June 09, 2011


The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. By Yvonne Bohn, M.D., Allison Hill, M.D., and Alane Park, M.D., with Melissa Jo Peltier. Da Capo. $15.95.

Pacific Air: How Fearless Flyboys, Peerless Aircraft, and Fast Flattops Conquered the Skies in the War on Japan. By David Sears. Da Capo. $27.50.

     Very, very few people are likely to have an equal interest in these two books about aspects of real-world life, one of which focuses on how life begins and the other of which looks at ways in which, for many, it ended. Both books are examples of highly targeted, well-written works with very specific audiences in mind, focusing closely on narrow matters and exploring them in considerable depth.

     The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth is the longer of the two, at nearly 600 pages, and although obviously dealing with targeted subject matter, is far wider in appeal. Not just another discussion of pregnancy and birth – there are plenty of those – this book has the huge advantage of presenting the views of three obstetricians who really have seen it all when it comes to this material…and are all mothers themselves, which means they have experienced in their own lives a great deal of what they write about. This is a highly appealing mixture, and the best part is that it is not vitiated by medical jargon: although the authors clearly know technical terminology and use it when necessary, they write for the most part with plainspokenness and ready accessibility. Furthermore, they tell tales on themselves, not just about themselves. Alane Park talks about the mistake she made with her first pregnancy by planning to work until a couple of days before she was scheduled for induced labor: her water broke early and “my planned two days off turned into a few short hours,” resulting in chaos and total exhaustion for a time. Yvonne Bohn shares a related story about intending to take all her available parental leave after giving birth, and even being set up to do gynecological surgery and deliver a lecture when she was 36 weeks pregnant – when she went into preterm labor, found herself wholly unprepared , and ended up going over lecture notes the day after having her baby so someone else could give the talk. These humanizing anecdotes are coupled with stories of the doctors’ patients’ fears and concerns: one shy woman worries about all her erotic dreams during the first trimester, then comes to see that this is a much better symptom of hormonal changes than morning sickness. There are also self-revelatory passages, as when Allison Hill talks about the time she was “doubled over, couldn’t walk, and felt nauseous” because of the severity of ligament pain, after which “I finally understood what my patients had been complaining about for all these years.” There are photos here of ultrasounds, stretch marks and much more; tables showing fetal development; lists of what to bring to the hospital; an excellent discussion of “the fourth trimester,” the often-neglected first three months after a baby’s birth; a diagram of how to swaddle an infant; and chapters on high-risk pregnancies and “Things You Never Expect When You’re Expecting,” such as relationship problems, siblings’ adjustment difficulties and work-related issues. Actually, some of those matters can be expected, or at least anticipated, but never mind; that is a mere detail. The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth is so filled with medically sound advice, intelligently presented case histories, extensive debunking of myths, and all-around sensible writing, that the book itself becomes a thing you might not expect while expecting: a super-clear, super-helpful, easy-to-read and easy-to-use guide that beautifully balances the medical with the personal.

     Designed for a much narrower audience and oriented as strongly to men as the book by the “Mommy Docs” is to women, Pacific Air is a well-researched, well-written work of very limited appeal. It is the story of aerial combat in the Pacific during World War II – one of an ever-increasing number of books about heroism during that war, presumably intended to tap into baby boomers’ nostalgia for a war experienced by their parents, whose numbers are now decreasing steadily. Vietnam veteran and former Navy officer David Sears includes some unusual elements in the book, notably a focus on the engineering prowess that led to production of planes that eventually turned the tide against a Japanese air force that had been far superior to that of the United States until 1944. The different engineering of such planes as the TBF Avenger, F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat is well explained and will surely be of interest to the subset of readers fascinated by aeronautical design and how it affects combat success. Other readers will be more drawn to the book’s conventional elements, including, for one thing, an engagement-by-engagement buildup to the eventual climax of the Battle of the Philippine Sea; and, for another, the multiple profiles of pilots: Jimmie Thach, inventor of a specific aerial combat maneuver; Dave McCampbell, famous for having 34 aerial kills; Navy ace Butch O’Hare; Alex Vraciu, whose exploits – including six aerial kills during a single battle – inspired Sears to write the book; and others. One of those “others” is an unusual and unusually interesting choice: Imperial Japanese Navy pilot Saburo Sakai, whose story provides great insight into Japan’s approach to aerial combat and also helps show the eventual weaknesses of Imperial Japan – Sakai, after being seriously wounded and losing the sight in one eye, was nevertheless forced to return to combat because Japan at that point was in such desperate need of skilled pilots. Packed with far more detail than its 372-page length would suggest, Pacific Air is written in a long series of very short sections within its five parts and 20 chapters – the result being constantly shifting perspectives that illuminate many elements of the air war in the Pacific but that also produce a choppy narrative. The writing is straightforward and has little artistry, being designed to appeal to lovers of military lingo: “At 4:18 p.m. the bogey reappeared on Enterprise’s radar, still bearing 320 degrees but much closer. ‘Many bogeys ahead,’ Lieutenant Henry A. ‘Ham’ Rowe, Big E’s FDO, radioed a VF-6 CAP section lead [sic] by thirty-seven-year-old Lieutenant (junior grade) Harold E. Rutherford. ‘Get up high.’” The book gets a (+++) rating for its meticulous research, attention to engineering as well as combat matters, and interesting focus on Japanese as well as U.S. pilots, but it is strictly for an extremely limited group of readers.

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