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It seems there are more books on parenting than fish in the sea. But which ones are good, and more importantly, what makes them good? Since any specific book recommendations would be too localized for our international audience, let's instead focus on the second part:

What elements make a parenting book good? What should I look for?

This is not a question that has a single correct answer, so it will be a community wiki.
Please provide exactly one suggestion per answer!
Please upvote and downvote answers according to your experience.

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This question is helpful if you are going to write a parenting book. Perhaps people might give an example of a good parenting book and describe the elements that make it good. Then we would be building an international reference list. –  nGinius Apr 28 '11 at 13:13
    
I could list a number of parenting books in Danish and German, but that would only benefit a small part of the community. If on the other hand I describe why I like those books (thereby happening to mention them anyway), wouldn't that help others in their search for good books, in whatever language they want? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 28 '11 at 14:28

5 Answers 5

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General "parenting" books aren't generally very good at all. In order to cover such a broad subject area, yet not be thousands of pages long multivolume works, they have to barely mention each subject and move on. In order to sell well they have to not bother anybody, and apply to as wide an audience as possible. These three constraints lead to books with little content of use, and lots of feel-good fluff.

Books on specific parenting issues, such as raising a child with a specific disability, planning summer learning activities, childhood nutrition, etc. are usually much better. By only addressing one subtopic, they can actually address it rather than merely mentioning it. Their specificity also leads them to appeal to specific parenting audiences that self-select for some common trait(s) or philosophy. Consequently, they have less fluff and more content.

This isn't to say that every niche parenting book is good -- but nearly every general one is really, really bad, so the niche books is where you probably want to look.

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If, after reading one chapter or so from the middle (pick any chapter and test it there) you feel like a complete failure (many books just add to our worries), it will not really help you. If instead, it makes you feel uplifted while also giving you some ideas and new information, it is a great match for you.

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There are generally two types of parenting books:

  1. Those that strive to be objectively informative
  2. Those that advocate a particular style or method that the author subjectively feels is useful.

Those of the first type can usually be judged by the credentials of the authors (e.g. The American Academy of Pediatrics), although not always (the authors of the "What to Expect" series don't have impressive credentials iirc, but their books are very popular).

The second type seems much more common on the marketplace these days, and provides a much wider range of reactions (from "OMG! How can anyone survive without this?!?" to "What idiot decided that publishing this garbage was a good idea?!?"). Therefore, choosing from the selection of subjective books becomes a trickier decision.

When choosing subjective books, first and foremost you should review the general premise or philosophy of the book before you purchase it. If you don't agree with the author's (or authors') justification as to why their method/style/advice is "the way to go", then chances are you will find very little worthwhile information in the book.

Always remember that any book with subjective advice (no matter how much the author tries to present it as objective fact... and they almost always will do just that, btw!), you are under no obligation to agree with 100% of the author's opinions! Making sure that you at least marginally agree with the basic premise, though, gives you a much better chance of finding at least some advice that you will find useful and applicable.

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A good characteristic of a Parenting book is that it is easily referenced.

Even books that (ideally) focus on a single general topic will provide a wide range of information (otherwise it fails as a book). However, after you've read it you'll likely find cause to go back to the book for review of specific sections (e.g. "what were those developmental milestones for 9-month-olds again?", "now that I've moved into the third stage of the process, what are the steps I need to take?", "I remember there was a recipe in there for making a dish with oranges and potatoes...", or "what was that recommendation on initiating dialog on this subject again?").

A well-written book will be set up in such a way as to make it easy for you to go back to the book after a general reading and find what you're looking for. Check the index and table of contents to see how well the contents are documented. Is there a logical, intuitive organization (i.e. is it broken down by age group? Is there a logical progression of subjects that the book follows? Does the book highlight or separate out key points so that they stand out from the rest of the text?)? Better yet, are there a number of useful appendixes?

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With no particular order:

  • It shouldn't be too broad. As @HedgeMage said, parenting is extremely broad, so it's unrealistic to cover it at whole in reasonable number of pages.
  • It should be down-to-earth, advices should be simple and applicable in a variety of environments and situations;
  • It should be written in a friendly and easy-to-understand style.
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