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Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 14, 2010

29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Picking up where she left off in Composing a Life (1991), anthropologist Bateson interviews six older individuals, from a retired Maine boatyard worker to Jane Fonda, who have accomplished most of their life goals but actively seek new and satisfying ways to live robust lives. Adulthood II, as Bateson call this period, is characterized by the wisdom culled from long lives and rich experience combined with freedom from the day-to-day responsibilities of work and raising children. Life in this stage is an "improvisational art form calling for imagination and the willingness to learn." Bateson follows Hank Lawson, a former boatyard metalworker, and his wife, Jane, from Maine to their retirement in Tucson, Ariz. There Hank turned his knowledge of tools and metal to making jewelry from precious metals and semiprecious stones. Liberated by the move from the ocean to the mountains, the Lawsons are flourishing, continually learning new things and refashioning their lives in a new place. Because Bateson lets various people retell their own stories of grappling with the challenges and the freedom of Adulthood II, her book is a deep meditation on the value of longevity and an inspiring testimony to the power and possibilities that come with growing older.
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From Booklist

Bateson—anthropology professor, visiting scholar at the Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility at Boston College, and author of the best-selling Composing a Life (1991)—here elucidates her concept of an emerging second stage of adulthood that precedes old age that she labels Adulthood II. Today’s grandparents, she says, are increasingly able to combine continuing mobility with their depth of experience, hence, the age of active wisdom. This model has been a work-in-progress for Bateson, its genesis the time she spent as a teaching assistant for the psychologist Erik Erikson’s course on the human life cycles, or eight ages of man. She looked to his theories as she passed through stages of her own life, and now, in her seventies, she interviews others who are doing similar research on this enriched stage of adulthood—including such individuals as Jane Fonda—and who are searching for the relationship between spirituality and age. Especially in light of 9/11, Bateson considers herself an activist for peace and justice and stresses the importance, in our years of unanticipated longevity, to continue to be willing to learn. --Deborah Donovan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307266435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266439
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mary Catherine Bateson is a writer and cultural anthropologist. She has retired from teaching but continues as a visiting scholar at Boston College's Center on Aging and Work. She was educated at Radcliffe (BA 1960) and Harvard (PhD 1963). She was Dean of the Faculty at Amherst College 1980-83. From 1987 to 2002, Bateson was Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University, becoming Professor Emerita in 2002. She has also taught at Harvard, Northeastern, Amherst, and Spelman College, as well as overseas in the Philippines and Iran.

Bateson's original research interest was in the Middle East. More recently she has been interested in how women and men work out distinctive adaptations to culture change, learning from those around them and improvising new ways of being. She is currently exploring how extended longevity and lifelong learning modify the rhythms of the life cycle and the interaction between generations.

Her books include:, With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson; Composing a Life; Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way; Full Circles, Overlapping Lives: Culture and Generation in Transition; and Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery; and Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom, September 2010.

Bateson is married and has a married daughter and two grandsons. She lives in Southern New Hampshire.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen A. Burt on December 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Composing A Life, but this book is even better. Particularly interesting is the section about people in their 60s returning to an earlier interest and, from the perspective of their adult experience and background, weaving it into the tapestry of the "active wisdom" stage of life. This has happened with several of my friends, colleagues and clients; they found it was perfect timing in their 60s to pursue a specific interest which improved their work or fulfilled them in a way unique to them.

I also liked the part about foundations achieving their their mission and passing out of existence. The author was involved for 30 years with a foundation that furthered her parents' work (Gregory Bateson's and Margaret Mead's) but decided it was time to let it go and move on: "mission accomplished."

Bateson's "three affirmations" for the active wisdom stage are noteworthy. Though we might have phrased it differently, the concept will resonate for many of us.

Kathleen Burt, Archetypes of the Zodiac;[[ASIN:0981393934 Beyond the Mask: The Rising Sign - Part I: Aries - Virgo] Part II Libra-Pisces.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By mj on January 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was first introduced to Catherine Bateson at my nieces high school graduation where COMPOSING A LIFE was the gift to all the graduates of a small private girls academy from the schools principal. The intention was to help the young woman begin leading reflective lives. As we sat on the lawn with the Rockies in the distance I started to peruse my nieces copy of the book, and it has been part of my permanent library ever since. The pages are dog eared from reading and rereading.
Twenty years have passed and just as I had begun to reflect on my life as one of the "elders", along comes COMPOSING A FURTHER LIFE broaden and deepen my thinking, and in such a joyful way!

I then proceeded to buy this book for 8 of my friends and to suggest it for my book club. COMPOSING A FURTHER LIFE should be a gift to everyone entering the Age of Active Wisdom!
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Old Master on November 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The bonus years of life Bateson calls "Adulthood II." This added dimension beyond childrearing, job, and responsibilities allows the creative individuals profiled to focus their earlier accomplishments in satisfying ways. Erik Erikson's life stages are now augmented with a period after self-actualization and growth maturing into wisdom. Now is the time for service, spiritual pursuits, teaching, and not just for golf. The retirement age of sixty-five was defined a century ago when "life expectancy at birth was about forty-five." Today eighty-five is the new sixty-five. "We have changed the shape and meaning of a lifetime in ways we do not yet fully understand." This marvelous book explores case studies in the lives of interesting and accomplished people: it is a master class in optimizing the benefits of longevity.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Nomi Redding on May 22, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
Mary Catherine Bateson is just enough older than I to keep writing books which effectively capture my current stage of life and help me to think more meaningfully about it. Her book Composing a Life has stayed with me for twenty years. This book, Composing a Further Life, develops the compelling thesis of an additional life stage which she calls Adulthood II. As in the earlier book she presents the thesis through specific life histories, including her own. I found the thesis itself stronger material than some of the interviews, and particularly found the book's close somewhat preachy and circular, as though she could not say enough to get across points in which she fervently believes. Still, I appreciate very much this original contribution to the literature on aging.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mountain Wanderer on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As thousands of us in the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age each day, the big question becomes "What next?" And here's the perfect book that helped me have that conversation with myself.

"Conversation" is a key word in this book in two senses. Bateson isn't laying out a specific course of action but is rather exploring the options for the next chapter in our lives and how to approach it with all the creativity and wisdom we've garnered thus far in our journey. In other words, her questions sparked conversations with myself that led me to some unexpected opportunities of what to do next with my life, now that I have these "bonus years" to look forward to.

The book is also, literally, a series of conversations as Bateson interviews a wide range of people who have found unusual ways of living their "Adulthood II," as Bateson calls it. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book as it helped me see the parallels between the interviewees and myself. Talking with folks as diverse as your average Joe and Josephine to Jane Fonda, this is where I found the audio version of the book especially delightful. Sevanne Kassarjian's skilled voice finds just the right tone to bring each of these characters to life; a great aid in seeing the rich palette of people Bateson has so carefully selected.
Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom By Mary Catherine Bateson(A)/Sevanne Kassarjian(N) [Audiobook]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By rkgnyc on April 29, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an exceptionally well-written exploration, with many interviews and examples, of what to do with yourself when you don't know what to do with yourself. This is not a "guidebook" but an offering of possibilities to absorb, think about, and discuss before taking steps forward in life.
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