Maier...has done a marvelous job conveying a life that, despite shocks and deep sorrows, was an American triumph.
Since this biography was written for the general public, it has a clear but conversational, almost chatty style. Maier provides a factual and informative account of the life of this interesting figure in American medicine....Certainly, this book will be indispensable to all who are interested in Benjamin Spock as well as those who are interested in the 20th-century cultural norms of child rearing.
New England Journal of Medicine
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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dr. Benjamin M. Spock, who died in March of this year, was an American institution. Although several generations of parents and children were raised with help from his classic
Baby and Child Care, his own family apparently did not benefit from his advice. Raised by a domineering, puritanical mother, Spock married an alcoholic manic-depressive and failed to establish a close relationship with his children, according to the author. Maier, a journalist, spent more than 60 hours interviewing Spock, his second wife, Mary Morgan, and family members and colleagues. He also had access to family archives and library collections. The emerging portrait of a pioneer who brought modern psychological theories to parenting and a political activist, of a man who could relate to an adoring public better than to his own family, is compelling. The honesty of the Spock family in discussing personal issues and the author's objectivity are commendable. This book is more candid than Spock's 1989 memoir, Spock on Spock. With a new edition of "Dr. Spock" about to appear, this biography is both interesting and timely.-- Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland Public Library, California
A biography, written with the cooperation of its subject, of the man who created modern child rearing.
Self-absorbed, egotistical, indifferent to the well-being of his loved ones -- this is the portrait that emerges of the beloved Dr. Spock from the 500 pages of Maier's biography. --
A remarkable behind-the-scenes look at Dr. Benjamin Spock, the guru of parenting who, as is often the case with experts, failed to heed his own advice. Dr. Spock may have been America's pediatric answer man, but at home he was aloof and emotionally distant, a man more concerned with appearances than with finding real solutions to the problems that plagued his family. And the problems were many. As his bestselling book,
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, took off, Spock was rarely there for his two sons, Michael and John. Nor was he there for his wife, Jane Cheney, who felt embittered that he never credited the help she gave him. An insecure woman, she soon slipped into a lifetime of therapy and alcohol and medication abuse, eventually suffering two nervous breakdowns. After nearly 50 years of marriage, Spock divorced his wife and shortly thereafter married a woman 40 years his junior. Not long after, one of Spock's grandsons committed suicide. Through it all, Spock remained insistent that the family maintain its facade as the country's all-American family. While it might have been tempting, and indeed much easier, to write a biography that perpetuated this image, award-winning Newsday writer Maier ( Newhouse: All the Glitter, Power and Glory of America's Richest Media Empire and the Secretive Man Behind It) does not. To Spock's credit, Maier prepared this warts-and-all look with his subject's full cooperation. The result is a meticulously researched, extraordinarily full portrait of a man who was a revolutionary, both in the psychoanalytic understanding he introduced to pediatrics and in the dedication he brought to social concerns later in his life.More than just a biography, this book necessarily tells the broader story of the nation in the second half of the 20th centuryþa period that Spock, with his revolutionary theories, helped to shape.