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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Warning to Obsessives of Any Stripe
Because I'll be reviewing Life List in an upcoming issue of Bird Watcher's Digest, I'll keep this brief. This little book rolls over you like a steam train, slowly gaining speed and intensity, and clattering away in your mind long after you've finished it. With her straightforward, mostly nonjudgmental take, showing without telling, Olivia Gentile raises questions about...
Published on April 21, 2009 by Julie S. Zickefoose

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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Perils and Joys of an Obsession
I am a birder. A serious amateur. And a bird photographer. And a big fan of the late, great Phoebe Snetsinger.

Any biography of Snetsinger has to be measured against her own, posthumously published journal, Birding On Borrowed Time. Olivia Gentile had access to many of Snetsinger's family members, most of her papers, and many of her friends and birding...
Published on October 25, 2009 by James D. DeWitt


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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Warning to Obsessives of Any Stripe, April 21, 2009
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This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
Because I'll be reviewing Life List in an upcoming issue of Bird Watcher's Digest, I'll keep this brief. This little book rolls over you like a steam train, slowly gaining speed and intensity, and clattering away in your mind long after you've finished it. With her straightforward, mostly nonjudgmental take, showing without telling, Olivia Gentile raises questions about Phoebe Snetsinger's choices that caused me to examine my own prejudices and boundaries in the pursuit of personal fulfillment. Its penetrating depth is the little surprise of a book that's gripping enough to be a novel, but tells nothing but the truth.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Perils and Joys of an Obsession, October 25, 2009
By 
James D. DeWitt "Alaska Fan" (Fairbanks, AK United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
I am a birder. A serious amateur. And a bird photographer. And a big fan of the late, great Phoebe Snetsinger.

Any biography of Snetsinger has to be measured against her own, posthumously published journal, Birding On Borrowed Time. Olivia Gentile had access to many of Snetsinger's family members, most of her papers, and many of her friends and birding companions. She had all the resources. Does she bring anything new?

Gentile makes some excellent points, but the best are left for the reader to glean, not the ones that Gentile forces on a reader. It's hardly news that birders can be obsessive. The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession, Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder and To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifetime Obsession are just three examples of the subgenre. What Gentile does establish is that Phoebe Snetsinger was among the very best amateur birders of the 20th century. She was much more than one of those birders who tick them off a life list, after a glimpse or a party member's report; she scorned that kind of birder. And Gentile also establishes effectively that for Snetsinger - at least perhaps until the last few years - the birds were the goal, to be savored and appreciated; not the number on a list.

And when Gentile simply lets family members talk about the impact of Snetsinger's obsession on them and their lives, she does well. Beyond doubt, Snetsinger's was a true obsession, leaving a greatly diminished space in her life for her husband, her children and anything else. But Snetsinger believed that her obsession with birds kept her alive, helped her survive her bouts with metastasized melanoma. And her response to her husband's complaints - that her interest was no different than her husband's earlier focus on his career - rings true.

When Gentile lets the facts tell the story, it shines. But when Gentile indulges in pop psychology and pop sociology, writing in her voice instead of simply letting the facts tell the story; well, for me the biography becomes annoying instead of insightful. Snetsinger survived a brutal rape in Papua New Guinea. Gentile's repeated assertion that Snetsinger "never came to terms with what had happened" is more than simply annoying. It's insulting to the memory of Phoebe Snetsinger. She had the courage not let it stop her.

Phoebe Snetsinger was a remarkable woman, a superbly skilled birder and a wonderful example of what an individual can accomplish, even with a so-called "late start." Her story is also a cautionary tale. But is would be a mistake, I think, to let the cautionary aspects outweigh the brilliance of her work, or the evident delight she took from it. Three stars for the new information Gentile provides on this amazing woman; but I take two stars off for the annoying injection of Gentile's simplistic interpretations.

Recommended, but also read Birding On Borrowed Time.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A captivating biography, April 1, 2009
This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
Although I am not a birder, I loved this book. I am a big fan of biographies and this was certainly a riveting one. The story of Phoebe Snetsinger's life is so fascinating it could be a novel, but it's not. Ms. Gentile's writing style is engaging to read and I found myself unable to put the book down until I had finished it. I would definitely recommend this to birders and non-birders alike.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Life Fully Lived, April 28, 2009
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This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
Olivia Gentile's beautifully recounted story of Phoebe Snetsinger's life raises universal questions of what it means to live a fully-actualized life and the potential price of greatness. It is also just a great read! Highly recommended.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life List, April 12, 2009
By 
Amazon Customer (Tallahassee, FL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
I am a very amateur birder, but an avid reader. This book is a gem! The writing style is personal and yet detached enough to give a full understanding of a remarkable woman.

Phoebe Snetsinger comes to life in this book with all of her delightful charm as well as her rough edges. And all within the context of birds, birds, birds. What a wonderfully balanced fabric is created between the avifauna of the world and the world of this woman.

I think Olivia Gentile does a marvelous job of telling a complex and detailed story in a way that never bogs down, yet never feels rushed or shallow either. At the end of the book I felt like Phoebe was a friend, someone I knew. And I'm sorry I didn't know her on a birding tour.

The birding tales are fantastic and inspired me to get more serious with my birding.

And my own writing!

Just an excellent read!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Bill,if you ever get between me and a life bird again,I'll break this tripod over your head.".. Pheobe Snetsinger, June 19, 2009
This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
This is an excellent read about an extraordinary woman,and what it took for her to become the the top "Lister",by seeing more bird species than anyone in the world.
Anyone who becomes involved in the world of Birding,quickly learns that the people you meet are every bit as interesting as the birds you will see.Just as no two bird species are alike;certainly neither are any two Birders.
Although many of you who read this book,will never have had the chance to meet and get to know Pheobe;you will certainly get to know what an exceptional person she was.To those who were fortunate to cross paths with her in her endless pursuit,I am sure they will be reminded of many experiences they had with her.
I'll let you read the book and follow Pheobe's excursions as she travelled the world and added "lifers" to her list. This is exactly the thing that all Birders do, to one extent or another;but only a rare few have the passion,and yes, the resources and circumstances to do what she did. I don't want to suggest that it is simply a matter of having the resources ,that would enable one to accomplish this feat. There are many people where resources would be no problem;but having the money to cover the travel and other costs;is a minor,though quite essential part of it.It is the passion,endurance,study,knowledge and all of those other things you will learn about in this book;that is needed for one to accomplish what she did. It seems that to reach such lofty levels in worldwide listing,that one must really be more than passionate;they must be obsessed.On May 21,2005 I wrote a review on a somewhat similar "Lister" Dan Koeppel,who wrote about his quest in a similar book,"To See Every Bird On Earth". It seems that family life takes a tremendous toll when someone gets involved in such serious world listing.It doesn't always turn out this way. I knew Norm Chesterfield,who Is mentioned on page 118.Like Pheobe,he became interested in this type of listing later in life.He was in his mid forties when,after wondering what the attraction to this birding was all about. He lived near Point Pelee,one of North Americas most popular birding hot spots.He checked into it, and was soon "hooked".Thirty years later ,after going down this road,he had been the World's top "Lister" for 7 years. He visited 123 countries in his quest ,while at the same time owning and running a mink ranch in Ontario. He still managed to keep good relations with his family.
I have other friends who are into this world listing and,though not reaching the top, have arrived at the 4 to 6,ooo level of species. Many of these people know the guides and others who are mentioned in Pheobe's book and every one of them are interesting people,are very generous with their time in helping any birder who shows an interest,and if one becomes interested in Birding and Listing ,they will soon get to meet and spend time with them.
It must also be pointed out,that all Birding is not like this World Listing,though.Some Birders spend a lot of time with local bird clubs,some bird with a few friends,some bird alone,some bird in their local areas,some concentrate on listing in Provinces or States,one or more countries,some almost exclusively concentrate on certain species like raptors,some on banding;but most do a bit of everything.
I have another friend who also does a lot of world listing,but with her it has been a life long interest.She birded with her parents as a child,used to load up her station wagon with the kids when they were little and all go birding;and now in her senior years,is doing world listing.She knew Pheobe quite well,and was actually on the same bus when Pheobe was killed.In spite of this ,she still enjoys a day of birding locally with her many friends.
A great book, and one for any Birder or anyone interested in the many pursuits life has to offer.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Life of a Woman on the Edge, August 25, 2009
This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
The writing, like many previous reviewers mentioned, is from a journalistic style - reporting. The endless lists of birds and places the subject traveled was a bit too much and yes, the rape was brought up one too many times.

With that said, Phoebe (to me) was not a likable character. She was a spoiled, wealthy, shut-down woman who used a cancer diagnosis as a ticket to completely surround herself with her personal choices. She lived and died exactly how she wanted (according to her personal journal) and left in her wake a lonely husband and abandoned children.

Unfortunately, many famous people who change the world (did she contribute THAT much to birding?) have similar stories of family neglect. Why do they make relationships? If she DID contribute to the world of birding then "good show" but the author does not make that clear. Phoebe had the money and time to personally satisfy herself which does not, in itself, further the sport of birding.

Gentile reported without emotion (I would have not been able to write this woman's bio based on how I feel about her) and for that I am grateful because I was able to make my own judgement of her.

I am an amature birder and have decided to stay close to home, get involved in the birds in my area, and avoid these compulsive Lifers. Scarey!

I would not recommend this book to anyone except those who are or have a birding addict in their lives.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Story about a Remarkable Woman, April 4, 2009
By 
This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
Life List is a total page turner. Gentile is a great writer and Life List a pleasure to read, even if you are like me and not usually a nonfiction fan. Phoebe Snetsinger's story is fascinating -- she had a wacky, incredible life, and Gentile does a fantastic job of capturing it. Gentile's descriptions even made me want to try bird-watching. A stellar book all around. I can't recommend it enough.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING STUDY OF A REMARKABLE WOMAN AND REMARKABLE OBSESSION., June 2, 2012
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I have and had been aware of the exploits of Phoebe Snetsinger well before her death at the age of 68 in a bus accident in Madagascar. While I was aware of her, I most certainly did not know the "full story," but thanks to Olivia Gentile many missing pieces were filled in. I found myself fascinated with Phoebe and her life.

Let me state that I am a birder and have been for well over 50 years now. And yes, I admit to being a "lister" I also must confess that I suffer (If suffering is what you want to call it), with a bit of an obsessive personality. My obsessions are not all directed toward my birding, although there is that aspect too, but I most certainly understand where Phoebe was coming from.

This book was of interesting to me on several levels. Mrs. Snetsinger came to birding rather late in life, and when she was diagnosed with cancer in her late 40s with a very, very poor prognosis. Birding became the center of her entire life. She became a world traveler; an obsessive traveler focusing almost completely on her birding. She was most certainly a "lister" and in the end her "life list" included around 8,500 birds. Folks, that is a lot of birding!

In writing this book the author had almost full access to Phoebe's personal papers, journals, interviews and cooperation with family members and friends. The author has drawn much from these sources and the results are a very well documented account of this fascinating woman's life. The book is extremely well written using simply syntax which is presented in a rather detached manner. I feel it was very important that this work be written in this style as the author has obviously gone out of her way to be strictly nonjudgmental for the most part. There are a couple of exceptions to this, but overall the author did her job....sort of a "Joe Friday" thing..."Just the facts please, just the facts." I found the writing to be smooth and informative.

For me, there were a number of items in this work of special note; some good, some questionable.

First was Phoebe's life before she discovered birding. The younger reader may not be familiar with American society during the time Mrs. Snetsinger grew-up, was married and raising her four children. Thousands of women of that era found themselves in a situation, forced upon them through societies expectations and stark reality, that did not suit their personal needs and wants as far as life goes. There were a tremendous number of women who were very well educated, extremely bright free spirited. Many of these women, after they graduated from college, married and started raising families. Their entire world consisted of bring up small children and making their husbands "happy." This was the thing to do in those days. Women had great difficulties finding significant employment outside of the home. Society, to a certain extent, look down upon this and many employers simply would not hire women. This was post WWII and women were expected to stay at home and "stay in their place." I grew up around many women who found themselves in this situation. I grew up with many unhappy women around me. Phoebe did something about her unhappiness...right or wrong.

Secondly, Phoebe grew up with a father who was just as obsessed in his own way, as she was. His obsession was his work. He ignored his family just as much as Phoebe did hers after a certain point. Much criticism has been directed toward Phoebe because for all intent and purposes she more or less abandoned her husband and children for the purpose of bird watching. Is this criticism justified? Maybe, maybe not. I personally know hundreds of men who have devoted their lives to their work or hobbies such as golf, hunting, fishing, etc. almost to the extent that Phoebe did. If we throw rocks at Phoebe, then we must throw rocks at the rest.

Thirdly, and for me, this was the weakest part of the book, and to a certain extent, the most annoying and off the mark, was the author's almost manic obsession over the horrific, brutal and horrendous gang rape of Phoebe while she was in Papua New Guinea. Time and time again the author has speculated how this impacted Mrs. Snetsinger's life and her decisions and behavior post attack. As we really do not have a good handle on Phoebe's mind-set and emotional trauma, all is pure speculation on the author's and reader's part. I personally did not find any drastic behavioral changes taking place in Phoebe's life. She still took outrageous chances and was constantly putting herself in physical danger. She still ignored her family and she was still obsessed with listing birds. Would this trauma have effective me? You bet. How it would have effected me...I know not. We are all so very different.

Forth, in reading the reviews here and on a number of other sites, it would appear that there seems to be a bit of resentment that Phoebe was rich. I am always a bit amused by this. Everyone (or at least most people) strive to gather more money...it is sort of the American way. Yet, when someone does accumulate or make money, then everyone seems to resent it. It is sort of like the song; "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."

All in all I found this to be a well written work and a work that was of great interest to me. It is a good lesson as to what can happen to a truly obsessed individual. It is an inspiration to those of us who are birders and it is a great read for all of us who are arm chair travelers. I enjoyed this read.

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing, If Not Magnificent, Obsession, March 31, 2009
This review is from: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (Hardcover)
An amazing chronicle of birding and its potential for obsession. Gentile chronicles Phoebe Snetsinger's quest for her life list and repression in a thoughtful, always sympathetic but also questioning manner.

Reminiscent in some ways of The Big Year, Life List will join it on the bookshelves of birdiacs, normal birders and non-birders alike.

Ms. Gentile is as talented as her new husband, Andy Borowitz (albeit not quite as amusing).
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Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds
Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile (Hardcover - March 31, 2009)
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