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DR. SPOCK

AN AMERICAN LIFE

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 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-15-100203-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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

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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 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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