DR. SPOCK by Thomas Maier


An American Life
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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, 1994) 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 century—a period that Spock, with his revolutionary theories, helped to shape. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-15-100203-7
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998


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