After her four kids were nearly grown and she was about to turn 50, Phoebe Snetsinger was told she had less than a year to live. Snetsinger, a St. Louis housewife and avid backyard birder, decided to spend that year traveling the world in search of birds. As it turned out, her doctors were wrong, but Phoebe's passion had been ignited and she spent the next eighteen years crisscrossing the globe recklessly staking out her quarry. En route she contracted malaria in Zambia, nearly fell to her death in Zaire, and was kidnapped and gang raped on the outskirts of Port Moresby. Yet none of this curbed her enthusiasm. By the time she died in a bus accident while birding in Madagascar in 1999, Phoebe was world renowned and had seen more species - 8,500 of the roughly 10,000 - than anyone in history.
A fascinating portrait of a hobbiest whose obsession contributed to both her success and her demise, Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds brings Phoebe Snetsinger and the wild world of amateur ornithology to vivid life.
"[...] Life List presents a great portrait of this fascinating woman and the incredible life she led. But that’s not all, it also raises some important questions not only about Phoebe’s decisions, but about life in general. As the author poses in the introduction:
- What happens when society pushes you into a role that you aren’t meant to play?
- If you’re told that you only have a short time to live, how should you spend it?
- Where is the line between dedication and obsession, and when does obsession cross the line into pathology?
- What does it mean, ultimately, to live, and die, well?
Wisely, the biographer does not attempt to answer these questions directly, but lets you draw your own conclusions.
I would enthusiastically recommend this book to any birder, as well as anyone, birder or otherwise, looking for a good biography. Also, if you have yet to read Birding on Borrowed Time, I would suggest starting with this one. Afterward, if you would like more details on the birds and Phoebe’s birding experiences you can get them from the memoir."
– Grant McCreary (03-06-2009), read the full review at The Birder's Library
"[A] stirring account of an intriguing woman and the life she led."
"Except for one thing, this book would rate as a great adventure novel and fictional psychological portrait, about a woman's obsession with bird-watching, its effect on her relationships with her husband and her four children, and the horrifying mishaps that she survived on each continent – until the last mishap. But the book isn't that great novel, because instead it's a great true story."
– Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
"Diagnosed in her late 40s with incurable cancer and less than a year to live, [Phoebe Snetsinger] threw herself into birding, traveling worldwide, ignoring injury and danger to work on her life list for another 18 years."
– Publishers Weekly
"Gentile's tale of a desperate but determined housewife with a passion for birds and adventure is engrossing, sharp, and affecting-a touching portrait and great read"
– Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief