cover image The Modernization of Fatherhood: A Social and Political History

The Modernization of Fatherhood: A Social and Political History

Ralph LaRossa. University of Chicago Press, $27.5 (295pp) ISBN 978-0-226-46904-1

In his study of changing attitudes toward fatherhood during the 1920s and '30s, LaRossa, a sociology professor at Georgia State, offers some compelling material and an interesting and important thesis--but both are buried under unnecessary details. LaRossa argues that what most people perceive as new attitudes toward fatherhood actually date back decades. His prologue quotes letters and articles from fathers in 1932 that could have been written yesterday, including one from a father who described the hard work and special joy of taking on 2 a.m. feedings. The book is studded with moving raw material in the form of letters that parents wrote to the government seeking advice in caring for their children: ""I nursed my baby mornings and night at night time after working all day then nursing my child. every drop it swallowed it would throw up... while my baby starved and my husband refused to provide for us."" However, as LaRossa labors on, the reader learns more about collections of letters housed at the National Archives than about the changes they illustrate: he even describes the coding system used by the U.S. Children's Bureau to route the letters it received. Scholars who care about writing often say that research should be like an iceberg: only the tip should show. LaRossa, unfortunately, presents the entire mass--peak, slope and base. (Jan.)