Good biography, bad biography – two brief book reviews

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 27.04.18

This year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography was Caroline Fraser, for Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

If, like me, you read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, then you already know all about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She grew up in the 1800s on the American frontier, with Ma, Pa, blind sister Grace and little sister Carrie.  Ma was endlessly patient and good, and jovial Pa was wise and strong and brave. There were blizzards and locusts, danger and drama, all tempered by the family’s love for one another. I loved those books, but I’ve not been tempted to reread them, for fear that I’ll be disappointed.

So I was keen to read this biography, apparently the first ever written about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m surprised at that – did other biographers assume that Ingalls Wilder had written so thoroughly about her own childhood and early married life that there was nothing more to say? In fact there was plenty more to say – and biographer Fraser says it all, in excruciating detail. Readers, I couldn’t finish this book. …

 

The full article (and a review of Victorians Undone: Tales of the flesh in the age of decorum by Kathryn Hughes) is available here.

Adventures in Biography: I have a young family and a demanding day job but in my spare time (!) I’m working on a biography of one of Australia’s first white colonists: Elizabeth MacArthur. So far in the course of working on the manuscript I’ve met some wonderful people and travelled to some amazing places. I thought it was about time to share the wonder and my amazement.

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