Cover image for Composing a life
Composing a life
Bateson, Mary Catherine.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Plume, 1990 [c1989]
Physical Description:
xiv, 241 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, c1989.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BD431 .B32 1989C Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
BD431 .B32 1989C Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This extraordinary book explores that act of creation that engages us all--the compostition of our lives. Through the comparative biographies of herself and four of her close friends, Mary Catherine Bateson provides a fascinating framework for her inquiry into the creative potential of complex lives, where energies are not narrowly focused toward a single ambition but rather are continually refocused and redefined.Each of the women in Composing a Life faced discontinuity at periods in her life, yet was rich in professional achievement and personal relationships. Bateson's life-affirming conclusion is that life is an improvisational art form, and that the interruptions, conflicted priorities, and exigencies that are a part of all our lives can and should be seen as a source of wisdom. Important and empowering, Composing a Life will change lives.

Author Notes

Mary Catherine Bateson is a writer and cultural anthropologist.

Bateson has written and co-authored many books and articles, and lectures across the country and abroad. She has taught at Harvard, Northeastern University, Amherst College, Spelman College and abroad in the Philippines and in Iran.

In 2004 she retired from her position as Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University and is now Professor Emerita. She serves on multiple advisory boards including the National Center on Atmospheric Research and the NSF, dealing with climate change.

Mary Catherine Bateson's books in print include Composing a Life, Our Own Metaphor, and Peripheral Visions, as well as a memoir, With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Her latest is Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom (Knopf September 2010).

Bateson divides her time between New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

By profiling five highly productive women--herself and four friends--Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and author of With a Daughter's Eye , aims to shed light on personal and career obstacles women face in achieving success. All five women, she claims, have lived life as an improvisational art form. Her friends are Joan Erikson, dancer and craftsperson; Alice d'Entremont, electrical enginer for Skylab equipment and CEO of a high-tech firm; Ellen Bassuk, a psychiatrist who works with the homeless; and Johnnetta Cole, the first black woman president of Spelman College in Atlanta. Loosely intertwined with the subjects' lives are chapters devoted to topics such as marriage, homemaking, commitment, caretaking and the multiple roles women play. While the book's premise is intriguing, the telling is self-indulgent and only sporadically illuminates the author's themes. Author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Bateson, an anthropologist who is the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, attempts to examine women's lives from a new perspective. Using her own life and those of several friends, all of whom have interesting, multifaceted careers, she looks at life as a work of improvisational art. Rather than a series of interruptions, she sees child rearing, career changes, divorce, etc., as creative opportunities and seeks a unifying thread in varied life experiences. This attempt to create theory from life is not accomplished; reading about these women in a work of collective biography would be worthwhile, but the bits and pieces of their lives that Bateson gives lead nowhere. This books lacks the clarity of her With a Daughter's Eye (LJ 8/84; one of LJ' s ``Best Books of 1984''). Women's studies collections may want to consider, but this is not an essential purchase.-- Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., Cal. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.