The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50
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The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50

3.07 of 5 stars 3.07  ·  rating details  ·  136 ratings  ·  50 reviews
In the twenty-first century, a developmental phase of life is emerging as significant and distinct, capturing our interest, engaging our curiosity, and expanding our understanding of human potential and development. Demographers talk about this new chapter in life as characterized by people—between fifty and seventy-five—who are considered “neither young nor old.” In our “...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Sarah Crichton Books (first published 2009)
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The author, a professor of sociology at Harvard, uses forty detailed oral case studies of people – all educated, successful, and financially secure – between the ages 50 and 75 to delineate the new ways of learning such people develop. She argues that people in this age range (which she calls the “Third Chapter”) is undergoing a slow cultural reorientation, from being thought of as a time of quiet retirement and seclusion to an active, giving, creative reengagement. It is also characterized by a...more
Jon Stout
Apr 11, 2010 Jon Stout rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: careerists and bureaucrats
If I’m going through it, I want to read up on it. The Third Chapter is about what people do with their lives between the ages of fifty and seventy-five. I’ve read similar books, such as Gail Sheehy’s Passages Predictable Crises of Adult Life and Understanding Men’s Passages Discovering the New Map of Men's Lives, and sometimes these books have interesting pointers and more often they describe a familiar landscape.

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s book is determinedly upbeat and positive, emphasizes pers...more
Lawrence-Lighfoot's THE THIRD CHAPTER is a qualitiative sociological study of what we boomers are facing as we enter the ages of 50-75. She has interviewed 40 upper middle class, highly comfortable, and privileged men and women, and her insights are quite solid and encouraging to those of us who wish to remain vital, alert, active, and engaged - to still make a contribution both to society and to ourselves and our learning. The book does not really talk about all the 50-75 year-olds who are stru...more
Lawrence-Lightfoot interviews women and men between the ages of 50 and 75 who have made radical changes in their work life and avocations. Many want to make a difference in the world more now than when they were younger and more focused on gaining income and status. Others return to childhood enthusiasms like painting, drama, or music, and begin to take them very seriously -- usually for no other benefit than their own satisfaction. Lawrence-Lightfoot's concluding chapter on lifelong learning an...more
There are many good messages to take away from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's book about how to make a transition between careers or different stages in life. However, one flaw is that all of the people she talked to were making life changes out of their own desire, and they had the means and resources to follow their dreams. The book would have been stronger if she had reached across class boundaries a little more to find out how some of the working poor or lower middle class transition into their t...more
Over the years I have read several books by Lawrence-Lightfoot. Her writing always challenges me since she sees the world from a very different place than I do. I am grateful to all I have learned from this wonderful author/researcher.

The Third Chapter is the book I was looking for, but I had no idea that Lawrence-Lightfoot (or anyone else) had written it. I have been exploring what to do when I grow up since my retirement in 2013. I know that there is a path for me out there, but where it is, I...more
Having made a commitment to stop accumulating unnecessary 'things' to clutter up my life, I now triage what I want to become permanent on my bookshelves. The Third Chapter definitely makes the list. It was not only well-written, but inspiring and encouraging as well. If I have any criticism at all it is that subjects of Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's research were taken exclusively from among the affluent. She asserted several times that the examples of life-altering change that she was using were ma...more
I didn't officially finish this book, but I certainly got the gist from skimming the parts that I didn't read fully. This is very much an academic rather than a "how-to" book. It is interesting and not compelling; reminded me very much of Bateson's Composing a Further Life. What I did learn, which I have been hearing elsewhere, is that the creation of retirement homes, retirement communities, combined with the sometimes required retirement of 65, has created a view of people in their "third chap...more

Page 238-9
" I believe, then, that our contemporary preoccupation with testing, our quest for higher standards of achievement, and the tools we use for measuring and evaluating student skills and proficiency in schools lead to a narrowing and standardization of learning that neglects the building of the "edifice" of life. And I believe that the parts of the school curriculum - the arts and humanities, sports, and community service in particular-that are the first to be eliminated when school sys...more
This book is about an interesting subject: the ways in which people over 50 of age are finding joy and wisdom in the "Third Chapter" of their lives (the period between 50 and 75 years of age). The number of people over 50--the "Baby Boomer" generation--is significant and growing quickly, so the issue is well worth the attention Lawrence-Lightfoot gives it. The author interviews 40 Third Chapter individuals in an effort to identify what brought them to change their lives, and to learn how they're...more
Marcia Johnston
If only this author's book had been as readable as her interview with Bill Moyers ( was inspiring. The academic-speak finally wore me down, and I stopped reading. (Here's an example: "First is the appreciation of the power of context -- the ways in which the political, historical, and cultural settings shape our perspectives and behaviors -- and second are the ways in which individuals selectively respond to these broader social and institutional forces"...more
Based on qualitative research involving interviews with 40 snowball-sampled baby boomers concerning their aspirations and activities in 50-75 age range. As a soon-to-be 50+ (sorry, "Third Chapter" member -- it takes on more reality as a life stage apparently if you use the expression at least once every three sentences and capitalize it every time), I found some of the career reflecting etc. of the subjects interesting. On the whole, though, it was a mostly dull book. Each chapter consisted of a...more
A divisão da vida em capítulos (discretos) é sempre um risco embora tenha as suas vantagens. O livro equaciona os desafios que enfrentamos entre os 50 e os 75 anos se bem que o faça apenas para uma fracção dessas pessoas - as que têm meios para viver essa fase das suas vidas com relativo desafogo. Embora seja esse também o meu caso, a verdade é que não me senti retratado nos casos estudados pela autora na sua qualidade de socióloga.
A parte do livro de que mais gostei foi a relativa às reflexões...more
This is a very good book and one that is especially relevant for the entire baby boom generation including one like me on the tail end of that generation. The Third Chapter points to a very exciting time when we seek to 'pay it forward' as author Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot puts it; and to revisit our 'past' and find there the clues for our "intention". Put another way, when we were children we knew exactly what we wanted to do or to be. We knew what was in our hearts before 'life' or circumstances...more
Helped me to gain perspective of what my life could be going forward and that I don't have to reinvent the wheel but rather create a new path and vehicle based on my passions that may have been placed on the shelf.
If you are heading towards age 50 and feeling the need to make drastic changes in your life direction, you may find this book inspirational. While it is academic in style (the author repeatedly has to circle back to defend her thesis, which gets tedious), it offers a number of "real-life" examples of professionals who have successfully reinventend themselves and their careers/interests later in life. The book establishes the need for an alternative social viewpoint than that of retirement years...more
Any Length
A very complex book and not quite what I had expected. Thinking this would be a book about the kind of new age "older folk" we get to see these days, this book surprised me with stories of over 50s experiencing a wholesale internal restructuring process. A laying aside of the old ways of thinking and acting and a whole new conception of life. Most of these people show great courage, immense patience, and great internal strength to choose a path of total redifinement of their own person, sometime...more
Although I am glad I read the book, it was more of a confirmation about what I believe to be true of the possibilities for aging in this era. Age after fifty can be a time to look ahead positively, and a time to explore new areas, but our time is not infinite.

The book ends with a poem written by a seventy year old woman, about not looking into mirrors any longer, but looking into herself to see herself. The poem struck home, about this age allowing us the time to define ourselves solely, and th...more
Good follow-up to Aging Well. I liked the idea of interviewing a number of people who were creating interesting, satisfying third chapters. To me it all seems to turn on the continued interest in learning new things. Author points out that happy people make new (sometimes younger) friends as the old fall away.

Check on Fiona Featherstone's Mandala Project involving quilts, shown at Boston Center for the Arts.

Follow-up reading: Mary Catherine Bateson, Willing to Learn (2004).
Slow going reading. Most examples she uses are people who are not close to norm. (Which she admits).
Not sure why she didn't select greater income diversity..,so not sure if this relates to most people.
Like the idea that people are being MORE adventurous after 50. Since I've been pretty adventurous
all my life, I found a bit of feeling of "been there, done that." For me, was interesting and possibly
useful in my Quality of Life writing, but personally not of much use.
Amber Berry
Just a brief comment for new: I'd probably recommend this if one is writing a paper on choices and lifestyles after age 50. It seemed to be more ambitious in it's telling than what was delivered. It's neither really a scholarly work nor a self-help book. It mostly reminded me of Gail Sheehy's earlier book, as it offers many short descriptions of individual people and how they made changes in their 'Third Chapter.' I think my rating is 2 1/2.
I liked the concept and some of the stories were inspirational. However, this book covers a very small and specific demographic of the over 50 population. The subjects that were interviewed were all in a very stable financial position which allowed them a lot of flexibility to reinvent themselves in their third chapter of life. I would like to see how those without that financial advantage make the transition into their third chapter.
Alright, why did I read this book at 30-years old? I heard an interview with the author on NPR, was very impressed, and thought I could gain some wisdom from this book. It was a well written book, and the beginning was very interesting (be patient, be thoughtful, etc), but the book dragged a bit for me as it went on. Maybe I'm not the target demographic . . .
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is one of my favorites. This work is an insightful view of life between the ages of 50 and 75. Through interviews, Lightfoot reveals patterns of life decisions that many people make during these years. It was good to read about others experiencing many of the same thoughts, decisions and joys of these years that I currently am experiencing.
I'm in my third chapter. I'm hoping for inspiration, direction, something... Every one of these people who she captures in a candid, in-depth way, is so above average in so many ways that I left reading the book feeling more inadequate and more clueless. Not what I was hoping for in a self-help book.
An uplifting book about life after 50 and the opportunities it brings. All of the examples were well-off individuals, but the message is still the same, this is your opportunity to do all of those things you put off or always wanted to do. I liked the author's commentary best.
I actually didn't finish this book, I quit about half way through. I didn't really feel like I was learning anything new. I couldn't quite relate to the "case studies" she included and came to feel she was making a mountain out of a molehill on a lot of things.
Once I got into the somewhat academic rhythm of this book I found it to be rich in content and well worth the effort. I bought it without having heard anything about it, based purely on the title. I found that I resonated with many of her conclusions and insights.
Great narratives of individual stories that illustrate the work we must do in order to accept and thrive in the third chapter. The developmental work that we must do in what the author calls the Third Chapter - is counter-intuitive. Very thoughtful reading....
Most if the good stuff here was in the end - discussion about the whole notion of "lesiure communities" for elders and how weird that segregated model is for society as a whole. But I did enjoy the author when she joined Bill Moyers on his JOURNAL.
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Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is an American sociologist who 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. She has been a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education since the 1970s.
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“I also believe that the boundaries of school need to be made more porous and permeable, that we need to reduce the generational segregation that defines life and learning in our society.” 5 likes
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