THE MECHANICAL BABY by Daniel Beekman

THE MECHANICAL BABY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Beekman's diverting review of European and American child-raising literature gently traces the emergence of attitudes reflecting historical changes and greater understanding of child development and provides evidence of the early intervention of specialists. In the beginning (after Gutenberg) rhymed couplets advised on teething and diets, and for centuries the texts were fixated on cold baths and swaddling clothes. Poets, physicians, and midwives counseled young mothers with remedies mixing pragmatism and alchemy--the humors determined all. Then Rousseau's Emile appeared with his tabula rasa, and concerns for moral education invaded the nursery although Rousseau himself, abandoning five illegitimate children, never bothered about actual observation. By tho mid-19th century and the rise of a literate middle class, baby food companies, unhampered by truth-in-advertising policies, dispensed pamphlets recommending techniques and touting their own products, and as early as 1908 grandma's way was being commercially challenged by fancy packages. In the 20th century behaviorists championed the value--or virtue--of regularity until researchers like Gesell observed, quantified, and then blanched as ""norms"" were misinterpreted and abused. Then Dr. Spock brought us up with reassurance, common sense, and 25¢ paperback appeal. Beekman's work lacks the penetration, broad historical perspective, and ingenious research of Ariès classic Centuries of Childhood, and he tends to generalize from quotations without indicating the extent of their influence or exploring other sources of information. But his book is entertaining and the Scattered illustrations--contemporary woodcuts, etc.--and numerous citations are added attractions.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1977
Publisher: Lawrence Hill