Dr. Spock

An American Life

By Thomas Maier
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780151002030, 488pp.)

Publication Date: January 1998

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Dr. Benjamin Spock, through his Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, may have had a greater effect on the everyday lives of more people than any other living American. His personal life, however, was shaken by failure and tragedy. Thomas Maier's extensive interviews with Spock, his family, and others who knew him draw the first complete picture of this complicated man, an American original of the importance of Henry Ford or Thomas Alva Edison. Known for his fatherly, folksy wisdom, Spock was at the same time a revolutionary and a magnet for controversy throughout his life. He camouflaged Fruen for Americans in his baby-care book, one of the best-selling books of all time. When he applied his ideals to politics, Spock shocked the country by protesting against the Vietnam war with Martin Luther King in 1967 and was attacked both by conservatives for fostering a "permissive" society and by feminists for his traditional attitudes about women's role in the family. Perhaps even more surprising, however, is Spock's troubled personal life: the breakdown and alcoholism of his first wife, his own failures as husband and father, his marriage to a much younger woman, and the suicide of his grandson. Although a tragic example of a man who helped millions but couldn't benefit from his own advice, Dr. Spock helped to create America as it is today, and Dr. Spock shows how the man reflects both the successes and failures of our society.

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