...deserves recognition as an essential text for getting a grip on the dynamics and consequences of this vast literary enterprise [of chronicling the West] ... 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. Just as effectively, for readers with a pre-existing condition of enthusiasm for western American history and literature, this book will refresh and revitalize interpretations that may be ready for some rattling ... Perhaps most valuable, Prairie Fires demonstrates a style of exploration and deliberation that offers a welcome point of orientation for all Americans dismayed by the embattled state of truth in these days of polarization.
...an impressive piece of social history that uses the events of Wilder’s life to track, socially and politically, the development of the American continent and its people ... Prairie Fires could not have been published at a more propitious time in our national life. In the 1930s, populists like the Wilders were a minority voice in America; it was rather the characters in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath who reflected the mood of the country. They resembled the people who, in their millions, greeted Roosevelt as a savior, convinced that his was the view required for national survival. Today, the balance of power has reversed. The Wilders among us now occupy a position so influential they have been able to elect someone of their own persuasion to the American presidency. The frontier mentality they still embody is less likely to shore up a potentially failing democracy than to wreck it altogether.
Fraser brings a learned hand to this substantial biography of Wilder, learned and substantial though also light on its feet, washed with color, and opinionated ... Fraser’s color commentary freshens the story time and again, because Laura’s life was one of wildfire, dust storms, house fires, illnesses like diphtheria, tornadoes, crazy 'sinister' weather (as is said, if you don’t like prairie weather, wait a minute), warfare in the Black Hills and warfare with the Osage ... Fraser’s volume feels as secure in its verisimilitude and necessary guesswork as those cozy fireside-reading sessions out there on the glorious prairie, that burning, pestilential, heartbreaking, health-sapping, dust-broiling, dark, and wintry prairie. The book will stand true – a testament to bootstrapping work by both Fraser and Wilder – a lot longer than those sod huts.