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Publisher's Summary

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

Millions of fans 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 story 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 Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser - the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series -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, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books and uncovering the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life.

Set against nearly a century of epochal change, from the Homestead Act and the Indian Wars to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Wilder's dramatic life provides a unique perspective on American history and our national mythology of self-reliance. Offering fresh insight and new discoveries about Wilder's life and times, Prairie Fires is the definitive book about Wilder and her world.

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.

©2017 Caroline Fraser (P)2017 Recorded Books

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great listen for adult Wilder fans.

This text can be broken into two parts. The 1st part talks about Laura's youth and where the series took some liberties. The 2nd part talks about her adult life going into her daughter rose's life discussing how the books came into being and what has happened since the family all passed away legally In terms of the rights to the books. It is an excellent listen and I was captivated with all of the behind the scenes information. it made me hope that someone would attempt a new little house series that is accurate to Laura's writings. a must-listen for all Wilder fans.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Don’t read if you don’t want your fond memories...

…of the Little House on the Prairie books or the TV series from the ‘70s entirely ruined.

Because I had read A Wilder Rose (fictionalized version on Rose Wilder Lane’s life based on a fair amount of research, it seems), my fond memories were already trashed, so I thought I’d listen to nonfiction. Things just got worse. Laura Ingalls Wilder is not particularly likeable (though very industrious) and her daughter, Rose is a lying, delusional, wretch. She seems bi-polar, narcissistic, and/or had borderline personality disorder.

I didn’t really know that the Ingall’s and the Wilder’s lives were always one step shy of completely falling apart, how poor they were, the reckless/impulsive/bad decisions that “Pa” and then Almanzo made.

What I most appreciated was that his story was replaced into historical context. Had it not been, I’m not sure I could have gotten through 21 hours. It was fairly depressing, and really Rose Wilder Lane…ugh. Lots of quotations from her personal diaries and letters. Add to the above that she was cruel, a racist and anti-Semite, always trying to undermine her mother. It was just too much and overwhelmed Wilder's story.

29 of 33 people found this review helpful

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Truthfully painful

A very in-depth work of the times and characters. I'm happy that I read these books to my children years ago. This tale of the real characters is painfull to hear but the thoroughness of the research including the times all of this took place, helped me to have a perspective that made it palatable for me. It's not pretty, just real. I'll stick to real any day.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Wrong title

This book should be called "Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter was a horrible person." I did not purchase this book to get the incredibly detailed account of all of Wilder's' daughter's fundamentally wrong-headed choices in life, but that is what I got - hours of it. Moore's grating and complaining voice made it even worse.
Incredibly annoying and disappointing!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

The “real” story - like life, not always what it seems on the outside

As I have grown older, I have come to realize that the old saying “things are not always what they seem on the outside” is so true. I’ve seen couples who seem incredibly happy end up in divorce, and I’ve learned that a friend & colleague had been embezzling money for years. It’s called real life - full of surprises and disappointments but also much joy. No person is all good or all bad - we are all complicated and real.

To me, this book was like that. I liked to believe the illusion that the Little House stories are 100% real - filled with happiness, courage, goodwill & determination. But that is a fairytale of fiction told to children and sugarcoated so as to not expose them to too much “real” too soon. I realize that there was a reason why the stories stopped when Laura became an adult and certain pieces of Laura’s life were conveniently left out of her books. Those pieces showed heartbreak, sadness, extreme poverty, and in some cases things that I would not have not wanted to know as a child.

As an adult, they make Laura’s story more real. Pieces of this book were hard to read and left a bad taste in my mouth - some made me sad. But they are part of her life story (at least the life that was researched for this book). This book certainly has changed some of my thoughts about the Ingalls & Wilder families. But that’s okay. Regardless of the “less than admirable” parts of their lives, the Little House books gave me a love of books and history. That has formed the person that I am today. Some of my best friends have formed because of books, so without Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, I may not be blessed with those friendships today.

So cheers to Laura and her family - the good & bad. I’m glad I read this book. It was well written & researched, it put the events in Laura’s life in historical context & it made the Ingalls & Wilder families real.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Interesting history

Interesting for anyone who loves the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This book puts those ( mostly) sweet stories into the larger historical context what was happening in the US. This juxtaposition is the most interesting aspect of the book. If you've read any of the other myriad of books about LIW, there is nothing new here. I thought there was too much time spent on Rose Wilder Lane, Laura's daughter; RWL was a prolific writer and there seems to be plenty of her writing left for posterity. Unfortunately, she doesn't come stress as a sympathetic person, and the sections about her are dull. How much did she "contribute" to her mother's books ? I think each reader will form their own opinion.
Christina Moore is a good narrator for this, straightforward with appropriate inflection.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • JB
  • Nebraska
  • 01-20-18

Prairie Thunderstorm Engaging with a Tornado of Bias.

If you are like me the first item with an audio title is the narration. It is very well presented. Despite a few pronunciation glitches, for example Pierre, the production is enjoyable to listen to.

Fraser’s presentation is not for the faint of heart Little House fairy tale reader so be ready for a bumpy ride if you are.

This is a dual bio of Wilder and Lane set against a heavy dose of historical backdrop. And almost immediately this is where Fraser goes off the rails. She will recover at times and I stuck with her because the topic is so interesting to me.

Fraser is no historian and it shows. She makes many mistakes that sometimes appear to be just sloppy work. While others are clearly set piece to support a bias. For which she has many.

I gather from a quick look at her other work she has done some environmental writing. And she brings this to Little House as subtle as a Hurricane

The Homestead Act, homesteading and westward expansion are fundamental to the story. A clear understanding is obviously the foundation to the entire work. Fraser brings her environmental focus like a crusade into the story. The Ingalls and Wilders were simply duped into a “scam,” destined to fail because the Homestead Act was a failure and then were complicit in fraud and get this - climate change. Yes Almanzo with his two row sulky plow caused global climate change induced drought.

With that the reader may ask if Fraser has a grasp on 19th century agricultural practices, as this would form another foundation to the story? Well no, she doesn’t. For example, she will indict Almanzo as committing fraud in his HA claim because he left. She ignores the fact that a homesteader had six months to occupy said claim & this was because they would have had no crop or supplies to support the stock.

Almanzo, according to Fraser, committed fraud by lying about his age on the HA application. This being another example of how terrible the process was. Here we have a clear case of ‘fraud’ on her part. It would be difficult to see it otherwise. The records are clear and can be easily checked with NARA docs.

Almanzo’s age issue was Wilder and Lane playing with facts decades later. This is well known and Fraser knows that Lane in particular is fast and loose with facts. But we have to get the fraud angle worked in somehow.

Little picture things are sprinkled throughout. For example, a “Missouri posse” fought a “proxy war” in “squatter Kansas.” Boy that’s a lot to unpack. A posse is a legal group raised by a sheriff. She does like a posse and will use the word incorrectly multiple times. The Missourian’s were most often called Bushwackers. The era known as Bleeding Kansas was not a “proxy war.” I am not sure what her “squatter” context even is. But there is no historical one for it. I imagine it is another bias against the entire settlement process.

Keystone South Dakota is not at 9,100 ft elevation. Google can be a friend to an author’s fact checker. Although I doubt one was used, a history undergrad intern would have caught most of this.

When covering the move from Wisconsin to Mo/Ks she will use 1850’s overland travel as an example. The Wilders were not going 3,000 miles across unsettled land on a trail of tears covered in burials. It was 1869 in settled Iowa and Missouri.

It is unfortunate we have another title in the Little House pantheon that comes at it from a literary point. Fraser would have done well to stick hard and fast to her area of expertise. I found these sections interesting, but always there is the “can I trust this on a subject I am less knowledgable in?”

Even more unfortunate is the Little House fan who wants to more and uses Fraser exclusively will take this as history. It most certainly is not and note Amazon did not classify it in that category.

If one wants to learn Wilder and her times, Pioneer Girl would be a much better source. Then one could read other secondary sources on areas of interest. For example, Edwards, Homesteading the Plains will show you that it was neither a “failure” or a “fraud.”

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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get this woman an editor!

This book was an exhaustive history of the American Midwest and it's settling by this family. The depth of detail however was kind of crazy. It suffered from too much detail. There are long passages she could have condensed without losing anything. Mentioning every letter or exchange between the mother and daughter is extremely tedious. The daughter really does sound bipolar. The political slant through the last half was very interesting in light of the current president and the movement to have less government in our lives.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Not Quite as Good as I Expected

It took me a while but last night I finally finished Prairie Fires. I Liked it but not quite as much as I expected I would. I am am not sure I wanted to know quite so much about who Laura Ingalls really was. I think I would have preferred to have kept the romanticized picture of Laura Ingalls Wilder that has lived in my imagination all these years rather than the real woman. Her books helped me develop a life long love for historical fiction

I thought that the author did a very good job of giving the reader an accurate picture of the places and time in which the books are set. I really loved that about the book. However it’s my opinion the author used up way too many words on her daughter Rose Wilder Lane who was a real piece of work. Another reviewer said all there was to say about her.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Ridiculously biased and pretty much every single way

Dull and biased almost until the very end. This was a long hard "read". Can't wait for the author to write a biography of Michael Langdon LOL

2 of 3 people found this review helpful