The Washington Post
Puzzle of Left-handednessby Rik Smits
Left-handedness seems no big deal. After all, it didn't stop anyone from becoming President of the United States. Many of us - just like Barack Obama - are left-handed and those of us who aren't don't really give left-handedness any thought. Yet throughout history left-handedness has been associated with clumsiness and with unpleasant traits such as untrustworthiness… See more details below
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Left-handedness seems no big deal. After all, it didn't stop anyone from becoming President of the United States. Many of us - just like Barack Obama - are left-handed and those of us who aren't don't really give left-handedness any thought. Yet throughout history left-handedness has been associated with clumsiness and with unpleasant traits such as untrustworthiness and insincerity. Just look at the Latin word for left, sinister, redolent of all kinds of ominous connotations.
For author Rik Smits, left-handedness is a puzzle. Why has history been so unkind to our left-handed forebears? In this book he carefully puts together the pieces of the puzzle, presenting an array of historical anecdotes, strange superstitions and weird old wives' tales. In 38 brief and entertaining chapters, he relates how left-handedness was and is associated with maladies of all kinds, including mental retardation, alcoholism, asthma, hay fever, homosexuality, cancer, diabetes, insomnia, suicidal urges and criminality. Even the twentieth century has its opponents - or are these just advocates for right-handedness? - with one prominent psychologist announcing it was tantamount to 'infantile negativism', the equivalent of a refusal to eat everything on your plate; and another claiming left-handed people had lifespans nine years shorter than average. As Smits reminds us, speculation about left-handed mortality was and remains public entertainment - hardly the stuff of real illness.
The Puzzle of Left-handedness is an enlightening, engaging and often entertaining odyssey through the puzzles and paradoxes, endless philosophizing and theorizing, of left-handedness lore.
The Washington Post
“There is a ‘whiff of negativity’ around left-handedness, admits the science journalist and left-hander Rik Smits in this fascinating study of the phenomenon. . . . Popular legends about left-handedness—and left vs. right in general—are scarcely less virulent, and Smits dispatches them entertainingly and ably. . . . Thoroughly enjoyable.”
“In his highly entertaining and erudite book, left-handed linguist and science journalist Rik Smits dispenses with the positive myths alongside the negative ones.”
“It is a lively read, and Smits, a linguist and science writer, shows his wide range of knowledge throughout. . . . The book is well arranged, with mainly short, crisp chapters. I thoroughly recommend it as a good overview of issues related to hand preference. . . . Everyone will find something thought-provoking, witty or just interesting, regardless of personal hand preference.”
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