Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

The first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie booksOne of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the YearMillions 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...

DownloadRead Online
Title:Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author:Caroline Fraser
Rating:

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder Reviews

  • Beth Cato

    I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

    When I visited Laura Ingalls Wilder's farmhouse and museum in Mansfield, Missouri, last year, it felt like a pilgrimage to me. Seeing Pa's fiddle, walking where Laura walked, was a soul-deep experience for me. Her Little House books had a major impact on my life and making me the author I am today.

    I have read several biographies of Wilder over the past two years, including the annotated version of her original, truer-to-life m

    I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

    When I visited Laura Ingalls Wilder's farmhouse and museum in Mansfield, Missouri, last year, it felt like a pilgrimage to me. Seeing Pa's fiddle, walking where Laura walked, was a soul-deep experience for me. Her Little House books had a major impact on my life and making me the author I am today.

    I have read several biographies of Wilder over the past two years, including the annotated version of her original, truer-to-life manuscript,

    Fraser's work is the most comprehensive book by far, encompassing the lives of Laura's parents and extending after her death to the actions of her daughter and the evolution of her literary estate. The amount of research involved is staggering. It's well known that the Little House books deviated from reality in major ways, and that Rose Wilder Lane was a major collaborative force in bringing the "juveniles" to publication. Sorting through the muddled mess of half-truths could be confusing, but Fraser lays out the facts through primary source materials, manuscripts and letters. The book is quite long; the galley is over 500 pages, plus citations, but it's a fast, intriguing read for people like me who are already invested in Wilder's world.

    The only challenge in the book is not the author's fault at all, but the dominating, bipolar presence of Rose Wilder Lane. She cannot be separated from her mother's legacy; she had too great a role in developing the books, and her influence on her mother is undeniable. But my gosh, Lane is exhausting to read about. She was mentally ill, vacillating between suicidal depression and manic spending sprees, and as she grew older her extreme politics took on a sinister bent. If she were alive today, she would be an alt right troll on Twitter.

    Fraser doesn't shy away from showing how Lane's politics--and Wilder's--evolved through the ends of their lives. It's not a pretty truth; actually, it's rather infuriating to see how Wilder's celebration of the can-do American farming experience was so far from reality. Her family was persistently poor. They settled on Kansas land they had no right to. They slipped out of Burr Oak, Iowa, in the dead of night to evade debt. Wilder's sisters and mother died, still utterly stricken by poverty. Wilder was only secure at the end because of her book sales, as her Missouri farm had always hovered at the edge of failure, too, intermittently blessed and damned by Lane's financial whims.

    While this book will be enlightening for anyone who loves Wilder's work, it should be regarded as a vital read for anyone with an interest in American history from 1860 onward. It presents on honest, brutal assessment of what Native Americans endured in Minnesota and beyond, the realities of farming, the interplay of politics on local and national levels, and how the west was settled--and unsettled in our modern era of oil pipelines and fracking.

  • Diane

    "Prairie Fires" is one of my favorite biographies I read in 2017. It's about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but there is so much social history here that it's also the story of the American plains. Homesteaders. Indians. Wolves. Railroads. Market crashes. Drought. Tornadoes. Blizzards.

    And of course, devastating, all-consuming fires.

    I grew up reading the "Little House" books about Laura Ingalls, and like millions of children, I loved them. Being a child of the 80s, I also grew up liking the

    "Prairie Fires" is one of my favorite biographies I read in 2017. It's about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but there is so much social history here that it's also the story of the American plains. Homesteaders. Indians. Wolves. Railroads. Market crashes. Drought. Tornadoes. Blizzards.

    And of course, devastating, all-consuming fires.

    I grew up reading the "Little House" books about Laura Ingalls, and like millions of children, I loved them. Being a child of the 80s, I also grew up liking the "Little House" TV show starring Michael Landon (even though it greatly exaggerated the affluence of the Ingalls family, making it charmingly ridiculous in hindsight). Reading "Prairie Fires" will bring new appreciation and insight to fellow fans. The biography is brilliantly written and structured, beginning with damnable government policies and violent clashes with the Indians before Laura was born; following her family through their difficult and circuitous travels around the Midwest; detailing her marriage to Almanzo and her tempestuous relationship with their daughter, Rose (who seemed to suffer from manic-depressive illness); continuing with how Laura got her start writing the children's books, and how Rose was a wizardly co-writer hiding behind the curtain; and finally, the strange story of what happened to the Wilder estate after Laura died.

    There are so many fascinating details in this book that I cannot recommend it highly enough. It may damage your childish dreams about Laura's pioneer experiences that were featured in the original novels, but those were always a fictionalized version of the truth. The reality is much more interesting, and is a story worth knowing.

    "Laura Ingalls Wilder was a real person. Not only a fictional character, although she lives on in that guise. When you stand in the small town cemeteries where she and her people are buried, you know that they were real. In the silence on the rise in De Smet, on the hill in Mansfield, covered by grass and gray markers, there are real bodies buried in the ground, not images or icons or fantasies.

    "Her voice speaks to us of those people and their feeling for the land. It speaks not about policy or politics but about her parents, her sisters, her husband, and her love for them. It speaks of her delight in nature, those glorious moments on untouched open prairies, watching the geese fly overhead. 'Our family was De Smet,' she said simply, of those days when they were alone on Silver Lake. She always remembered that place, that moment, 'a wild, beautiful little body of water, a resting place for the wild water birds of all kinds, many varieties of ducks, wild geese, swans, and pelicans.'

    "Wilder's family was every family that came to the frontier and crossed it, looking for something better, something beyond, no matter the cost to themselves or others. But however emblematic her portrait, it was also achingly specific, down to the lilt of the songs they sang and their last glimpse of an intact prairie: the grasses waving and blowing in the wind, the violets blooming in the buffalo wallows, the setting sun sending streamers through the sky. In the end, being there was all she ever wanted."

  • Cynthia

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

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

    Thank you to the publishers for providing and copy.

  • Julie

    Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser is a 2017

    Metropolitan Books publication.

    This is an incredible biography of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder of

    fame.

    To say this book on Wilder's life is comprehensive would be an understatement. Caroline Fraser paints a vivid portrait of the beloved author, but still preserves the respect for her novels that have entertained ma

    Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser is a 2017

    Metropolitan Books publication.

    This is an incredible biography of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder of

    fame.

    To say this book on Wilder's life is comprehensive would be an understatement. Caroline Fraser paints a vivid portrait of the beloved author, but still preserves the respect for her novels that have entertained many of us for generations.

    As a child, I read the ‘Little House’ books over and over again, and of course, I tuned in once a week to watch the television show. (Until it got too soapy and I started to outgrow it)

    So, naturally, when I saw this book, I knew I had to have it. As it has been pointed out, the books Wilder wrote were a fictionalized accounting of her childhood. This leaves one to wonder about Wilder’s life, beyond her childhood and marriage, and what information she may have glossed over while writing her books, which were primarily a hit among children.

    With over six hundred pages, this book was not only a very detailed, extensive look, at Laura Ingalls Wilder, but the historical evolutions that took place during her life.

    I won’t go into the details provided in the book, as you will want to read those for yourselves, but I will say I was very taken aback by some of the historical details, by some of the antics Charles Ingalls, Laura's father, got up to, and some of Wilder’s attitudes towards those in a worse situation than her own, as well as how political she and her daughter, Rose, often were.

    A great deal of time is spent on Rose Lane, Wilder’s only surviving child, and their complicated relationship. I had never heard any of this information and found myself riveted by the stark differences between the two women, and Rose's bold, selfish manipulations.

    I simply can not fathom the amount of time and work the author must have put into this book. Not only does she dig deeply into Wilder’s life, giving us one of the most in -depth studies of her struggles and opinions, thus allowing the most realistic and insightful view of who this woman really was, and the impact her daughter has on the public persona we’ve embraced up until this moment, but she also researched the historical eras Wilder lived through, providing a striking look at the harsh life many were subjected to, barely able to survive, and the complicated land agreements that displaced many Native Americans.

    The failures and disasters came around far more than the triumphs. It wasn’t until Wilder was in her fifties and sixties that her writing career took off.

    Although this book is almost encyclopedic, and may look as though it would be dry reading, and does seem daunting, with its ‘door stop’ weightiness, I found it was very absorbing and the pages seem to zoom by. Even so, it did take a while to read through it. There are lots of notes and I tend to skim over all that, but it is nice to have the information available for future reference. There are several wonderful photos of the Ingalls/Wilder family, of Laura, and of Rose, who plays a large role in this book.

    Overall, I must say this book was much more than I bargained for. It is very, very well researched, and as such, I learned a great deal from it, and despite the risk of disillusionment, I found Laura Ingalls Wilder to be quite an interesting person. She was a hard worker, often carrying the weight of her family on her shoulders, and like all of us to varying degrees, complex, difficult, and at times I didn’t care for her attitude, while at others I admired her temerity, and her ability to staunchly weather all the hardships life through onto her path. I didn’t always understand her point of view, didn’t always agree with her choices, and found Rose Lane to be a real pain, but at the end of the day, this biography is one of the best I’ve ever read.

    Even if you are not a fan of the ‘Little House’ books, the historical aspects alone are worth giving the book a try. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading history, and of course for those who would like to know the real truth about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    5 stars

  • Anna H

    Caroline Fraser writes as effectively as David McCullough or Ron Chernow as a biographer in her ability to tell a great story and get the subjects she's describing down to their complicated personalities and relationships. This is a tall order with really high expectations for her intended audience: the international, multi-generational fan base of Little House fans -- but she did it well.

    Fraser covered a lot of the same ground from the annotated "Pioneer Girl," published in 2014, but in "Prair

    Caroline Fraser writes as effectively as David McCullough or Ron Chernow as a biographer in her ability to tell a great story and get the subjects she's describing down to their complicated personalities and relationships. This is a tall order with really high expectations for her intended audience: the international, multi-generational fan base of Little House fans -- but she did it well.

    Fraser covered a lot of the same ground from the annotated "Pioneer Girl," published in 2014, but in "Prairie Fires" we learn much more about the mother-daughter relationship with Rose, Laura's only surviving child, and according to some, alleged ghost writer. But Fraser puts to rest the rumors that have pervaded the legacy of the series and sets the record straight about the editorial relationship, showing that Rose's writing style and ideas about the difference between fiction and personal (political) reflection vary markedly with her mother's.

    Fraser's outstanding research into the historical span of Ingalls's life was especially captivating. She covered western expansion through homesteading, Indian conflicts, economic depressions and recessions -- and the disappearance of the western frontier with excellent detail -- it never felt like I was reading a boring account of history, because Fraser kept the focus of the historical backstory on how it would look from the Ingalls and Wilder families' eyes. I learned so much just from that alone.

    For anyone who loves the books, this is a must-own volume for your personal library.

    But the end of the book might have contained my favorite part and quote, when she chronicled the genesis of the television show. I've wondered for years who brought it to the small screen and who was responsible for its essentially fan fiction storylines.

    In two words: Michael Landon.

    I've often wondered what Laura would think of the show -- it debuted nearly a decade and a half after her death, and after Rose's. Years had gone by since anyone but lawyers were dealing with the copy rights...however, I think she'd shake her head in dismay, but perhaps secretly be pleased with how many people were touched by her family's legacy -- and their part in shaping historical thought on the settling of the west.

    Fraser does make it clear, though: the series is fiction, if based on real people and places, it can't be considered entirely autobiographical, as Laura -- with Lane's help -- did fictionalize many details, story lines and anecdotes throughout. But that might not be important. The chief reason Laura published the series was to preserve the stories of her family and share their legacy with a young audience, and on that count, she succeeded in spades:

  • Matt

    - Caroline Fraser,

    - Laura Ingalls Wilder, from the opening lines of

    The impressions we form in our youth are among the strongest we will ever have. That is probably why the people who were introduced to the

    books as children remain attached to them so strongly. It has been years (and years, and years, and years) since I first listened to my dad as he read the series to me. Once I learned to read myself, I went through the series again, and again. Their presence has never left me, something I can’t say about

    or

    . As soon as my first child was born, I mentally began counting down the days when I would break out my tattered edition of

    and read that fairy-tale like hook. With my oldest daughter just turning six, we have finally reached that time.

    Despite my great love for

    , I have spent precious little time wondering about its creator. I never knew of or paid attention to the lingering controversy about whether the series represented fact or fiction (today I think we can comfortably say that it’s a blend, and be okay with that). I never really attempted to place Laura or her family in a historical context, since the books themselves are remarkably ahistorical, mostly eschewing dates, times, and goings-on in the wider world.

    In other words, when I picked up Caroline Fraser’s cradle-to-grave biography of the real Laura, I did not do so with any great expectations. Rather, I had a mild interest in the woman who created the girl who taught me all about making molasses candy in the snow and churning butter and constructing a door without iron hinges. Thus, I was unprepared to be utterly blown away by this fantastic volume. Fraser’s work is rich, layered, and powerful. It is a quintessentially American tale of poverty to riches straight from the unforgiving frontier. But instead of making her wealth from the land, which Wilder’s books always assured us was possible, with just a little more sweat, a little more time, she found success in turning the failures of her own life into a sweetly packaged saga. It is a remarkable tale.

    The dominant them of

    is crushing and abject poverty. It is about failing, trying again, failing again, and trying again (and failing again). This sounds terribly depressing, but before you stop reading, let me assure you, it is not. Instead, it is honest. It gives you the hardscrabble reality of the homesteader, of the poor pioneer sold the Jeffersonian dream of a secure and happy life on a self-sustaining farm, only to be crushed by unsuitable land, years-long droughts, and creditors, always the creditors. With the exception of Laura, who achieved her lasting literary success late in life, the rest of her family died without ever discovering the elusive Eden in the west.

    Their failures, though, do not make them failures. As Fraser expertly demonstrates, through every scrap of documentary evidence she can find, these were amazing people: tough, resilient, gutsy, and undaunted. If you’ve ever read the

    series, you know that Pa – Charles Ingalls – is one of the stars. His love of Laura, and Laura’s love for him, is the most profound relationship in the novels, especially given Wilder’s tendency to highlight mechanistic processes and descriptions of nature over scenes of intimacy. Here, the real Charles Ingalls steps forward, and you see that that aspect – the love between the father and daughter – was real. I’ll be honest, I might have shed a tear when Charles died.

    Fraser’s telling of the Ingalls true-life adventures, here given in unexpurgated fashion, with all the thorny little details (such as the Ingalls family squatting illegally on Osage land) is reason enough to read

    . Things only get better, though, with the introduction of Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s only child, and a literary dervish, unforgettable in her own right. Rose is like something out of fiction: a world traveler; an outspoken journalist; a financial sieve who made and spent fortunes; a political hardliner who ended up outflanking the John Birch society; and a self-taught genius as an editor and storyteller. She also probably suffered from a mental illness, as shown by the many suicidal musings in her journal. Here, Rose proves a perfect foil to her reserved and polite mother.

    One of the best sections in this thoroughly entertaining biography details the working relationship between Rose and Laura. For as long as the

    books have existed, Laura has been dogged by allegations that Rose was the true author. As Fraser persistently shows, through examination of letters and manuscripts and Rose’s own oeuvre, those charges are false. Certainly, Rose helped mold the clay, adding in various fictions, and softening rough edges. But this is hardly tantamount to ghostwriting. If anything, Rose pilfered Laura’s life for her own novels, which Rose used to advance her increasingly strident libertarian politics.

    The only flaw in this book is a flaw within myself. It broke the

    spell that Laura wove for me so many years ago. It will be hard, going forward, to fully embrace the warm and cozy cabin, knowing it was at times nothing but a drafty tar paper shack; and those delectable meals she lovingly described were often the menu spun by her own imagination.

    Moreover, the canvas that she paints of the American West is riddled with holes and colored by nostalgia. The frontier she describes only really existed in the mind and memory. The land she described as empty was actually peopled by Indian tribes; when she saw an absence, it was because they had been pacified, either killed or removed. The self-sustaining farms she talks about were seldom self-sustaining. They were dead ends of debt and ecological disaster. The distortion of the western historiography matters, because we base so much of our national character on that experience.

    But I don’t think Laura Ingalls Wilder ever set out to bolster a national fable. I think, to the contrary, that her self-mythologizing helped her cope. She tamed her own past by writing these stories.

    And there are still good lessons to be learned. Chief among them, the ability to find joy in the everyday things:

    Forget the paeans to doing-it-yourself, to enduring, and making do. The real heart of

    is the pleasure one takes in a peppermint stick at Christmas; in the way that sunlight dances across the ripples of a creek; in the deep contentment of being surrounded by those you love, and who love you back.

  • Louise

    This biography is thorough, interpretive and page turning. It digests enormous research on the Ignalls-Wilder family and the history of and US policy regarding the areas in which they traveled. It shows how the Homesteading Act and homesteading itself, climate/ecology, and cultural and official attitudes towards poverty buffeted this family.

    You learn the real story of Charles and Caroline Ignalls which their daughter heavily air brushed in her very popular “Little House..” books. Author Carolin

    This biography is thorough, interpretive and page turning. It digests enormous research on the Ignalls-Wilder family and the history of and US policy regarding the areas in which they traveled. It shows how the Homesteading Act and homesteading itself, climate/ecology, and cultural and official attitudes towards poverty buffeted this family.

    You learn the real story of Charles and Caroline Ignalls which their daughter heavily air brushed in her very popular “Little House..” books. Author Caroline Fraser recounts the pitfalls of homesteading: drought, grasshoppers, house, barn and prairie fires, intimidation by Indians and having no sons. The Ignall's fell prey to them all of them. You see the Ignall's family moving from place to place as they freeze, nearly starve to death and lose everything several times.

    Laura most likely idealized her childhood in these books to honor her parents. Her attitude towards poverty was shame, and the truth was conveniently inappropriate for children’s reading. You see the straight line from Charles and Caroline to Laura. Like her brave, resourceful, tireless parents, Laura is thrifty, multi-talented, proud and never gives up. The line from Laura and Almanzo to their daughter, Rose, is not so clear.

    In her earliest years, Rose Wilder had a taste of her parents’ trials. She was moved from place to place as her parents followed friends and relatives from South Dakota to Florida eventually settling at age 8 in Missouri. Two events may hang over her life: did she as a toddler set the fire that caused her parents to lose their house? Was she blamed for the loss of the money (later found) set aside to purchase the next homestead dream? These may be the events that shaped her erratic life, her suicidal tenancies, her adoption of young men and her extreme right wing politics.

    Fraser presents the entanglement of what appears to be a long suffering mother and her adult disrespectful daughter. Rose used her money and fame to support her parents and hoist her mother’s writing career (Laura had been writing for farm journals). But did Rose really support her parents? A case can be made that every dollar she gave them came back to her when she squandered her advances and royalties. Also, how much did the daughter write or edit her mother’s work (for which the daughter claims credit)?

    When I read this series as a child, I was amazed to learn the author had just died. It dramatized for me the short amount of time from covered wagons to cars. Reading this book shows further compression. Rose Wilder Lane’s last adopted son, Roger MacBride, inherited the copyrights (parlayed into the TV show which further repackaged the truth about the Wilders) and at age 35 was (perhaps the first) Koch sponsored candidate for President on the Libertarian ticket (running against Ford and Carter).

    Caroline Fraser has done a tremendous job. This book should be of interest to writers and historians and anyone interested in the realities of prairie life 1870-1900. Beware to Little House fans who want to keep their fantasies alive.

  • Laura

    My father was a young man when the Depression hit, in 1929. And although the line of work he was in, first building movie stars home, and then working for the studios building sets, did not suffer, the rest of his family did. He was, if not the sole supporter of his family, of his four, then three brothers, and parents, he was at least the main breadwinner. This effected him for the rest of his life. He knew how to pinch pennies like it was no ones business. Although he ended up building a house

    My father was a young man when the Depression hit, in 1929. And although the line of work he was in, first building movie stars home, and then working for the studios building sets, did not suffer, the rest of his family did. He was, if not the sole supporter of his family, of his four, then three brothers, and parents, he was at least the main breadwinner. This effected him for the rest of his life. He knew how to pinch pennies like it was no ones business. Although he ended up building a house for the family he had later, in a posh area of L.A., he would still shift through trash cans to find recycling material, on trash day, before recycling was a big thing.

    Laura Ingalls Wilder survived not one, not two, but three depressions. We, as a collective we, remember the one in 1929, because our grandparents, and parents remember it. But few today remember the ones that happened in the late 1800s.

    Laura did, and she, like my father, knew that there might, and would be another one around the corner, and so stayed as thrifty as she could be, even when her farms in the Ozarks was doing well, and she was relatively comfortable. And, because she had survived, she figured that others could do the same, without government help.

    I bring this last point up, because this is a major theme going through this very weighty tome about Laura's life. The second major theme, that is hammered home, is that the homestead act was a disaster, and caused the Dust Bowl. And because the Homestead act was help from the government, Laura was a hypocrite in later life.

    You may think you know about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, because you have read all the Little House books, as I have. You may think, well, I have also read the ones that came out after her death, such as

    (her leaving the Dakotas for the Ozarks),

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

    the collection of her columns she was writing for the newspapers, before she wrote the little house books. Yes, I too have read those as well, and yet, much of

    covers even more than that. It brings in the history of what was really going on, when her stories were supposed to have taken place, as well as the history of what happened after she left the Dakotas, until, in the height of the depression, she started writing about her life, to bring in a little more money.

    Have you ever wondered why

    is so very, very different from all her other books? This book answers that question. It also explains how the books are really out of order, how

    should have come first, then

    .

    And although I love her books, and probably always will, it is amazing to see how she and Rose, her daughter, changed the narrative, so that everything was built on self-reliance, that no one ever needed a hand out if they all stuck together, and by gum, you could have a farm, and make a living, and it was all good, despite that not being how it ended up.

    Warning, this is a long, and weighty book, filled with footnotes, and citations, and a boat-load of research.

    Highly recommend it to all of those of us who grew up on these stories. Everyone should add this book to their collection.

    Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.

  • Jennifer

    Y'all Rose Wilder Lane was THE WORST.

  • Chris

    Very close to five stars for me. (And this is coming from someone who never read a single Laura Ingalls Wilder book or saw a single episode of "Little House on the Prairie.")

WISE BOOK is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2018 WISE BOOK - All rights reserved.