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Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  199 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Mary Catherine Bateson sees aging today as an "improvisational art form calling for imagination and willingness to learn," and in this ardent, affirming study, she relates the experiences of men and women—herself included—who, upon entering this second adulthood, have found new meaning and new ways to contribute, composing their lives in new patterns.

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Published September 14th 2010 by Tantor Media (first published January 1st 2010)
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Oh, it's a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short,
When you reach September.

It's getting time for me to face the fact that if it's not September for me yet, it will be soon. I am inarguably closer to grave than cradle. Luckily, I have some good role models - older women who are living rich, vibrant lives in the autumn of their years. There's Carol, in her late seventies, who travels to Machu Picchu, and to Africa to see gorillas, and Jill, who has just turned 81. After s
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
Joan Winnek
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  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. ...more
Rebecca Budd
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, wisdom
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. ...more
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group
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
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
Jun 18, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Katie Marquette
This book hovered between 2 and 3 stars for me. I first heard of Mary Catherine Bateson while listening to an interview she did on "On Being." She is (to her annoyance I'm sure) usually introduced as 'the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.' I found her insightful, intelligent, and introspective. Reading this book, I found her to be all these things as well. I had intended to read her earlier book "Composing a Life" first, but my reading plans are often at the whim of FedEx and this o ...more
Jackie Saindon
May 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not new, but for me in 2017, perfectly timed. There is a lot of wisdom in this book.
Sally Ember
I read the first part of this "series," "Composing a Life," when it first came out a couple of decades ago and really appreciated it. I heard an interview with Dr. Bateson on Krista Tippet's public radio show, "On Being," that discussed this new book, "Composing a Further Life," and I wanted to read it. However, I found it somewhat disappointing.

Some of her ideas are great and the premise is good. She concludes that, since humans live longer, now, than ever before, human development once again
Jun 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
“… When I interview people, I often have the sense that they are learning from the reawakening of their memories as they retrace the past. Memory is precious, but it is not always clear how to use it or what obligations one has to what has gone before. Looking back over a lifetime takes different forms. A body of professionals has evolved who help individuals through a partially formalized process of 'life review,' which has always in some sense been one of the preoccupations of old age, taking ...more
Dec 08, 2018 rated it liked it
This was actually my second time reading this book, though I had forgotten that until I started reading and spotted my distinctive annotations. I’m sure I read it for my women and aging research project, and the fact that I didn’t remember says it didn’t stick in my memory very well. There is good stuff here, but I find the style kind of dense, and the stories she tells here were not as compelling to me as in her Composing a Life, which I adored.
Andrew Brescia
Dec 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

If you are approaching retirement or another kind of late-in-life transition, don't pass up a chance to learn from this illuminating book. It starts a path of discernment readers eager to find a refreshing and also familiar coherence emerge as they seek new ways to matter in a world that needs their "active wisdom."
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books, aging
It gets a 4 instead of a 3 because I found myself clipping/highlighting lots of little bits. The book is organized by individuals and their stories rather than by the themes that those stories share, which is fine, but when it is time for synthesis, it feels thin. Still, glad I read it.
Peter Reczek
Aug 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Too anecdotal for such an important topic. Some interesting ideas.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I heard an interview of her on On Being which prompted me to get the book. Interesting yet the people she profiles seem to inhabit a slim rarified section of society.
Deb cambria
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Lots of good information
Tom Helmick
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This was a terrific read. Thanks, Jody, for the reading gift filled with real life stories of interesting and dynamic persons.
Feb 19, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: essays
This is an intriguing premise but I got turned off by her in the first essay.
Hollis Fishelson-holstine
inspiring and yet scary- these people have accomplished so much. what does that mean for my own 2nd adulthood
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
wonderful. I love Mary Catherine Bateson and she is truly ahead of her time with her content and insights.
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
Guess I'm growing up with Mary Catherine Bateson ... reading her book is like talking with a big sister. Twenty years ago found a comforting, encouraging voice in "Composing a Life"; same with this. No quick answers; only thoughtful and motivating examples via story from her life and others. (Downside: Perspective presented is skewed. Examples are limited to those of "means" ... assume it would be much different if financially-challenged folk were included.) Appreciated her revision on Erik Erik ...more
Sherry Leffert
Mar 20, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Brooks Goddard
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 28, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
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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

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53 likes · 13 comments
“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]” 16 likes
“... as we age we have not only to readdress earlier developmental crises but also somehow to find the way to three affirmations that may seem to conflict. ... We have to affirm our own life. We have to affirm our own death. And we have to affirm love, both given and received. [p. 88]” 5 likes
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