fine, but she goes overboard with her opposing opinion and overlooks many things. The subjects of this book lived these events 100 years ago and in real time, yet Ms. Fraser is measuring their lives by today’s standards with 20/20 hindsight. For example, pioneers were responsible for the drought that forced the Wilders out of De Smet. That may be true, I don’t know enough about environmental science to say yes or no, but I do know that Charles Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder definitely weren’t privy to today’s knowledge on climate change and ecosystems. Also, Ms. Fraser seems to take every chance she can to point out the faults of Charles Ingalls. Laura obviously painted him in a loving manner that only a beloved daughter could, but Ms. Fraser makes sure you know that Laura’s memories are blurred by admiration for her parents. Ms. Fraser claims that Charles Ingalls' wanderlust led to danger, debt, and dependence on the government. True or not, Ms. Fraser does not handle the story of a beloved legend with care, instead she tries to take his legacy and twist it just to prove it’s wrong.

It is also clear that Ms. Fraser has a deep hatred for Rose Wilder Lane, taking every possible low blow she can. I could make the argument that her dislike of Rose is fueled from love of Laura and her stories, but I’m more inclined to believe it is based on political differences. Ms. Fraser bases the entire book on journal entries and letters written decades ago, which is perfectly acceptable considering both women died over 50 years ago, but she fails to apply any sort of compassion or understanding of a bond between mother and daughter. I’ve seen many people talk about Rose’s mental illness, which she may have suffered from, but this book goes beyond that and paints Rose as simply a greedy, nasty person by examining her financial situation, her relationships with men, her writing abilities, etc. It’s just too much. It’s a cheap and unqualified psychological evaluation that is not necessary.

To conclude, I do think this book is interesting, but I would only recommend it if you’re willing to be a little upset by what you read. Ms. Fraser provides lots of facts, but also lots of opinions that I personally felt lowered the integrity of story she was trying to tell. Little House is loved by so many and it’s background is fascinating, but it is not something that needs to be tarnished with scandal or politicized.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
madalin daniel
The historical context is fascinating. The economic, politic, and social histories of the times alongside Wilder's biography, really helped to understand the world in which she and her family lived and appreciate the narrative she chose to share. The book went a bit off course delving into and dwelling on the daughter's life - she comes across as fairly horrible and my thoughts were, "Ok, mutually reinforcing co-dependent relationship with her mother, at times mentally unstable, warped understanding of truth vs fiction - but there were hundreds of screens on all this. It felt like because the author had more personal records of the later years, she concentrated on the family. Whereas, without as many family documents, the author was forced to consider external forces more, which I found more interesting.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
oanh tran
Little House on the Prairie, the book series and the TV Series have made Laura Ingalls Wilder an icon of the American West. Since her family migrated often many states and communities lay claim to her mythology and honour her memory but how does one separate the myth from the living breathing woman who pioneered the West and wrote the books. Using her letters, memoirs, and other documents the author attempts to tease out the woman behind the myth.

Fraser is nothing if not thorough. She begins by telling the history of the Lakota whose lands the Ingalls and their ilk settled. The Ingalls were poor from the arrival of the first ancestors in America; there is nothing noble about poverty. Due to failure to pay taxes or in hopes of finding a brighter future the Ingalls/Wilders moved early and often. Former homesteads are scattered throughout the mid-west. The Rockie Mountain Locusts or their like plague Farmers to the present day. Drought and debt ran hand in hand with prairie fires, hale and tornadoes.

The Wilder’s lives are placed in geo-political context. The same government that encouraged the Western land-grab declined federal aid to starving millions when their attempts at farming ended in famine. The ineptitude and bad advice given by agricultural agents was parodied a century later in the person of the county agent on Green Acres. That the govenment in question was Democrat undrscores the fact that the liberal/conservative divide which Canadians know do not apply here.

On the other hand no matter the circumstances, the Wilders were never satisfied always looking for that land flowing with milk and honey that ever eluded them. Wilder and her daughter Rose Lane took to writing as a surer means of making a living than farming ever had been. Playing fast and loose with the facts they eschewed ethical journalism in search of a good story Rose writing fictionalized biographies of famous individuals serialized in monthly magazines. This style of yellow journalism can still be seen displayed on the news stands of any grocery store or department store in the lurid headlines of the National Inquirer or the Star.

Though this is ostenibly a bio of Wilder, her daughter Rose figures prominently and the degree to which their lives and writings are intertwined suggested; the daughter editing the mother’s works for publication and even possibly ghost writing some of the later books.

The final sections of the book deal with Wilder's wrting which made her famous and finally rich. The bickering and jealousies that marked her relationship with her daughter Rose who was her unacknowledged editor and the better though less successful writer.

Despite protestations to the contrary this assessment of Wilder makes it clear that the Little House Books were historical fiction for children with a loosely biographical background.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
mai mostafa
If you loved Ma’s cheery homemaking, Pa’s strength and the sweetness of his fiddle, you may not want to read Prairie Fires. The heartbreak of generations of sons, dead in infancy, so needed by their starving farm families; disability, paralysis, blindness, mental illness, long illnesses; and divorce. I didn't need to know this much about the Ingalls and the Wilders.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jyoti h
If you want the DETAIL about Laura Ingalls Wilder's life then this is the book for you. For my taste, just a lot too much detail. I know that for some that is their "cup of tea" but for me you can skip a lot of that. In this book Ms. Fraser has started before Laura was born and continues past her death. There is probably not much that you would want to know that isn't covered here.
I recognize and compliment Ms. Fraser on her excellent research.
I enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder's books tremendously and it has been fun to read about and sometimes scan a little and learn about the truth of her life. Thank you Caroline Fraser.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
elissa hall
I wanted to love this book. I preordered and waited till midnight on the date of the release so I could jump in and find more insight into Laura. I was greatly disappointed. Only towards the end was there any new information. And that was limited and written in a dull manner. To me this is another Dan White or Roger Lee McBride attempt to capitalize on the Little House Saga. Much of the ending seems nearly copied from Pamela Smith Hill' s A Writer's Life. I need to accept that all that can be written about Laura, has been written. This book was a waste of money.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jelisa hamilton
As a Ingalls Wilder fan, this is the definitive work on her life. I was happy to see the story fully told. I fell in love with the Little House books as a child, and read subsequent biographical materials and articles. But this book gets at the heart of the writing and draws interesting and illuminating conclusions. I loved it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The books were read to me as a child and this book provides great context about Laura and her family. I appreciate the author's great passion in explaining the environment that Laura grew in, and her life outside the books. And as another reviewer notes, the book has some great photographs.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Although I’ve yet to finish, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so far. I’ve enjoyed the historical facts regarding the state of the union at the time. I’ve also enjoyed the facts I’d yet to learn regarding LIW, and how tiny facts intertwined with the storyline of the television program.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lorraine barcant
Elegant, erudite, enlightening, and deeply felt. If you are interested in American history, environmental history, publishing lore, and family dynamics, this is the book for you. I read it every day, footnotes and all, with pleasure. A beautiful book in every way.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
debby stephens
This is a perfect example of how not to write a historical biography. This is one frustrating book to read because the author is such a poor writer and has no idea how to pull together a narrative storyline without going off on tangents or including her speculative opinions on virtually every page. The facts are here, but pulling together lots of printed information from 150 years ago does not a good story make. Instead the reader is forced to read over and over "perhaps," "maybe," "could have," "must have," "probably," "possibly," etc. So the writer is making up stuff as she goes along, trying to attribute characteristics to the Ingalls characters where there is no support for it.

The author also takes dramatic political stances that are inappropriate for this book. She uses early pages to try to condemn the movement of Indians out of Minnesota, failing to show any concern for the fact that hundreds of citizens of the new state were executed by Native Americans that refused to honor treaties. Certainly Indians were not treated well, but to use these bloated pages to preach that the settlers were the bad guys whose deaths seemed somehow justified is inexcusable.

This rambling text also lacks maps, charts, timelines, and other graphics that would have helped in the telling of the story. Because the writer insists on tossing in just about every minute detail that she found searching through historical records (including Ingalls that she's not sure are even related to Wilder!), the presentation of just words on a page make for tedious reading in spots and illustrations would have made stronger points.

Bottom line is that this person can't write well. Almost every sentence is clunky in a formal structure that seems outdated. She sounds like she's writing something from 150 years ago, and maybe that was the intent to match the tone of the Little House books. But if it was it's a mistake. At over 500 pages it's way too long with plenty of unnecessary historical information that has little to do with the Ingalls saga or that could be summarized in a paragraph instead of a chapter. The author's bias (working for the company that publishes the Little House books) hurts and an objective view of the material would have improved the content. It's hard to believe this book won awards because the well-written book about Wilder has yet to be written.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
demetri broxton santiago
I'm so glad I finally finished this book, but I'm not glad I read it. It's sad to read about the trials and hardships Laura and her family endured. But it was painful to learn about Rose, whom I found to be completely reprehensible and despicable. The book is way too long (half of it is about Rose) and as I slogged through it, I was disgusted by Rose's character and behavior, how she lied and used everyone in her life, and by the dysfunctional relationship between Laura and Rose. And then to learn that the copyrights are now in the hands of the MacBride estate makes me want to tell the world, "DON'T BUY THE LITTLE HOUSE BOOKS!" because I wouldn't want any more money to go to them. It's a real shame, because I loved the Little House books when I read them, and they tell the story of my own ancestors. I just wish now that I didn't know about how much Rose was involved with them, especially after she stole the stories from her mother.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
This is a very interesting book that has brought to light a lot of what may have actually happened in Laura’s life. BUT, the author is VERY biased! It seems the only person she dislikes more than Laura is Laura’s daughter Rose & especially Rose’s politics. Some of the concussions she draws lead me to wonder just how much Of Laura’s life Fraser is fictionalizing. One example comes to mind—she claimed early in the book that Laura had a life long bad temper because she slapped an Indian who appeared on her land. BUT—later in the book she portrayed Laura as liar because it was not Laura who slapped the Indian, but a friend of Laura’s. You can’t have it both ways, Ms. Fraser.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
laura millward
If you've read "Pioneer Girl" and the other major scholarship on Laura Ingalls Wilder you know everything that this book knows, and you can get it without the hyper-moralistic storytelling. I'm far from a conservative or libertarian, but the constant harping on Rose Wilder Lane here is both exhausting and unworthy of a scholar's stance about historical figures. Lane's really not responsible for all the ills of the modern world (in fact, no one's read her for decades; most of her work is out of print) and the attempt to imply, in the epilogue, that if Wilder were alive today she'd be a Trump voter because her family came from a poor part of the country, was just ridiculous. In fact, despite Rose Wilder Lane's occasional libertarian editorial interventions, tons of people I know read those books and we still managed to become liberals. Take the money you'd spend on this book and donate it to one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder memorial sites; they need our support.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I’m so disappointed in this book. I’m reading the annotated Pioneer Girl at the same time, and it’s a much more enjoyable read. I rarely skip an annotation and each is presented with balance and respect for Wilder and the pioneer life. The same cannot be said for this book, which is downright mean-spirited in its portrayal of the Ingallses. The historical details are interesting, if long-winded, and it’s nice to step outside of Wilder’s own words and experiences, but the focus on Rose Wilder Lane is too much. The last half or two-thirds of the book dragged. Disappointing because this is a very thoroughly researched and put together book.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
erica peacock
Only finished it because I grew up in one of the towns Laura lived in. Book was a huge turnoff due to the wingnut political views of Wilder's daughter Rose and equally wingnut views of the author.

What a waste of time.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
lauren ozanich
I wanted to LOVE this book. I grew up on the books and the TV show. I feel like the author was trying to decide how she felt about Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane and that her opinion kept changing. The flow of the constant change made the book a bit off putting for me personally.

I also feel like I did not come off learning anything I had not already read about the Ingalls family...granted it was a variety of books not just one.

If you loved the book series and have not done a lot of reading on the characters as real people this is a great book. If you have done a lot of reading on the characters as real people, this is a good book.

Thanks Netgalley for the ARC!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I was disappointed with the book. While the author demonstrated a masterful recitation of archival facts, some of her observations about the realities of life on the prairie were just a little off. I was raised on the Laura books; many of her experiences were confirmed by the stories my own grandparents who were homesteaders told me. As a matter of fact, my grandmother WAS born in a dugout.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
My rating might change. I bought the book but haven't read it yet. I'm writing this to challenge the assertion that this is the first comprehensive historical biography of LIW. Since, decades ago, I read three biographies about LIW and two about RWL, this is a surprising claim. I've also read all the books by both LIW and RWL.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
First, I admit to not having read even half of this book. I just couldn't get very far even though I tried jumping around to see if I might become more interested. It just wasn't what I thought it would be (expected more of a behind the scenes look at Laura Ingalls Wilder's life). Some interesting historical facts but just not my cup of tea.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brooke ybarra
While not as much sexy intrigue as I was hoping for Laura Ingles Wilder, really brought the ruckus. I for one had no idea about her and her time in America. This book could have used more sex appeal, can't stress this enough.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It's a pretty interesting biography on one of my family's favorite series. It sets the mother who wrote the books against the daughter who edited the books. It has their working relationship being a fight to the death. Ok, it's not that bad, but it really sets it as a struggle between the two with the mother (Laura) just trying to tell about her life and the daughter (Rose) who wanted to make it more dramatic and a better story.

Overall, I think I would have liked this better as an article in a magazine rather than a whole book. It's just too long for what's here. I like it, but I didn't need a whole book on the subject--or at least a book this long.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
christina pruett
I have a collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder books that I wouldn't ever sell, but I can't wait to sell "Prairie Fires". It's depressing, negative, and there isn't anything uplifting about it.

So much of the book's like a text book, and more of a personal agenda of the authors, than it was a book about Laura and Rose. The only reason that I was able to finish reading "Prairie Fires", was because I skipped so much of the text book parts. It wasn't an easy book to read, and it was so much longer than it needed to have been. Caroline Fraser's a very talented writer, but I felt that "Prairie Fires", would have been a much better book, if it had been written by somebody else.

The only thing in the book that made me happy, was reading about the terrapin turtles that Laura fed.

It was like being teased throughout the book, by how Fraser would describe photographs that weren't in "Prairie Fires".
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
anthony venn brown
Does the store give refunds for Kindle editions?? I did not finish the book. I only read about a third because it’s like reading a textbook. The author provides a lot of historical background information with way too much detail. The book is supposed to be about Laura Ingalls Wilder but Fraser writes more about Rose. I don’t know much more about her now than what I knew from reading her fictionalized books and the TV shoes. Do not buy this book.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
ig publishing
Very disappointed in this book. It was basically a political smear campaign, hidden between bits and pieces of information on Laura and Rose. And the book focuses mostly on Rose. Not what I expected at all.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
libby young
Experience has taught me to be highly skeptical of two sources of book evaluations: The New York Times and Oprah's Book Club. The New York Times has had multiple journalists awarded Pulitzer prizes for "news" they fabricated. Oprah Book Club is forever moving "Forward" with its Socialist point of view. I ignored the fact that the NYT rated this work a top ten book of the year; I so wanted to learn more about the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder. But finally I began to wonder, why would NYT rate the book so highly when the, original Laura Ingalls Wilder books were so much about things they oppose: Traditional family values, faith in God and no acknowledgment of class warfare and no mention of unions or the politically salient 'living wage.' Well, I got my answer. Laura's beloved father "Pa" is portrayed as a civil war dodger, who was carless with his family's safety and is essentially called a land thief. Rose Wilder (who embodied self-reliance and traditional values) was so diparaged in the book that the author's historical vendetta against her became crystal clear. This was so egregious that the book seems to be more about the life of Rose than her mother. Life in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose is so fascinating, but the other main character (the author's biased political opinions) made it increasingly difficult to get anything close to an objective view.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I do not like how this book trashed the beautiful TV series and Michael Landon. It was totally HORRIBLE. I love the TV series and would NEVER EVER recommend this book. For fans of the TV series, AVOID!
Please RateThe American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder - Prairie Fires
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