An engaging and provocative contribution to social history.

RAISING AMERICA

EXPERTS, PARENTS, AND A CENTURY OF ADVICE ABOUT CHILDREN

An unfailingly interesting study of a peculiarly American fixation: how to raise a child.

All societies nurture their children, of course, and just about everyone worries about whether their offspring are safe, secure, and well cared for. But ever since the advent of the Industrial Age, writes former New Republic editor Hulbert (The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford, 1992), Americans have been beset by anxiety in nearly every aspect of child-rearing, worrying that they haven’t been doing their best at it, and their angst hasn’t been helped by the flood of conflicting advice by scientists, pseudo-scientists, and, always, religious leaders. Where the avuncular, Cold War–era Benjamin Spock discouraged corporal punishment for childish misdemeanors, for instance, the bestselling behaviorist John Broadus Watson “scoffed at nonsense about how children ‘develop from within’ ” and warned against parents’ being overly affectionate, sure that this would breed “soft citizens ill suited to an impersonal, organized world”; where Spock and his followers blended a kind of dilute Freudianism with dashes of world anthropology and democratic ideology, an authority of the turn of the 20th century named Anna Rogers urged that there was quite too much concern for emotional well-being among her peers, railing, “If only a mother would strive to put less heart into it all, and more mind!” Hulbert takes her readers on a chronological guided tour through the various psychological and sociological schools that have at one time or another held sway over the last century, pointing out the “inconsistent, often quickly obsolescent, counsel peddled to the public” and relating changing mores to other social shifts. The topic of child-raising continues to absorb us, she writes, and can still generate controversy, as when Judith Rich Harris’s The Nurture Assumption stirred up wide debate after its publication in 1998; even so, no one school of thought dominates the matter today, leaving ever-bewildered parents to sort through “programmatic child-rearing creeds” for themselves and hope that Jack and Jill turn out okay.

An engaging and provocative contribution to social history.

Pub Date: April 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-40120-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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