Amy Laura Hall's Conceiving Parenthood (4 stars) might well be seen as science fiction in reverse.
Her journey into the cultural history of reproductive biotechnology reads like an eerie voyage into the future. Yet rather than pushing readers to the outer limits of human progress, Hall urges us to find joy in the inner limits of creatureliness.
Hall's wide-ranging work looks at Protestant families and the germ-free home; childhood progress and the production of infant food; the eugenics movement and associating heritage with salvation; and finally, the relationship between the orderly domestic family and atomic progress. She examines these themes as they appear in such popular magazines as Parents, Ladies' Home Journal, National Geographic, and the Methodist journal Together, and thus reminds readers that today's biotechnological developments grow out of distorted ideals of childhood, family, gender, race, and normalcy.
Hall's research is exhaustive; her analytical acumen profound. Each provocatively titled chapter (such as "The Corporate Breast") includes many illustrations, mostly from the 1930s to the 1950s, of perfect babies, women, and families alongside images of technological growth. The illustrations depict what she calls "anti-icons of a eugenic era"—images that draw us away from the "untidy, creaturely, incarnate family" held together by a good God with vast, loving arms.
Hall's book slows at points because of the sheer number of historical examples. And at times, one loses sight of Hall's overarching claim that mainline Protestantism had a prominent voice in defining and upholding misconceptions of family.
Nevertheless, Hall's style keeps the book accessible, and her personality is refreshingly present throughout. ...1