Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Rosalie Watson deserves to be every bit as famous as her husband, Dr. John Watson (some might even argue more so because while she did subscribe to a lot of his nutty beliefs about behaviorism, she wasn't as hardcore as he was.) And in this novel, she finally gets her due.

Dr. Watson was a professor at Johns Hopkins, where Rosalie was doing graduate work after graduating from Vassar. She assisted with his studies, particularly his most famous study about "Baby Albert." while he was married at the time, rumor began to circulate about them, and eventually it all came to a head and he had to get divorced and they had to get married quickly to try to tamp down the scandal. It didn't work, and John ended up working in advertising. Rosalie ended up raising their two sons, working as John's secretary and co-author on papers and eventually on their best-selling parenting books.

What was most intriguing to me about this book was simply trying to imagine who could be married to this man and raise his children? He firmly believed that parents did nothing but mess up their kids. He advocating removing all children from their parents at birth to be raised on "baby farms." He believed everything good was nature and everything bad was nurture. How do you raise this man's children?

What I truly found fascinating was how enlightened Rosalie and her family were--how whether she was going to go to grad school was never a question, and how much she wanted to go back to work even if it was impractical (and therefore she didn't for a long time, although she sure kept her hand in, assisting John.) It's rare in that era. Also unusual was reading a book that went right through the 1930s, without the people involved being terribly affected by the Depression. They stayed employed and didn't become impoverished. That's how the majority of Americans did experience the Depression--as hard but not catastrophic--but it's a perspective rarely depicted in literature of that decade.

If you like historical fiction, particularly of women who have been overlooked by history, this is a captivating read.

This book is published by Soho Press, my employer.

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