COMPOSING A FURTHER LIFE by Mary Catherine Bateson


The Age of Active Wisdom
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The author of Composing a Life (1991) urges older readers to use their wisdom and energy to shape a further meaningful life and to engage with and contribute to society.

Bateson (Arabic Language Handbook, 2003, etc.), a visiting scholar at the Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility at Boston College, argues that the extension of the human life span in the past century does not mean an extension of old age but rather a longer period of adult life. Adding to psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s eight life-cycle stages, she looks at a new period of extended vitality that she calls “Adulthood II,” an age of “active wisdom.” To explore the contributions of individuals in Adulthood II, Bateson recorded conversations with a variety of men and women who have reached this stage. Among them are a former Maine boat-yard worker turned jewelry maker in Arizona; an activist who founded several nonprofit organizations; a gay music teacher who works with autistic children; a retired cathedral dean who set up an interfaith center; and a white lawyer who started a journal of blacks in higher education. With Jane Fonda, the author discusses the relationship of age and spirituality, providing a portrait of the actress that contrasts sharply with the popular images of her as radical Vietnam war protester or beautiful exercise queen. The stories provide examples of people dealing with transitions in their lives, finding strategies to deal with new conditions and relationships, figuring who they are and what they want. The conversations, which have been largely crafted into essays, are not only lengthy but two-way, with Bateson including numerous details from her own interesting life. Her takeaway message is that the rich past experiences of those in Adulthood II can lead to the composition of a still-productive life and that older adults, now relatively free from daily responsibilities, can combine their wisdom with energy and commitment to have a positive effect on society.

Occasionally smug, but attentive and well-composed.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-26643-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2010


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