...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.
Richly documented (it contains 85 pages of notes), it is the compelling, beautifully written story of a life whose childhood and early years of marriage were beset by incredible economic privation and disaster: poverty, hunger, fire, blizzards, invasions of locusts, and more, enough to seemingly eclipse the biblical plagues of Egypt ... 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. But it is its marriage of biography and history—the latter providing such a rich context for the life—that is one of the great strengths of this indispensable book, an unforgettable American story.
...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.