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A Good Time to Be Born: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future


The fight against child mortality that transformed parenting, doctoring and the way we live.


Only one hundred years ago, even in the world’s wealthiest nations, children died in great numbers—of diarrhea, diphtheria and measles, of scarlet fever and meningitis. Culture was shaped by these deaths; diaries and letters recorded them, poets and writers wrote about and lamented them. Not even the high and mighty could escape: presidents and titans of industry lost their children, the poor and powerless lost theirs even more frequently.


The near-conquest of infant and child mortality is one of our greatest human achievements. Perri Klass pulls the story together for the first time, paying tribute to scientists, public health advocates, and groundbreaking women doctors who brought new scientific ideas about sanitation and vaccination to families. Thanks to their work, early death is now the exception, bringing about a massive transformation in society and freeing parents to worry a lot more about a lot less.

“Not too long ago parents lived with the near certainty of losing a child or two; Perri Klass captures the drama of science and society’s triumph over that abysmal reality. As we grapple with new and unimaginable scourges, the lessons in this gripping, personal and beautifully researched chronicle could not be more relevant.”

—Abraham Verghese, MD, author of Cutting for Stone


“All readers with an interest in the history of health care—and all parents who bite their nails over the relatively rare dangers facing their children now—will be riveted by this moving and compassionate account of how a common tragedy was transformed into an unusual one.”

—Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down


“With her broad pediatric knowledge and warm understanding of parental attachments, Perri Klass tells the dramatic story of how medical science transformed childhood in the twentieth century . . . . an important contribution to the history of childhood that can provide comfort and insight to all of us.”

—Paula S. Fass, author of The End of American Childhood

“In today’s world of pandemics and medical alarm, it is especially comforting to look to history for the paths that lay ahead. And there is no better place to begin than A Good Time to Be Born by Perri Klass, the physician/writer known to millions of parents for her probing insights into the world of pediatric medicine. Starting at a time when Americans helplessly accepted the death of their children as a cruel fact of Nature, Klass beautifully demonstrates how the fusion of medical science and public health led to the vaccines, antibiotics, safety measures, and self-help volumes that saved countless young lives while revolutionizing the ways in which we map our children’s future. Elegantly written, filled with memorable characters and events, [this book] is the perfect prescription for the uncertainties of our time.”

David Oshinsky,
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Polio: An American Story

“In her forthcoming book, A Good Time to Be Born . . . the pediatrician Perri Klass describes how the world—and with it, parenting—has been transformed by declining infant and child mortality over the past century.”

—Kate Julian, The Atlantic


"A Good Time to Be Born is an ambitious, elegant meditation on what the doctor-writer Perri Klass describes as one of our greatest human achievements: a reduction in child mortality."


—The New York Times

"A powerful story of the right of children to live and thrive from birth."


—Kirkus Reviews

"The result of Klass’s erudition and nuance is a fascinating look at a seldom-sung but profound change in the human condition."


—Publishers Weekly

By: Perri Klass
Hardcover; 384 pgs
Publication Date: October 13, 2020

"Klass masterfully introduces readers to the people coming up with solutions for many of the dangers of childhood and shows how the pediatric specialty over time has worked to improve children’s lives. Essential reading for parents."


—Library Journal

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