Prairie Fires|Caroline Fraser
Prairie Fires : The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
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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 Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser--the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House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.


  • ISBN-13: 9781250182487
  • ISBN-10: 1250182484
  • Publisher: Picador USA
  • Publish Date: August 2018
  • Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.05 pounds
  • Page Count: 656

Book Clubs: Living between the lines

Four standout biographies of American female writers will foster excellent discussion for reading groups.

Tracy Daugherty’s The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion chronicles the life of essayist, journalist and fiction writer Didion, who made her name in the 1960s with era-defining works like Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album. The first biography on Didion, Daugherty’s brisk and fluid book contains a plethora of interesting topics for conversation, from the gender dynamics of Didion’s carefully constructed literary persona to the impact of her home state of California on her outlook and writing as they both evolved over the course of the 1960s and ’70s.

In Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin sheds new light on the background of visionary fiction author Jackson, who wrote the famously creepy novel The Haunting of Hill House (the basis for the 2018 Netflix series). Along the way, Franklin traces the roots of Jackson’s dark aesthetic, which mined the quiet tensions of wifehood in postwar America and specifically her own tumultuous marriage to create chilling psychological horror. How much have things improved for women, and specifically female artists? Ask your group, if you dare.

Read our review of Shirley Jackson by Ruth Franklin.

Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder proves that Wilder’s life was a lot tougher and more complicated than she depicted in her Little House books. Using rare source materials, Fraser documents the financial hardships, risky farm enterprises and vagaries of nature that dogged the Wilder and Ingalls families. Fraser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography raises tricky questions of how American history has often been romanticized rather than truthfully portrayed. If you have any diehard Little House fans in your group, make sure they’re ready for a no-holds-barred reevaluation of the classic series and the family that inspired it.

Read our interview with Caroline Fraser.

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry is an impassioned investigation of Hansberry, who deserves to be remembered for much more than her iconic play, A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry used her platform to promote civil rights and support African leaders fighting against colonialism, and she joined one of the first lesbian organizations in America. (Hansberry was married to activist Robert B. Nemiroff but identified as a lesbian.) Like Didion’s, Hansberry’s life can spur conversation about many fascinating, thorny aspects of midcentury America.