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Have you ever heard it said there’s no manual for parenting? It’s not technically true, actually. If you go looking, there are lots of them, more than you could read in a lifetime, each claiming to offer the definitive guide to raising kids right.

Whatever that means.

To John B. Watson, one of the first behavioral psychologists and author of a wildly popular parenting guide, raising children right meant not spoiling them with kisses and cuddles, starting toilet training in the first few weeks of life, and using fear as the primary method of motivation and coercion, among other horrifying things. Behave is the story of his second wife, Rosalie Rayner, a mysterious and somewhat tragic figure now mostly lost to history.

Rosalie began a promising career in science in 1920, a time when women in the field were few and far between. Bright and ambitious, Rosalie wanted to study psychology and make a name for herself in academia, but when she embarked on a very public affair with John Watson, her superior at Johns Hopkins, her life took a turn. Alongside all the personal drama between the two scientists is an exploration of the ambivalence Rosalie felt over the years about John’s beliefs and methods, including his interactions with their own children. And who can blame her, when he was scaring children with loud noises and claiming rocking chairs encouraged dependence?

It seems the definitive guide to parenting is still yet to be written.