cover image Dr. Spock

Dr. Spock

Thomas Maier, Maier. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $30 (488pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100203-0

Published in 1946, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care has never been out of print. Weaned on ""Dr. Spock,"" Newsday reporter Maier describes the volume as not merely a manual but ""like a pediatrician [who is] open all night."" Few literate American parents thereafter were unaffected by its humane approaches to child care, which was until then far more rigid and doctrinaire. The folksy Spock became a household word and his book ""a barometer of child rearing."" While parents in the millions ""seemed to prefer their baby doctors... without any messy political views,"" Spock was emboldened to activism when race, nuclear rivalry and Vietnam entered public consciousness. Born in 1903, he was approaching retirement when he took up controversy. Whatever his success in counseling others, his own family life was a shambles. His first wife was an alcoholic depressive; his sons felt that he failed to practice with them what he preached, maintains the author; at 73, when he married a divorced woman of 32, he had trouble as a stepfather. He survives in his 90s as an idealist. Maier thus has two good stories to tell--the good and influential doctor, and the quixotic prophet and visionary. He tells them equally well. Photos. (May) FYI: Pocket will release Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care Guide in a seventh edition in June to coincide with the bio.