When he died, Dr. Benjamin Spock had been a household name for more than 50 years. His book Baby and Child Care, first published in 1946, coincided with the first swell of the baby boom. It kept selling long after the boom was gone. As of last year, the book had sold more than 40 million copies and was available in 39 languages.
That makes Benjamin Spock a major pop culture figure. Even in his dotage, he could always command a page in Parade magazine and get his pet causes onto the evening news. In his afterlife he will probably become a figure of urban folklore. In the next century, people will associate the name "Spock" with child-rearing without quite knowing why.
And the book will stay in print. It will stay around because it works.
At our house we’re already on our second copy. The pocket-sized paperback edition fell apart by the time our first child was 3. The pages on fever and nausea were the first to go. Now we have a sturdier trade paper version. It is underlined, dog-eared, and stuffed between the pages with notes and handouts from our own doctor, old recipes for baby food, and articles torn from magazines about parenting.
Dr. Spock was the one who told us that sudden, inexplicable fever in our 8-month-old baby, followed by an equally inexplicable rash, was just a fairly common infant ailment called roseola and nothing to worry about. Our pediatrician was quite impressed when my wife presented the baby to her and said, "It’s roseola, isn’t it?" Dr. Spock also told us, yes, you really do need to take that baby to the doctor with that 104 degree temperature, even if it is the weekend, because sometimes it doesn’t just go away.