A high-pressure guide to parenting ""from conception to age six""--with horror stories of birth defects, conventional child-rearing suggestions, and unrealistic academic expectations. Beck (How to Raise a Brighter Child, Effective Parenting) devotes more than a third of the book to prenatal development, ostensibly to help parents ""increase the odds that your child will be born healthy and normal."" In actuality, past disasters and current hazards are rehearsed in detail (""taking thalidomide between the thirty-fifth and forty-first days resulted in a baby without arms or with severe arm malformations""; ""fifty percent of all newborns infected with herpes die""), while prospective parents are given little understanding of what the facts and figures mean. Pregnant women, the routine advice goes, should avoid ""recreational drugs,"" stay out of hot tubs, and get good prenatal care. The material on child development sets forth only the usual ""learning opportunities"" (""You can invent simple games to play with him, like counting fingers and toes""), along with odd bits of research data (""during infancy the number of synapses increases rapidly""). And parents whose preschoolers don't learn to read, as instructed, or to compute with ""carrying and borrowing,"" will unnecessarily feel that they or their children are incompetent. Better by far the relaxed wisdom of T. Berry Brazelton, Harvard's Developing Child series, or Bank Street's The Pleasure of Their Company.