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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  15,649 ratings  ·  2,756 reviews

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

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

Kindle Edition, 640 pages
Published November 21st 2017 by Metropolitan Books (first published November 14th 2017)
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sam This is terrific but it is a bubbleburster even more than Pioneer Girl. If you like your Wilder the way you remember it this might be too much info.
Elaine I listened to the audiobook, and I wish I hadn't. The narrator kept mentioning photographs--I guess they were included in the print book? I googled bu…moreI listened to the audiobook, and I wish I hadn't. The narrator kept mentioning photographs--I guess they were included in the print book? I googled but couldn't find some of the ones she mentioned.

Also I thought the narrator's voice was kind of annoying: high-pitched and a bit smug. That could just be personal taste, though.(less)

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Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Y'all Rose Wilder Lane was THE WORST.

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

‘All that I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth’

This is an incredible biography of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder of ‘The Little House on Prairie’ 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
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, frontier
“If [Laura Ingalls] Wilder’s life was triumphant…it was a different kind of triumph than we are accustomed to recognizing. She wrote no laws, led no one into battle, waged no campaigns. If we listen to her, we can hear what she was telling us. Life in frontier times was a perpetual hard winter. There was joy…but it was fleeting. There was heroism, but it was the heroism of daily perseverance, the unprized tenacity of unending labor. It was the heroism of chores, repetitive tasks defined by drudg ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At 515 pages, Prairie Fires asks for a chunk of your time, but I found myself more and more enthralled by it as I read deeper into Laura Ingalls Wilder's fascinating life. What Carolyn Fraser does is tell you the truth behind the fantasy of the Little House books. Fraser is a prodigious researcher, but never pedantic or trite. She writes as Wilder did with the directness and honesty true to her subject.
The most riveting part of the book for me was Wilder's contentious relationship with her only
Spring is my favorite season. It is a time of rebirth, the new baseball season, and the Pulitzer announcement. While not a fan of awards shows that drag for hours, I giddily await the Pulitzer Prize reveal each year with anticipation. It is an ongoing, open ended goal of mine to read as many Pulitzer winners as possible over the course of my lifetime. Whether I enjoy the content or not, the books are usually well written and a joy to read. This year, I was delighted to find out that the winner f ...more
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
Clif Hostetler
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book is marketed and generally reviewed as the definitive biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series of books. My description is a bit different.

This Pulitzer Prize winning book came across to me as a verbal Venn diagram consisting of three major biographies of; (1) Laura Ingalls Wilder, (2) her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, and (3) the Little House books themselves which seem to have a continuing life of their own by turning into a TV series leading to a secondary ex
Enjoyed this biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder, especially since Wilder is the author who made me the reader that I am. Well researched, intelligent and an incredibly detailed background about the period in history during which the Ingalls, Laura, Almanzo and Rose Wilder Lane grew up.

BUT, this book also made the real characters quite unlikeable. I realize the true story behind the Little House books was a lot more stark, harsh and depressing than the picture Wilder painted in her children’s
"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
Just an absolutely wonderful and informative book that I can't praise highly enough. Even though I've read so many books about Laura Ingalls Wilder, this thoroughly researched biography is densely packed with new information. When I say densely packed, Caroline Fraser has delved into many different areas to flesh out Laura's life as well as the life of the Great Plains prairies.

The Homestead Act passed in 1862 which basically gave away 160 acres of government owned land in the west to anyone wh
Linda Hart
This is an excessively detailed history/biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and has been hailed to be "the most complete and unvarnished biography of LIW ever published." I found the book tedious but "Little House on the Prairie" devotees wil likely revel in it. At 600+ pages I suggest the reader skip the 2nd part of the book which is primarly about LIW's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was a truly unlikeable person. The 3rd and final part of the book was interesting to me. It deals with the elder ...more
Gretchen Rubin
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been an ardent fan of the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder since I was a little girl. I remember my father reading them to me, before I could read myself, and every Christmas for several years, Santa Claus would bring me a book. So I was fascinated to read this thorough account of the life of LIW and also her daughter Rose Wilder Lane -- who played a big role in the Little House books. So many interesting details...such as the fact that LIW hadn't seen her mother Caroline in more than 20 years ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came for Laura Ingalls Wilder and I got one of the best American history lessons I've ever gotten from a biography.

I've read almost every LIW biography out there or have it on my TBR list. I didn't go into this expecting to learn a lot new about her life or her relationship with her daughter Rose and I didn't -- although the question surrounding the year of Almanzo's birth was a new revelation. If you aren't well schooled on her life, you will be when you finish this book. It is very detailed
Wow, this just won a Pulitzer Prize for best biography or autobiography. Even though I gave it only four stars, it really is an amazing read, and opens your eyes.


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 le
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, I finished it. Admittedly, I had to skim a lot of the parts about Rose. Ugh. Clearly, this is a well-researched book. Sadly, good research does not make for a good book.

What I liked:
-I definitely have a much better understanding of Wilder and her life. It's clear that my favorite TV show growing up was a far from accurate portrayal of the actual events. (Coincidentally, I happened to catch an episode of Little House on TV while reading this. The one where Mary and Adam are running the scho
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Claire Reads Books
Jan 19, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
5 stars to the first 175 pages of this book, ZERO stars to Rose Wilder Lane, as a person!

This book is divided into three parts, and the first section is incredible, covering Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood and adolescence and the early history of homesteading in the West and its effects on the Native populations there (including displacement of the Dakota in Minnesota following the Dakota War of 1862 and the Ingalls’ attempt to squat on Osage lands in Kansas).

The second section of the book focu
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
So yes indeed, I very much do appreciate the meticulous and copious amount of historical research that has obviously gone into Caroline Fraser's 2017 Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder and also just as strongly consider that Fraser certainly presents a generally thoroughly academically sound and above all mostly realistic portrait of not only Laura Ingalls Wilder's life (both generally speaking and of course also as a writer) but equally of 19th century American history ( ...more
grllopez ~ with freedom and books
A HIT PIECE on Laura Ingalls Wilder, her life, the legacy and success of the Little House stories in American culture, Laura's wayward daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, pioneer America, Conservative/Libertarian ideals, and anyone else who crossed those paths!

Obviously Fraser did extensive historical research for her project, but it didn't help me appreciate her work. At first it read like a really strong chronological history of Laura Ingalls' life and what happened simultaneously in America and the
PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps
I grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie (LHOP) books and watching the TV series. To me, Melissa Gilbert was Laura Ingalls Wilder and Michael Landon, Charles. Melissa and I were born a month apart, Laura and I both clumsy compared to our more perfect siblings both facts made my kinship with LIW feel even more real.

When PRAIRIE FIRES was on a one day Kindle sale for $2.99, I grabbed the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, expecting an adult experience like I had with Little House. I knew L
This was unbelievably good. It's a biography about Wilder, of course, but it's not especially sympathetic toward her. Rather, what makes Fraser's book excel is how it's such a historical picture of the time between westward expansion (and conquering--she's not afraid to say as much) and the dawn of flight as a travel medium. That period of 90 years or so is absolutely fascinating and it's absorbing to take it in via Wilder.

There is no sympathy here, either, for Rose Wilder Lane. In fact, the en
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Anyone with an interest in post-Civil War American history as well as a love of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series should seriously consider investing their time in this book. (Make no mistake, it’s an investment. I’ve read longer books, but this one is incredibly dense...dense, but worth it.) Meticulously researched, the vast amount and scope of information managed to maintain my interest and the author made everything relevant to Wilder and her family. Much information after a point revolved around ...more
Jan 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.") ...more
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
Jennie Damron
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By shear determination and force of will, I finished this book. It's not that the book was bad. The writing was exceptional, but the book as a whole was a hard read. The author had a depressed outlook on a life of a woman who I don't think would share that same view. Mrs. Wilder endured every hardship you could think of, but people say how kind she was and how she carried herself with dignity. I don't think she would have viewed her life in so Dark a lens. If I wasn't already familiar with Li
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Odd that my review for this excellent and comprehensive biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder was lost in Goodreads land because I recall being totally gobsmacked by the real life of Wilder, her family and her slightly venomous daughter.

The author does such a great job of filling in the real details of the stories I grew up reading (and watching on TV as a devotee of the series— it was the only night of the week I was allowed to stay up until 9pm... ahhh the 1970s...).

I highly recommend this book
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received an advance reading copy of this book, for free, through Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for my honest review.

Growing up, I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and was a fan of the 1970s television series Little House on the Prairie. Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, billed as “The first comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder”, is a book I was looking forward to reading. Fraser’s biography of Wilder is
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, written by the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books, is a thoroughly researched biography of not only Laura Ingalls Wilder, but of her daughter, Rose. Using unpublished manuscripts, letters, financial records and more, Caroline Fraser gives fresh insight into the life of a woman beloved to many, and whose life everyone has known about through the Little House books.

I found this book to be fascinating. I had recently re-read the Little House series, surpr
Mar 23, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a perfect example of how not to write a historical biography. This is one frustrating book to read because the author is such a poor writer and has no idea how to pull together a narrative storyline without going off on tangents or including her speculative opinions on virtually every page. The facts are here, but pulling together lots of printed information from 150 years ago does not a good story make. Instead the reader is forced to read over and over "perhaps," "maybe," "could have," ...more
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Readers also enjoyed

  • Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
  • These Happy Golden Years (Little House, #8)
  • The First Four Years  (Little House, #9)
  • Little Town on the Prairie  (Little House, #7)
  • The Long Winter (Little House, #6)
  • The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek (Little House, #4)
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake  (Little House, #5)
  • West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915  (Little House #11)
  • On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894  (Little House #10)
  • Caroline: Little House, Revisited
  • The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books
  • Farmer Boy (Little House, #2)
  • Young Pioneers
  • The Beautiful Snow: The Ingalls Family, the Railroads, and the Hard Winter of 1880-81
  • The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War
  • Little House in the Big Woods (Little House, #1)
  • Virginia Woolf's Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk's House
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Caroline Fraser was born in Seattle and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in English and American literature. Formerly on the editorial staff of The New Yorker, she is the author of two nonfiction books, God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church and Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution, both published by Henry Holt's Metropolitan Books.


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