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Prairie Fires: Book summary and reviews of Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires

The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser X
Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser
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  • Published Nov 2017
    640 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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

One of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year and winner of the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Awards for Biography.

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 Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser?the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House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

  • award image National Book Critics Circle Awards, 2017
  • award image Pulitzer Prize, 2018

Reviews

Media Reviews

"An absorbing new biography [that] deserves recognition as an essential text.... For anyone who has drifted into thinking of Wilder's 'Little House' books as relics of a distant and irrelevant past, reading Prairie Fires will provide a lasting cure.... Meanwhile, 'Little House' devotees will appreciate the extraordinary care and energy Fraser brings to uncovering the details of a life that has been expertly veiled by myth." - The New York Times Book Review (front page)

"Important and meticulous biography... Complex and astonishing... A subtle, intelligent and quietly explosive study." - Financial Times

"The definitive biography... Magisterial and eloquent... A rich, provocative portrait." - Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Magnificent... A remarkable, noteworthy biography of an American literary icon. It will captivate Little House fans as well as anyone looking to understand 'the perpetual hard winter' of life in frontier times." - USA Today

"Impressive... Prairie Fires could not have been published at a more propitious time in our national life." - The New Republic

"Starred Review. Unforgettable... A magisterial biography, which surely must be called definitive. Richly documented (it contains 85 pages of notes), it is a compelling, beautifully written story.... One of the more interesting aspects of this wonderfully insightful book is its delineation of the fraught relationship between Wilder and her deeply disturbed, often suicidal daughter." - Booklist

"Engrossing… Exhilarating… 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." - Publishers Weekly

"A fantastic book. We've long understood the Little House series to be a great American story, but Caroline Fraser brings it unprecedented new context, as she masterfully chronicles the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family alongside the complicated history of our nation. Prairie Fires represents a significant milestone in our understanding of Wilder's life, work, and legacy." - Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

"Meticulously researched, feelingly told, Prairie Fires is the definitive biography of a major writer who did so much to mold public perceptions of the Western frontier. Once again, Caroline Fraser has shown that she is a master of the careful art of sifting a life, finding meaning in the large and small events that shaped an iconic American figure. Prairie Fires is a magnificent contribution to the literature of the West." - Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West

This information about Prairie Fires was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Caroline Fraser

Caroline Fraser is the author of Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (Metropolitan, 2009) and God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (Metropolitan, 1999), which was selected as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books, and Outside magazine, among others. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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