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The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 Hardcover – January 6, 2009

41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

New opportunities for creativity and self-fulfillment await men and women between the ages of 50 and 75. Sociologist Lawrence-Lightfoot (Balm in Gilead) coins the term Third Chapter to describe the rich possibilities as illustrated in her extended interviews with 40 well-educated, affluent Americans. Founding her thesis on classic formulations of life-stage development, particularly that of Erik Erikson, the author offers a wide range of models for people who feel burned out, restless or dissatisfied with their lives, describing how each of her subjects became a different person. A newspaper executive retires and devotes himself to fiction writing and playing jazz piano; a law firm partner leaves work behind and develops small urban gardens; in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack, an artist organizes interfaith quilting groups; a neurobiologist moves from the laboratory to the public arena, to work with HIV/AIDS patients in East Africa. Readers feeling that something is missing from their lives, that there is something more they can contribute, will find this book a helpful guide. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


The Third Chapter is a compassionate rendering of the challenges of entering uncharted post-career years, followed by an eloquent vision of the joys that lie ahead for those who put giving at the center of living. (Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School Professor and bestselling author of Confidence and America the Principled)

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot follows her subjects on an extraordinary journey. Read this book and be inspired by the diverse ways these women and men redefine their lives, adding purpose, passion, and reflection as they grow older. (Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund)

In this singular book, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot introduces a new stage of life, delineates its intriguing and unexpected contours, and draws lessons that are meaningful for every human being. (Howard Gardner, author of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet)

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, one of our most graceful and gifted chroniclers of the changing psychological landscape, has produced a biography of the new lifestage emerging between the end of the middle years and the arrival of old age. This remarkable tale is conveyed through the nuanced stories of individuals navigating their way through their fifties, sixties, and seventies, and is punctuated by Lightfoot's arresting observations. The result is not only the best book yet about the changing lifecourse, but an inspiring roadmap for individual and social renewal in the emerging third chapter. As ten thousand baby boomers turn sixty each day, the timing of this book is as exquisite as its insights. (Marc Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life and founder/CEO of Civic Ventures) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books; 1 edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374275491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374275495
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is the Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education at Harvard and the chair of the board of the MacArthur Foundation. As a sociologist, she examines the culture of schools, the patterns and structures of classroom life, socialization within families and communities, and the relationships between culture and learning styles.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

155 of 161 people found the following review helpful By William McPeck on February 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Third Chapter looks at the stage of life from ages 50 - 75. The author approaches this stage of life from her perspective as an educational sociologist. The book's premise is that life's third chapter is one of substantial growth and change. This change is based on learning. The author defines learning in this stage of life as not traditional learning, but as a mid-life process of "changing, adapting, exploring, mastery and channeling energies, skills and passions into new domains."

Through my recent work and study in this area, I have come to appreciate the importance the third chapter plays in our lives. While I recognized its importance, I missed its significance. According to the author, "The third chapter represents a significant and new developmental period in our culture, one that comes along only once a century."

The basis of the book is forty interviews conducted over a two year period. These interviews were conducted with both men and women between the ages of 50 and 75 who had made significant life changes during this period. Many of the interviewee's stories are told in great detail. Weaved into the book are a number of theoretical frameworks, dominated by the theoretical frameworks developed by developmental psychologist Erik Erickson and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson.

While the individual stories bring value and insight to the book, at times I felt they were a distraction. Personally, I would have preferred seeing less depth in the stories presented and more of the author's interpretation of each story. Despite this drawback, I felt the book was definitely worth reading. Approaching this topic from an educational and sociological perspective was a new learning for me.

If, like me, you are a student of the third chapter of life, I would recommend you read this book as part of your learning process.
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68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Daryl Ann Glenney on August 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I approached this book with eager anticipation, having seen Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot on television, making her points eloquently to Charlie Rose. I was disappointed by the book, however. The style was off-putting, and the substance was too often elusive.

The author's ponderous, repetitive academic writing reduces the promised exploration of "Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50," the book's subtitle, to a sort of "Chicken Soup for Aging Dummies." First, she spends several pages telling us what the chapter is going to be about. Then, she tells us. Then, she summarizes what she has told us. It doesn't help that quotation marks seem to be "sprinkled" about, "willy nilly" (you get the picture!). Sometimes they appear to refer to actual comments from those she interviewed, but more often they seem capricious. Digging for the content is a challenge, and it becomes tempting just to speed-read in the hope that a nugget or two of new and/or useful insight will leap off the pages.

Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot's major points are sound. The challenge of finding meaning in life's later phases is not new, but the quest looms larger as Baby Boomers enter their Third Chapter. It is a shame, then, that the author's storytelling is limited to anecdotes about well-educated people who have had successful careers and amassed sufficient financial resources to minimize the risks of their Third Chapter adventures. Most American seniors do not have these luxuries, and for them - especially women - the risks are likely to be too great.
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142 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Minnie Katt on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I recently read a novel (can't remember the title) which takes place in France and referred to the Third Chapter of life. This terminology has apparently been common for years, but author Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot takes credit for the coinage. I was eager to learn about people who had successfully made this transition, as my life could benefit from more passion, risk and adventure. Unfortunately, the people interviewed in this book all seem to be highly privileged: judges, corporate lawyers, physicists, entrepreneurs. What can I learn from a woman who ditches her career to write plays, and who collaborates with her friend who is a famous broadway composer? Ms. Lawrence-Lightfoot might have considered how ordinary people with family obligations, or lacking fortunes, could find their bliss after 50.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Karma B. Kitaj, PhD on June 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Women Who Could... and Did: Lives of 26 Exemplary Artists and Scientists

The "Third Chapter," a still newly defining phase of life, following the middle years, can be a time of exploration, adventure, risk-taking and new learning. Distinguished Harvard Education School sociologist, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's new book, The Third Chapter, takes us on a journey to meet 40 people she interviewed across the U.S.

What did she discover about people, aged 50-75 who are embarking on a new adventure? They were crossing boundaries, much as one would in an "anthropological expedition." Challenging themselves to leave the comfortable niche of their mid-years' careers, they enter a world where they feel like "awkward strangers, inept travelers, vulnerable observers." As one of the men whom I interviewed for my TV show, "Alivelihood: New Careers As We Age" said, "I'm both the oldest and the newest," at learning to be a stand-up comic after 30 years as a teacher.

Lawrence-Lightfoot finds that in crossing boundaries and learning to welcome ambiguity, these 3rd Chapter folks require several talents:
* Deep curiosity to know something new
* Ability to relinquish fear of the unknown and fear of failure; being able to name the fear and take a leap of faith
* Willingness to be vulnerable, exposed to public floundering
* Embrace contradictions and integrate the new with the familiar

This journey sometimes took people back to an earlier time when they felt vulnerable, challenged, unwelcome.
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