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 brings Phoebe Snetsinger and the wild world of amatuer ornithology to vivid life.
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.