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Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom
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Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  84 ratings  ·  25 reviews
From the author of Composing a Life (first published in 1991 and still in print), an inspiring exploration of a new stage of the life cycle, “Adulthood II,” created by unprecedented levels of health, energy, time, and resources—of which we have barely begun to be fully conscious.

Mary Catherine Bateson sees aging today as an “improvisational art form calling for imagination
ebook, 272 pages
Published September 14th 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2010)
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Joan Winnek
Feb 11, 2012 Joan Winnek rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people 50 and older
Recommended to Joan by: Ashby Village newsletter
This is quite a wonderful book, especially for people at midlife and beyond. In our seventies, my husband and I are making a study of how to make years of inevitable physical decline nonetheless rewarding, creative, and productive. This book has good examples in the stories she tells of real people, and in Bateson's many facts and insights. Very readable.
Rebecca Budd
I finished "Composing a Further Life" on my 56 birthday. Mary Catherine's thoughts and ideas were expressed in a way that encouraged exploration of multiple possibilities. Life is ambiguous, learning is incremental, and love hope and joy are precious. Mary Catherine shared the stories of people who lived full lives and who now embraced the future with curiosity and mindfulness.
Jim Leffert

The human lifespan has increased, on average, by 30 years since the beginning of the 20th century and by 20 years since the end of World War II. In light of this extension of our stay on Earth, Bateson revises Erik Erikson’s developmental stages schema to add a new stage, Adulthood II, which occurs roughly between the ages of 50 and 75. This unprecedented lengthy period marks the time when people are no longer raising children or establishing their careers, but are still physically healthy and c
As you can imagine if you know where I work, I am occasionally in situations where I'm supposed to "read" books about aging. And most of the time, I "read" them. But this is the first book I read for work that I was compelled to finish extracurricularly, on a slow-moving train to and from Richmond, no less. Bateson, who is an inexpressibly lovely person (I can say this because we hugged once), made me rethink my own personal concept of independence in this book. The following quote -- which is a ...more
Many years ago, I read Bateson's Composing A Life. It was a meaningful read at that time of my life. Now comes Composing a Further Life, very meaningful at my present time of life. Bateson and I are about the same age. In this book she shares her ideas on how it is to be in a newly defined stage of life, in between the productive years of working and raising children and the old age years. Retirement years can also be productive and stimulating. Bateson has interviewed a number of folks, men and ...more
I was disappointed. The people interviewed were from a different world--highly educated in prestigious schools, patrons of culture, administrators of non-profit organizations. Quite different from my life. I didn't find much information or encouragement for someone like me to compose my further life.
Having read, remembered, and recommended Composing a Life many years ago, I was eager to read Composing a Further life. I had no idea how deeply this book would affect my thinking about the next phase of my life as I contemplate retirement in 6 months. Like Composing a Life, this book is a thematic analysis - not a rigid one, but a fluid and flexible drawing out of possible lessons - of a series of interviews with fascinating people from diverse walks of life. Unlike the former book, this one in ...more
Jackie Saindon
As in Composing a Life, Mary Catherine Bateson (daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson) interviews individuals who have actively resolved challenges to create a life in in their second stage of adult hood. Her intent in this book is to place another stage of life into Eric Erikson's life stages. Calling the years between 55 and 75 Adulthood II a period when we are still healthy enough to make life a fruitful life and make a contribution to future generations. I sometimes wondered where sh ...more
This book bored the hell out of me and I had to stop after 100 pages. I gave her a chance but found her too academic and dry. Also found her too conventional which is such an odd thing to say about the daughter of Margaret Mead. Too much granny power, not enough deep insights after 70 years of living. Was hoping this would be more like Carolyn Heilbrun's The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, a more original perspective on aging. Maybe I'll return to this book in 30 years but, for now, I'm mo ...more
I mostly read and partly listened to this. The reader was good, and it helped me find enough time to finish it, but it's harder to focus on the content when my eyes are free to take in other things. Some of the writing is very worthy and thought provoking, but our book club mostly enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on the issues she raises. The chapters feature various successful, interesting professionals who have had rewarding lives with many opportunities to be mentored and to mentor others. ...more
This is a book about life between the ages of 55-70 or more. I kept on waiting for this book to get more interesting or provide more guidance than it did. Her basic conclusion is that because people live longer, we have more time to resolve issues and become better people--as long as we keep learning.
Sherry Leffert
I really liked Mary Catherine Bateson’s previous book, Composing a Life so I thought I would enjoy this one too. Unfortunately, although her premise was interesting and relevant to me, the premise being that the stage of life of second adulthood is one to expand horizons and venture on new paths while maintaining continuity with the past, once she articulated the thesis, she had little more to add. The examples of people’s lives were so detailed and uninteresting after a while, I skipped them. T ...more
Jean Potuchek
I found some interesting ideas in this book, but I didn't find that the author's use of extensive excerpts from her conversations with her informants worked well for me. For a fuller review of this book, see my blog post on Stepping Into the Future: A Retirement Journal (
Elizabeth  Higginbotham
Some insights especially about our cultural focus on independence.
Brooks Goddard
Mary Bateson has written two books for the over-50 set. The first is titled Composing a Life in which she writes about life as a work in progress. The second is titled Composing A Further Life in which she writes about the reality of people going through a stage of life she calls “Adulthood II,” basically the years between 60 and 80 when people in the past retired in ways that people of that age do not retire today. Bateson writes with great warmth and authority and shows her subjects staying st ...more
Bateson explores what she terms the "age of active wisdom"--now that we can expect a lifespan 20 years longer than our predecessors, we have a new life stage that precedes old age. Through interviews with people who have used that time to become activists for issues that concern them or to pass on their wisdom to others, Bateson helps us think about the choices we might make. For years, I've called this time period "The third half of life" in our LifeKeys materials. Bateson adds new insights.
Sep 28, 2010 Gloria rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People in their 50s
Due to both the fact that people are living much longer and that our economy is so uncertain, there are many people experiencing a need to reinvent their lives a bit. This is a rather intellectual evaluation of this process that encourages people at the mid-life point to actively and intentionally choose a life with purpose. Its tone may leave some people disappointed as it seems to especially embrace people who are well educated and have had important professional careers.
Bateson's COMPOSING A LIFE had a significant impact on me as a young woman trying to balance a writing career and family. I looked forward to reading her book, COMPOSING A FURTHER LIFE. A FURTHER LIFE is quite good, great interviews and anecdotes. But the impact was less. Maybe it's because I'm older. Maybe I wanted more of a "how-to" book. I plan to reread this book. I think the real key to Bateson's work is how she encourages introspection and creativity.
I don't think this book was really for people like me. I am perfectly content not doing a whole lot in retirement. And I don't think I really have a legacy or anything to pass on to others.
Alas, I found this book to be quite boring. I love the idea of "composing a life," but I think it is the writing style that puts me off. If I has the opportunity to chat in person with the author, I bet I'd enjoy that a lot more.
Oct 05, 2010 Steve marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
26 Aug 2010 > See profile of the author & discussion of the book at
I am not exactly a part of the audience for this book. Maybe in half a century I'll come back to it.
Debora Felton
Thought-provoking and inspiring look at aging and its opportunities.
Disappointed. Did not grow much past the last book
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Mary Catherine Bateson (born December 8, 1939) is an American writer and cultural anthropologist.

A graduate of the Brearley School, Bateson is the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.

Bateson is a noted author in her field with many published monographs. Among Bateson's books is With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, a recounting of her upbringing by two fam
More about Mary Catherine Bateson...
Composing a Life With a Daughter's Eye Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way Full Circles, Overlapping Lives: A New Vision of Identity and Connection in Our Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery

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“The critical question about regret is whether experience led to growth and new learning. Some people seem to keep on making the same mistakes, while others at least make new ones. Regret and remorse can be either paralyzing or inspiring. [p. 199]” 9 likes
“... active wisdom--an entire cohort with something new to offer to the world as years of experience combined with continuing health. [p. 52]” 2 likes
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