[Traig] leaves no stone unturned, examining practices across time, cultures—and even species. With a dry wit, and brutal honesty about her own parenting experience, Traig weaves personal anecdotes throughout this thoroughly researched, incredibly interesting read; she effortlessly balances edification with humor. And in a genre inundated with advice, a parenting book that isn’t trying to dole out the latest recommendations is completely refreshing. Much like parenting itself, Act Natural will teach readers something new in one moment and make them laugh out loud the next.
Jennifer Traig apparently...takes solace in how useless, contradictory and downright harmful so much advice has historically been. 'The things we take for granted as normal and natural strike parents in other parts of the world as absurd and dangerous,' she writes, in this brisk survey of child-rearing tips through the ages ... The history recounted in this book is studded with violence and death ... Traig’s book is filled with tales of men telling women what to do, and she’s candid about how furious it makes her ... She isn’t wrong, but the nonstop vaudeville can get wearying. Some of her punch lines are so broad that they should be accompanied by a sad trombone ... Parenting is a subject that generates so much piety that you can’t fault Traig for having a sense of gallows humor, though the calibration is off. Part of this has to do with how skillful and fluid a writer she is otherwise—the facts seem to tumble forth, in a way that makes her jokes feel superfluous (when they aren’t awful) and strenuous (when they are). Much of the story she tells is pieced together from other books ... Still, it’s a fascinating narrative, tracing the long history of mistakes and reversals and cultural presuppositions that have structured our most intimate relationships.
Ms. Traig mocks contemporary and historical parenting advice with usually spot-on dark humor ... Ms. Traig, thank goodness, takes pains not to portray herself as an expert anyone should emulate ... The one flaw of Act Natural is that Ms. Traig is so taken with the silliness of her historical material that she starts to repeat herself ... Almost every other page has a footnote taking the reader off on a tangent that doesn’t quite fit in the narrative ... This can make for a disjointed reading experience ... The upside of reading Act Natural is that you feel better about whatever nonsense your children have committed, which is the point.