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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura…
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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2017)

by Caroline Fraser

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5145030,608 (4.04)52
Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls--the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains, and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser--the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series--masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder's biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder's tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books. The Little House books, for all the hardships they describe, are paeans to the pioneer spirit, portraying it as triumphant against all odds. But Wilder's real life was harder and grittier than that, a story of relentless struggle, rootlessness, and poverty. It was only in her sixties, after losing nearly everything in the Great Depression, that she turned to children's books, recasting her hardscrabble childhood as a celebratory vision of homesteading - and achieving fame and fortune in the process, in one of the most astonishing rags-to-riches episodes in American letters. Spanning nearly a century of epochal change, from the Indian Wars to the Dust Bowl, Wilder's dramatic life provides a unique perspective on American history and our national mythology of self-reliance. With fresh insights and new discoveries, Prairie Fires reveals the complex woman whose classic stories grip us to this day. -- from dust jacket.… (more)
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» See also 52 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Prairie Fires is a literary biography of both Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose who edited most of the Little House books. I loved the Little House books as a child and have found the recent charges of racism against the books to be largely unfair, as I don't think it's right to apply modern standards of behavior and attitudes on people who lived a century ago. Therefore, I was interested to read this book to learn about the reality of Wilder's life that she wrote of in her books.

The first half of the book is quite good as it deals with wilder's life, roughly following the order of each of her books. As I suspected her somewhat rosy remembrances of her frontier childhood masked a much harsher reality. As with most homesteaders on the western plains, the Ingalls were lured into homesteading through lies spun by both the US government and the railroads. What they found instead was a hard life of grinding poverty, constant debt, and never enough rain to bring in a decent crop. Time after time, the family had to pull up stakes and move on because their homesteading efforts had been an utter failure. Laura ends up being a teacher to help pay the family debts until Almanzo Wider marries her and takes her off to his own soon to fail agricultural adventure in southwest Missouri. It is not until Laura starts writing her Little House books that the family has any kind of financial security.

The second half of the book deals largely with Rose Wilder Lane who edited her mother's books and seems to have been a thoroughly disagreeable woman (She was a fan of Ayn Rand for starters). I found myself skimming madly through the last half of the book. ( )
  etxgardener | Jul 14, 2019 |
I have not read all the little house books, but someone kept recommending I read this as a way to understand some of the people in the area I live (northern plains). It was really interesting to learn more about the history of some of the people that settled here. How a lot of people failed miserably.

I work with people on their land and sometimes hear stories about how their relatives settled there so I really felt I could relate to this. ( )
  jill1121 | Jun 1, 2019 |
A biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane and a history of America from early mid-nineteenth century to mid-twentieth century, this book gets a better picture of the facts their lives and the reasons for the choices they made in their writing without ever seeming to understand or at least to communicate that understanding, of either woman. Their closeness and difficulties with each other mirror their actual dependence and their valued independence. Ambiguous in attitude toward Wilder, and only grudgingly praising Lane for editorial eye and skill, Fraser makes plain that they deliberately painted a misleading view of the homesteaders' lives, mostly by eliding all the failures, debt, and accepted charity between the volumes, and how Lane made the final portion of her career of trumpeting the myths of her own making. In the epilogue Fraser quotes William Anderson, an amateur Wilder biographer, "Almost everybody has a Wilder story." That is surely true for me, and I am glad to know so much more about how her books came to be. ( )
  quondame | May 29, 2019 |
I read this book right after reading through the Little House series, and before reading "Caroline." Probably the right order. The details of the books were fresh in my mind, so Fraser's explanations of the inconsistencies between the historical record and the books made much more sense. This book is clearly the result of extensive research, and I appreciate Fraser's attempts to give the reader as much perspective as possible. She's clearly not a fan of Rose Wilder Lane, and as a result I found myself getting tired of Lane in some sections - I really wanted to learn about Wilder, not Lane.
Interesting how little attention is given to the TV series - a couple of pages, perhaps. Which is fine by me - I have seen a couple of episodes but never had any particular interest in it. Plenty of material for MORE than one book here without it! ( )
  joyceclark | Apr 4, 2019 |
Everything you ever wanted to know about Laura Ingalls Wilder and more in this well researched biography. Wilder was a late bloomer and her "Little House books and celebrity don't come until late in life. Fraser spends a lot of time focusing on the love-hate relationship she has with her "wild child" daughter (also an author) Rose who becomes a radical Libertarian during the New Deal period of American History. What I enjoyed most was her real life family struggles during the Dust Bowl period on the plains states. The book is a must read for Wilder fans but also those interested in American History in general. ( )
  muddyboy | Feb 20, 2019 |
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Placing the Ingalls family’s homesteading mishaps in a bigger picture of national enterprise is one of many demonstrations of Fraser’s admirable commitment to presenting her research in a broader historical context. But sometimes this causes the literary gears to grind. ... And yet there is far more to admire than to criticize in Fraser’s determination to provide everything needed for a responsible and thorough history of Wilder’s life and legacy.
 
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