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Prairie Fires
Cover of Prairie Fires
Prairie Fires
The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie books

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 Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser—the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House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.

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie books

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.

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About the Author-
  • Caroline Fraser is the editor of the Library of America edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, and the author of Rewilding the World and God's Perfect Child. Her writing has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, and the London Review of Books, among other publications. She lives in New Mexico.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    June 15, 2017

    From Fraser, editor of the Library of America edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, comes what's billed as the first comprehensive biography of the enduringly popular Wilder, a great way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth. Fraser draws on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records to address gaps in Wilder's story and put to rest charges of ghostwriting. Fans are frothing.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2017
    A sensitive biography of the author of Little House on the Prairie.Many books about Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) have stirred up controversy about her writing career and political views. William Holtz's The Ghost in the Little House (1993) ascribes considerable authorship to Wilder's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane; Christine Woodside's Libertarians on the Prairie (2016) presents compelling evidence for Wilder's ultraconservatism. Fraser (Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution, 2009, etc.), editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books, offers a cleareyed and well-documented examination of Wilder's life, writings, and career; her relationship with Rose; and her politics. Deeply respectful of Wilder as a writer, she deems Little House on the Prairie "a classic work" and "a cultural monument" that, although fiction, tells "the truth about settlement, about homesteading," and about farmers' "astonishing feats of survival," which Wilder experienced firsthand. As a child, she was "constantly uprooted and often imperiled"; married at 18, she faced years of "exhaustion, failure, and regret." After her husband was crippled in an accident, compromising his ability to farm, Wilder, in addition to farm work, took odd jobs. When Rose, a journalist, suggested publishing as a way to make money, Wilder eagerly recorded memories of prairie life. Rose served as editor. Fraser portrays the domineering Rose as erratic, angry, depressive, and self-destructive, repeatedly causing "ruination to herself, bringing her life down around her ears." She compulsively poured money into house renovations and lavish travel, often leaving herself destitute. Like her mother, she was adamantly opposed to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal; she was anti-Semitic, "an apologist for dictatorial regimes," and a champion of Ayn Rand's work. The literary collaboration between mother and daughter was "a competition" between "Wilder's plain, unadorned, fact-based approach versus Lane's polished, dramatic, and fictionalized one. In Wilder's autobiographical work, 'truth' would become a battlefield." What emerged was a nostalgic life story, "reimagined as an American tale of progress," that catapulted Wilder to fame. A vivid portrait of frontier life and one of its most ardent celebrants.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 11, 2017
    The autobiographical Little House on the Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867–1957) occupy a curious space between national mythology, self-reinvention, and truth, as this overlong but engrossing biography from Fraser (Rewilding the World) makes clear. Lovers of the series will delight in learning about real-life counterparts to classic fictional episodes, but, as Fraser emphasizes, the true story was often much harsher. Meticulously tracing the Ingalls and Wilder families’ experiences through public records and private documents, Fraser discovers failed farm ventures and constant money problems, as well as natural disasters even more terrifying and devastating in real life than in Wilder’s writing. She also helpfully puts Wilder’s narrow world into larger historical context, showing that the books’ self-sufficient farmers were more dependent on federal assistance than Wilder depicted in her novels. Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, emerges as an integral character in her mother’s later life. Lane, a professional author in her own right, vigorously edited her mother’s manuscripts, though Fraser debunks the myth that Lane ghostwrote the books. But their relationship was a fraught one, and Fraser paints an unflattering portrait of Lane’s dishonesty and descent into right-wing paranoia. She concludes by examining Wilder’s pop cultural legacy. Fraser’s exploration of Wilder’s life opens her subject to new scrutiny, which, for Wilder’s many fans, may be both exhilarating and disconcerting.

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