The master and his emissary The divided brain and the making of the Western world

Iain McGilchrist

Book - 2019

"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 that 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." - back cover

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

0 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 612.82/McGilchrist Due Nov 29, 2023
New Haven : Yale University Press 2019.
Main Author
Iain McGilchrist (author)
Second edition
Item Description
Previous edition: 2009.
Physical Description
xxvi, 588 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (black and white, and color) ; 21 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface to the New Expanded Edition
  • Introduction: The Master and His Emissary
  • Part 1. The Divided Brain
  • Chapter 1. Asymmetry and the Brain
  • Chapter 2. What do the Two Hemispheres 'Do'?
  • Chapter 3. Language, Truth and Music
  • Chapter 4. The Nature of the Two Worlds
  • Chapter 5. The Primacy of the Right Hemisphere
  • Chapter 6. The Triumph of the Left Hemisphere
  • Part 2. How the Brain has Shaped Our World
  • Chapter 7. Imitation and the Evolution of Culture
  • Chapter 8. The Ancient World
  • Chapter 9. The Renaissance and the Reformation
  • Chapter 10. The Enlightenment
  • Chapter 11. Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution
  • Chapter 12. The Modern and Post-Modern Worlds
  • Conclusion: The Master Betrayed
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Neuropsychiatrist McGilchrist has written a fine, absorbing, and lengthy work requiring full attention and study. The introduction clarifies its challenging organization and the title's origins. This book has two major components. The first treats the ontogenetic, structural, and functional asymmetry of the human brain's right and left hemispheres. The author analytically considers the conflicting independent activities of the hemispheres and their intrinsic synergistic roles, including related neurological advances and clinical studies. The second component provides the historical development of thoughts and beliefs throughout Western culture. The combined activities of the hemispheres are the causative forces for Western culture's evolution of music, language, writing, and science. McGilchrist skillfully weaves neuropsychology, neurology, philosophy, history, and art, demonstrating the interdisciplinary aspects of knowledge. He expresses concerns about the left hemisphere's intensified predominance over the right hemisphere in modern times. Deleterious outcomes include bureaucratic, rigidified thinking; mechanistic self-interest; a poorer comprehension of reality; and an undermining of the right hemisphere's flexibility, empathy, generosity, and integration. The author's partiality about the right hemisphere's losing battle is speculative, along with some other positions he advances. Ultimately, such matters will be clarified through intensive, multidisciplinary scholarly research. Print size of lengthy vital chapter notes and bibliography is inconveniently small. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. J. N. Muzio emeritus, CUNY Kingsborough Community College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Nov.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Review

Incorporating medicine, literature, cultural studies, philosophy, and critical theory, McGilchrist, a London psychiatrist with an interest in brain research, presents an interdisciplinary perspective on the brain and the rise of Western civilization. Writing in a scholarly yet engaging, approachable, and humorous tone, he flows between anatomical descriptions of the brain and the critical theory and philosophies of Heidegger, Descartes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Erasmus, and others. His major thesis is that the essential differences between the right and left hemispheres of the brain-with the right ("the Master") attending to the "Other" and one's relationship to the "Other," and the left ("the Emissary") creating a self-directed, self-contained world disconnected from the "Other"-have been instrumental in shaping our culture. He argues that we desperately need to begin to engage the right hemisphere's attunement to broader relationships, capacity for emotion, and ability to empathize if we want to avoid forfeiting the left-brain-oriented civilization we have created. VERDICT With 57 pages of notes and a 67-page bibliography, McGilchrist's dense tome may intimidate some readers, but his fascinating ideas are sure to attract academics and cultural critics.-Candice Kail, Columbia Univ. Libs., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.