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

by Caroline Fraser (Author)

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5695127,787 (4.04)58
Millions of readers of the 'Little House' books believe they know Laura Ingalls Wilder - the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains as her family chased their American dream. But the true story of her life has never been fully told. Drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries and public records, Caroline Fraser masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder's biography, uncovering the grown-up story behind the best-loved childhood epic of pioneer life. Set against nearly a century of unimaginable change, from the Homestead Act and the Indian Wars to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Wilder's life was full of drama and adversity. Settling on the frontier amid land-rush speculation, her family endured Biblical tribulations of locusts and drought, poverty and want, before she left at the age of eighteen to marry Almanzo. This is where the books end, but there is so much more to tell; deep in debt after a series of personal tragedies, Laura and Almanzo uprooted themselves once again, crisscrossing the country, taking menial jobs to support the family. In middle age, she began writing a farm advice column, prodded by her journalist daughter Rose. And at the age of sixty, fearing the loss of almost everything in the Depression, she turned to children's books, recasting her extraordinarily difficult childhood as a triumphal vision of homesteading - achieving fame and fortune in the process. Laura Ingalls Wilder's life is one of the most astonishing rags-to-riches stories in American letters. Offering fresh insight and new discoveries, Prairie Fires reveals the complex woman who defined the American pioneer character, and whose artful blend of fact and fiction grips us to this day.… (more)
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Title:Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Authors:Caroline Fraser (Author)
Info:Metropolitan Books (2017), Edition: 1st, 640 pages
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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (2017)

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This book was hailed as “the first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder”. Even as a child, I sensed that my beloved Little House books were a bit… well, they were the Disney version of pioneer life. So I was excited to get the ‘real story’ in the form of Caroline Fraser’s book.

Sadly, this ended up being a 2 ½ star book for me. While there was much to appreciate about it, there was so much more that did not live up to its potential. Two pros and three cons stand out to me.

The book’s strength lies in the social, political, economic, and even environmental context that it weaves throughout the story of LIW’s life. It shows how these often dramatic events affected her family, friends, and country, usually in the worst possible way.

Another positive about the book is that it does give a much more truthful version of the Ingalls family history. I won’t elaborate for those who don’t want their illusions shattered, but it’s a much darker and, unfortunately, more believable version.

The good things about this book , though, were overshadowed by how unbalanced the whole thing was. First, major influences in LIW’s life are given almost no attention and substance, especially her mother and sisters. Even her husband, though mentioned fairly often, is merely a vague shadow in the background.

Second, in a book that clocks in at 487 pages of solid reading (minus pictures, index, etc.), only 89 cover LIW’s life before her marriage. 44 pages are dedicated to an introduction and historical background. That leaves a tedious 354 pages to cover LIW’s adult life, career, and the period from her death to the present day.

The third and by far the biggest shortcoming of this book, is that fact that, in the end, it isn’t about Laura Ingalls Wilder at all. It’s about how much the author dislikes Rose Wilder Lane. Around the time Rose comes to adulthood, what starts as a scholarly work becomes a bizarre character assassination. Her bias was astonishing and I began to question how much of the rest of the book was reliable, coming from someone with that much of a blatant agenda.

If you’re a fan with time on your hands, you might give this book a read, but take it all with a shaker full of salt. ( )
1 vote tiasreads | Dec 11, 2019 |
She did her research but it was not an enjoyable read. ( )
  lvmygrdn | Oct 26, 2019 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
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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Epigraph
The prairies burning form some of the most beautiful scenes that are to be witnessed in this country.
--George Catlin
Dedication
In memory of my mother, Ruth Fraser, and my grandmother, Ruth Webb
First words
"Once upon a time...a little girl lived in the Big Woods": the opening of the Little House series has the cadence of a fairy tale.
Introduction: On a spring day in April of 1924, Laura Ingalls Wilder, a fifty-seven-year-old farm wife in the Missouri Ozarks, received a telegram from South Dakota.
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