Nancy's Reviews > Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds

Life List by Olivia Gentile
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Sep 12, 11


Life List is a biography of Phoebe Burnett Snetsinger. Phoebe's story is in many ways the story of bright women who came of age between l945 and l970 or so. During World War II many women worked and day care centers apparently were available, because most men were away at war. After the war, women were told to go home, have babies and be full time mothers. They were guilted horribly by the government, women's magazines and society in general, if they didn't follow this high-pressure advice.

Yet when they followed the advice, many were miserably isolated and or unfulfilled, desperate to be more than the children's mother or their husband's servant and sexual partner. As their children got older and they became more independent, many developed interests that began to give them a sense of self. Life List is the story of Phoebe's evolution from depressed mother to world-renowned birder.

The story particularly interested me because it traced the impact of society's goals on individual women during much of the 20th century and also because I am both an observer of birders and a photographer of birds. Phoebe was obviously a woman gifted with a strong body and an extraordinarily keen mind. The degree to which she eventually became compulsive about birding made me think it's just as well I'm not a birder.

I was bothered by the author's pushiness about her bias that Phoebe's increasing moodiness and compulsiveness about birding was due to her being sexually assaulted and not seeking counseling. Although that's certainly a possible explanation, it appeared that the stress and moodiness may have been more closely correlated with her having set a goal for her Life List and fearing that some competitors might reach the goal before she did. This is particularly suggested by the fact that once she reached her goal, much of her moodiness subsided even though her interest in competitive birding did not.

The evolution of Phoebe's relationship with her husband and children was fascinating. I'm not sure that a person who had no interest in birds could enjoy this book. If they did, it might well be because of the history of 20th century women generally, the evolution of this one woman and the story of her relationships.
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