Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds

Olivia Gentile, Author . Bloomsbury $25 (345p) ISBN 978-1-59691-169-7

In this biography of bird enthusiast Phoebe Snetsinger, former journalist Gentile wonders whether there is a “line between dedication and obsession, and when does obsession cross the line into pathology?” Married, with four children, Phoebe was a frustrated 1950s housewife who began experiencing a depression that “felt like she was inside a tomb.” Her introduction to bird-watching by “another shy, brainy housewife,” seeing a warbler through binoculars, was a revelation; it was as if she’d seen a “blinding white light.” With the help of a local birding club, Phoebe began her “life list” of birds and gradually began traveling farther afield in search of new sightings. Diagnosed in her late 40s with incurable cancer and less than a year to live, she threw herself into birding, traveling worldwide, ignoring injury and danger to work on her life list for another 18 years, until killed in a bus accident in Madagascar at the age of 68. Gentile’s ambivalence, celebrating Snetsinger’s “having lived so fully and with so much spirit” but noting that “she had lost the capacity to take into account her family, her health and her safety,” adds a reflectiveness that Phoebe herself may have avoided in life. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2008
Release date: 03/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 346 pages - 978-1-59691-170-3
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-60819-146-8
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