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The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

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Overview

Why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been puzzled over for centuries. In this book, Iain McGilchrist draws on a vast body of recent brain research, illustrated with case histories, to reveal that the difference is profound - not just this or that function, but two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world. The left hemisphere is detail oriented, prefers mechanisms to living things, and is inclined to self-interest, where the right hemisphere has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity. This division helps explain the origins of music and language, and casts new light on the history of philosophy, as well as on some mental illnesses.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
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
Economist
"McGilchrist describes broad [intellectual] movements and famous figures as if they were battles and soldiers in a 2,500-year war between the brain’s hemispheres. . . A scintillating intelligence is at work. . ." - Economist
The Sunday Times
A landmark new book. . . It tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now.— Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times

— Bryan Appleyard

Evening Standard

"A giant in his vital field shows convincingly that the degeneracy of the West springs from our failure to manage the binary division of our brains." — Book of the Year choice, David Cox, Evening Standard

— David Cox

The Guardian
To call Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. . . an account of brain hemispheres is to woefully misrepresent its range. McGilchrist. . . 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.— Salley Vicker, The Guardian

— Salley Vicker

Literary Review
A beautifully written, erudite, fascinating, and adventurous book. It goes from the microstructure of the brain to great epochs of Western civilisation, confidently and readably. One turns its five hundred pages . . . as if it were an adventure story.— A. C. Grayling,  Literary Review

— A.C. Grayling

Scientific and Medical Network Review
It is no exaggeration to say that this quite remarkable book will radically change the way you understand the world and yourself. . . . It is a genuine tour de force, a monumental achievement.—David Lorimer, Scientific and Medical Network Review

— David Lorimer

Bookslut.com

"Absolutely fascinating.—Jessa Crispin, Editor of Bookslut.com

— Jessa Crispin

Philosophy and Life blog
At last! A book on neuroscience that is a thrilling read, philosophically astute and with wonderful science.—Mark Vernon, Philosophy and Life blog

— Mark Vernon

The London Review of Books
‘Though neurologists may well not welcome it because it asks them new questions, the rest of us will surely find it splendidly thought-provoking. And I do have to say that, fat though it is, I couldn’t put it down.’ — The London Review of Books
Bookforum
Hugely ambitious.—Jonah Lehrer, Bookforum

— Jonah Lehrer

PopMatters
"This insightful, erudite and thought-provoking examination of the brain's hemispheres can change how you see (or think you see) the world."—PopMatters
Guardian
Named one of the best books of 2010 by The Guardian
— Best Books of 2010
Los Angeles Times
In his fascinating, groundbreaking, relentlessly researched, and eloquently written work, Iain McGilchrist, a consultant psychiatrist as well as professor of English—one wants to say a 'scientist' as well as an 'artist—challenges this misconception. The difference between the hemispheres, McGilchrist argues, is not in what they do, but in how they do it. And it’s a difference that makes all the difference.—Gary Lachman, Los Angeles Times

— Gary Lachman

Parabola
That a book can lead me to question myself is praise indeed—I can think of no higher recommendation. Like any really interesting book, it is to be valued more for this than for any answers it gives.—Felix Dux, Parabola

— Felix Dux

The Sunday Times - Bryan Appleyard
"A landmark new book. . . It tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now."— Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times
The Guardian - Mary Midgley
"This is a very remarkable book. . . McGilchrist, who is both an experienced psychiatrist and a shrewd philosopher, looks at the relation between our two brain-hemispheres in a new light, not just as an interesting neurological problem but as a crucial shaping factor in our culture. . . splendidly thought-provoking. . . . I couldn’t put it down."—Mary Midgley, The Guardian
Literary Review - A.C. Grayling
"A beautifully written, erudite, fascinating, and adventurous book. It goes from the microstructure of the brain to great epochs of Western civilisation, confidently and readably. One turns its five hundred pages . . . as if it were an adventure story." — A. C. Grayling,  Literary Review
Scientific and Medical Network Review - David Lorimer
"It is no exaggeration to say that this quite remarkable book will radically change the way you understand the world and yourself. . . . It is a genuine tour de force, a monumental achievement."—David Lorimer, Scientific and Medical Network Review
Bookslut.com - Jessa Crispin
"Absolutely fascinating."—Jessa Crispin, Editor of Bookslut.com
Philosophy and Life blog - Mark Vernon
"At last! A book on neuroscience that is a thrilling read, philosophically astute and with wonderful science."—Mark Vernon, Philosophy and Life blog
Bookforum - Jonah Lehrer
“Hugely ambitious.”—Jonah Lehrer, Bookforum

The Guardian - Salley Vicker
"To call Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. . . an account of brain hemispheres is to woefully misrepresent its range. McGilchrist. . . 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."— Salley Vicker, The Guardian
Guardian - Best Books of 2010
Named one of the best books of 2010 by The Guardian
Los Angeles Times - Gary Lachman
“In his fascinating, groundbreaking, relentlessly researched, and eloquently written work, Iain McGilchrist, a consultant psychiatrist as well as professor of English—one wants to say a 'scientist' as well as an 'artist'—challenges this misconception. The difference between the hemispheres, McGilchrist argues, is not in what they do, but in how they do it. And it’s a difference that makes all the difference.”—Gary Lachman, Los Angeles Times
Parabola - Felix Dux
"That a book can lead me to question myself is praise indeed—I can think of no higher recommendation. Like any really interesting book, it is to be valued more for this than for any answers it gives."—Felix Dux, Parabola
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300188370
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/9/2012
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 226,938
  • Product dimensions: 5.66 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Iain McGilchrist is a former Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where he taught literature before training in medicine. He was Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospital, London, and has researched in neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He now works privately in London and otherwise lives on the Isle of Skye.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction The Master and His Emissary 1

Pt. 1 The Divided Brain 15

Ch. 1 Asymmetry and the Brain 16

Ch. 2 What do the Two Hemispheres 'Do'? 32

Ch. 3 Language, Truth and Music 94

Ch. 4 The Nature of the Two Worlds 133

Ch. 5 The Primacy of the Right Hemisphere 176

Ch. 6 The Triumph of the Left Hemisphere 209

Pt. 2 How the Brain Has Shaped Our World 239

Ch. 7 Imitation and the Evolution of Culture 240

Ch. 8 The Ancient World 257

Ch. 9 The Renaissance and the Reformation 298

Ch. 10 The Enlightenment 330

Ch. 11 Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution 352

Ch. 12 The Modern and Post-Modern Worlds 389

Conclusion: The Master Betrayed 428

Notes 463

Bibliography 518

Index 586

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2013

    This book gave great insight both into my own ways of thinking a

    This book gave great insight both into my own ways of thinking and into modern society. A challenging read for someone like me who's not a specialist, but well worth the effort. 

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