Remembering How To Raise Babies

From Eugene Eric Kim

In my many talks on collaboration, both formal and informal, I often propose the following hypothesis: The disintegration of community in American society, as documented in Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, has led to societal amnesia about a great many things. Collab:Christopher Alexander has claimed that architecture is one of those things, and he formulated the notion of Collab:Quality Without A Name and Collab:Pattern Languages to rectify that problem.

I've often suggested that our knowledge of how to raise kids is another, and I point to the huge success of Benjamin Spock's The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care as proof. The book has sold more than 50 million copies (second only to the Bible) and has been translated into 39 languages. Humans have been reproducing for 5,000 years. Why on earth would we need such a book? The disintegration of tribal culture -- which is how we traditionally retained "organizational" memory over time -- is one reason.

Or so my theory goes. I'm in the process of writing some of my thoughts down, and so I thought it was worth doing a bit of research to verify (or not) my hypothesis. A quick review of the literature on Spock is not helpful, because they attribute the success of the book primarily to its content and style. Certainly, these played a role, but how big of a role? The literature has confirmed that the success of the book was almost entirely word-of-mouth. It didn't receive many reviews, and none of them were extraordinary.

I have several questions I'm trying to answer:

  • How many books were sold every year for the past 100 years?
  • How many books on parenting were sold every year for the past 100 years?
  • How many books on parenting have been written every year for the past 100 years?

Possible sources: