A pioneering exploration of the differences between the brain’s right and left hemispheres and their effects on society, history, and culture
“Persuasively argues that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere losing touch with its natural regulative ‘master’ the right. Brilliant and disturbing.”—Salley Vickers, a Guardian Best Book of the Year
This pioneering account sets out to understand the structure of the human brain—the place where mind meets matter. Until recently, the left hemisphere of our brain has been seen as the ‘rational’ side, the superior partner to the right. But is this distinction true?
Drawing on a vast body of experimental research, Iain McGilchrist argues while our left brain makes for a wonderful servant, it is a very poor master. As he shows, it is the right side which is the more reliable and insightful. Without it, our world would be mechanistic – stripped of depth, colour and value.
"One of the few contemporary works deserving classic status.”—Nicholas Shakespeare, The Times“A profound examination.”—Philip Pullman
“Clear, penetrating, lively, thorough and fascinating. . . . I couldn’t put it down.”—Mary Midgley, The Guardian
A U.K. mental health consultant and clinical director with a background in literature, McGilchrist attempts to synthesize his two areas of expertise, arguing that the "divided and asymmetrical nature" of the human brain is reflected in the history of Western culture. Part I, The Divided Brain, lays the groundwork for his thesis, examining two lobes' significantly different features (structure, sensitivity to hormones, etc.) and separate functions (the left hemisphere is concerned with "what," the right with "how"). He suggests that music, "ultimately... the communication of emotion," is the "ancestor of language," arising largely in the right hemisphere while "the culture of the written word tends inevitably toward the predominantly left hemisphere." More controversially, McGilchrist argues that "there is no such thing as the brain" as such, only the brain as we perceive it; this leads him to conclude that different periods of Western civilization (from the Homeric epoch to the present), one or the other hemisphere has predominated, defining "consistent ways of being that persist" through time. This densely argued book is aimed at an academic crowd, is notable for its sweep but a stretch in terms of a uniting thesis.
The Master and His Emissary
Definitely the best book I have read in a long time. Covering history, philosophy, literature, art, music in great depth, and in relation to our divided brain, it comes close to explaining everything, while also pointing out that nothing can be fully explained, and that much will always be beyond explanation.