Books in Print

by Mary Catherine Bateson

Note: Some of these links go to; others to, depending on availability of the books. Some passages of jacket copy have been inserted.

Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom

Knopf, September, 2010
ISBN/EAN: 978-0-307-26643-9

From the author of Composing A Life (first published in 1991 and still in print), an exuberant exploration of a new stage of the life cycle—“Adulthood II”—created by unprecedented levels of health, energy, time, and resources – of which we have barely begun to be fully conscious.

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, entering this second adulthood, have found new meaning and new ways to contribute, composing their lives in new patterns.

Among the people Bateson engages in open-ended, in-depth conversation are a retired Maine boat-yard worker who has become a silversmith and maker of fine jewelry; an African-American woman who explores the importance of grandmothering; two gay men finding contentment in mutual caring; the retired dean of a cathedral in New York City who exemplifies how a multiplicity of interests and connections lead to deeper unity; and Jane Fonda, who shares her ways of dealing with change and spiritual growth.

Here is a book that presents each of us—at any age—with an exhilarating challenge to think about and approach our later lives with the full force of imagination, curiosity, and enthusiasm. At the same time, it speaks to us as members of a larger society concerned about the world that our children and grandchildren, born and not yet born, will inherit. “We live longer,” she says, “but we think shorter.” As adults find themselves entering Adulthood II, making the choices that will affirm and complete the meaning of the lives they have lived, they can play a key role, contributing their perspectives and experience of adapting to change. In our day, wisdom is no longer associated with withdrawal and passivity but with engagement with others and the contribution that Bateson calls “active wisdom.”

Our Own Metaphor: A Personal Account of a Conference on the Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation[1972]
Hampton Press, 2005
ISBN: 1-57273-601-1

Our Own Metaphor, now being re-issued by Hampton Press, provides an approach to the basic question of whether humans, with their increasingly powerful technologies, will ultimately destroy the environment on which they depend or prove capable of a new level of adaptation. The book suggests that any solution to the world’s myriad problems must be grounded in an empathetic understanding of systems – from the ecology of nature to the loving interdependence of families.

Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way [1994]

Harper Perennial Paperback, 1995
ISBN: 0060926309

Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Composing a Life, is our guide on a fascinating intellectual exploration of lifetime learning from experience and encountering the unfamiliar. Peripheral Visions begins with a sacrifice in a Persian garden, moving on to a Philippine village and then to the Sinai desert, and concludes with a description of a tour bus full of Tibetan monks. Bateson’s reflections bring theses narratives homes, proposing surprising new vision of our own diverse and changing society and offering us the courage to participate even as we are still learning.

With A Daughter’s Eye:
A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson

HarperCollins, 2001
ISBN: 0060975733

In With a Daughter’s Eye, writer and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson looks back on her extraordinary childhood with two of the world’s legendary anthropologists, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. This deeply human and illuminating portrait sheds new light on her parents’ prodigious achievements and stands alone as an important contribution for scholars of Mead and Bateson. But for readers everywhere, this engaging, poignant, and powerful book is first and foremost a singularly candid memoir of a unique family by the only person who could have written it.

Composing A Life [1989]

Grove/Atlantic, Inc. Paperback, 2001
ISBN: 0452265053

Mary Catherine Bateson has been called “one of the most original and important thinkers of our time” (Deborah Tannen). Grove Press is pleased to reissue Bateson’s deeply satisfying treatise on the improvisational lives of five extraordinary women. Using their personal stories as her framework, Dr. Bateson delves into the creative potential of the complex lives we live today, where ambitions are constantly refocused on new goals and possibilities. With balanced sympathy and a candid approach to what makes these women inspiring, examples of the newly fluid movement of adaptation–their relationships with spouses, children, and friends, their ever-evolving work, and their gender–Bateson shows us that life itself is a creative process. “Well-formulated and passionate … Offers nothing less than a radical rethinking of the concept of achievement.” — San Francisco Chronicle “Fascinating … A masterwork of rare breadth and particularity.” — The Boston Globe

Arabic Language Handbook [1967]

2nd edition, Georgetown University Press, 2003
ISBN 0878403868


willing-to-learnWilling to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery

Steerforth Press, September 2004
ISBN: 1586420801 (distributed by Random House)

This collection of Bateson’s work can be read as a memoir of unfolding curiosity, for it brings together essays and occasional pieces, many of them previously unpublished or unknown to readers who know the author only from her books, written in the course of an unconventional career.

Bateson is a singular thinker whose work enriches lives by bringing fresh, original ideas to subjects that affect all of our lives. Willing to Learn is at once an articulation and an exemplar of the composition of Bateson’s own life’s work.

Angels Fear: Towards an Epistimology of the Sacred[1987]
(with Gregory Bateson).
Hampton Press, 2005
ISBN: 1-57273-594-5

Angels Fear is the final sustained thinking of the great Gregory Bateson, written in collaboration with his anthropologist daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. Here we have set out before us Bateson’s natural history of the relationship between ideas. This book incorporates writing by both father and daughter, including essays written by Gregory in the last years before his death. There are also conversations-Metalogues-written since then by Mary Catherine to convey the way the two might have worked together to forge the essays into a single work. Angels Fear is a unique demonstration of thinking in progress, playful and wide-ranging, an attempt by the Batesons to find a view of the mind and the universe that is neigher mechanistic nor supernatural


  • Full Circles, Overlapping Lives: Culture and Generation in Transition.Ballantine Books. 2001.
  • Thinking AIDS (with Richard Goldsby). New York: AddisonWesley. 1988.
  • Structural Continuity in Poetry: A Linguistic Study of Five
  • PreIslamic Odes. The Hague: Mouton, 1970.
  • Approaches to Semiotics: Indiana University Conference on Paralinguistics and Kinesics (edited, with Thomas A. Sebeok and Alfred S. Hayes). The Hague: Mouton, 1964.