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

Iain Mcgilchrist
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Aug 2010
Why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been puzzled over for centuries. In a book of unprecedented scope, 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.  In the second part of the book, he takes the reader on a journey through the history of Western culture, illustrating the tension between these two worlds as revealed in the thought and belief of thinkers and artists, from Aeschylus to Magritte. He argues that, despite its inferior grasp of reality, the left hemisphere is increasingly taking precedence in the modern world, with potentially disastrous consequences. This is truly a tour de force that should excite interest in a wide readership.


Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (20 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300168926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300168921
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 13.4 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 237,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Iain McGilchrist is a psychiatrist and writer who works privately in London, and otherwise lives on the Isle of Skye. He is committed to the idea that the mind and brain can be understood only by seeing them in the broadest possible context, that of the whole of our physical and spiritual existence, and of the wider human culture in which they arise - the culture which helps to mould, and in turn is moulded by, our minds and brains.

He was a late entrant to medicine. He went up to Oxford to study theology and philosophy, read English literature, and after graduating in 1975 was awarded a Prize Fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford. An interest in the mind-body problem led to him training in medicine, and at Johns Hopkins in 1992 he researched in neuroimaging. He practises as a psychiatrist, formerly as a Consultant at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley NHS Trust in London, and now privately.

He has published original articles in a wide range of papers and journals, including the Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, The Listener, Essays in Criticism, Modern Language Review, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, BMJ, English Historical Review, British Journal of Psychiatry, and American Journal of Psychiatry, on topics in literature, medicine and psychiatry, and has published original research on neuroimaging in schizophrenia, the phenomenology of schizophrenia, and other topics. He took part in a two-part Channel 4 documentary, Soul Searching, in 2003. His first book, Against Criticism, was published by Faber in 1982, and dates from before his medical training, but deals with issues of the wholeness, uniqueness and embodied nature of the work of art, which are continuous with his current concern, the relationship between the history of ideas and shifts in brain hemisphere function, a topic which he has been researching for 20 years, and which is the subject of a recent book published by Yale University Press, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

Product Description

Review

'A landmark new book ... It tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now.' --Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times. '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. '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.' --Brian Appleyard; David Cox; A. C. Grayling,  Literary Review

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

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. --A. C. Grayling,  Literary Review

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

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. --A. C. Grayling,  Literary Review

About the Author

Iain McGilchrist is a former Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where he taught literature, before training in medicine. He has an interest in brain research, and now works privately in London, where he was a Consultant and Clinical Director at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospital.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great achievement 2 April 2011
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a student of philosophy I have always been particularly interested in the contrasting attitudes of Romanticism and Rationalism, and it was an absolute revelation to me to read in this book that almost all the perceptions of Romanticism originate in the right hemisphere of the brain while the methods of Rationalism are processed by the left hemisphere. In the first half of his book, McGilchrist shows us in great detail the several ways in which neurological science can demonstrate this, for instance by describing the thought processes when one or the other side of the brain is physically damaged.

The most fundamental difference between the two hemispheres is that the origin of all experience is in the right half. That experience sees everything in its environment, is holistic, intuitive and profound, but it is unfocussed and indistinct. To focus on the details of the experience, to analyze it, is the task of the left. Ideally the detailed picture then returns to the right half, so that the details become integrated with and enrich the wider picture. The traffic between the two hemispheres is principally via the corpus callosum, the tissues which join them at their base.

The left half uses language precisely; the right can see can see layers of meaning, understands metaphors and jokes. The right is responsible for our personal and social relationship with others, for empathy and empathetic imitation, for picking up the meaning of facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice, for most of our emotional life and for our response to music, poetry, the spiritual dimension of life. It is the locus of moral judgment. It experiences the past, the present and the future as a continuum. The left is instrumental; it organizes, manipulates and controls details for a purpose.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What it is to be human 26 Sep 2010
By Graham Mummery TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This could well be an important book. It certainly has that feel. It's well written and documented with many references covering subjects like neurology, psychology, music, literature, philosophy and many more. This may also be what puts some off because the density of these can be overwhelming at times. However, if this does not put you off (and it certainly doesn't do that to me), the book is an absorbing and rewarding read.

It begins with a survey of research into the left and right brain hemispheres, and looking at how they interact with each other. It looks at brain research and the affect injuries have on people's cognitive, intellectual and artistic abilities, even pointing out how a tumour in the left brain "cured" a case of anorexia nervosa.

Then McGilchrist takes the reader into various human activities relating them to brain hemisphere research. For example he suggests music may be a right hemisphere activity, whilst some aspects of science may be more left hemisphere. Then in second half of the book he looks at how times in history might be seen as dominated by one hemisphere or the other, and suggests our own era may be too dominated by left-hemisphere.

Much of this is speculative, as McGilchrist readily admits several times in the course of the book. Yet he is certainly not uninformed on his subject or in the readings from many sources. Whether brain research is advanced enough, or not, to link the brain hemispheres to human activity, on another level this book is fascinating in the way it relates aspects of human behaviour to each others. It has an ambition and broadness of scope that sometimes seems rare nowadays, and this adds to its fascination.

Right or wrong, this book asks a lot of the right questions.
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93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterly achievement 15 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover
This is a brilliant and staggeringly erudite book that only Iain McGilchrist could have written. Originally a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, in English literature, he retrained in medicine and has brought together CP Snow's 'two cultures' in a masterly synthesis. McGilchrist overturns the commonly held view of the left hemisphere as dominant, showing conclusively that the right hemisphere is primary but that both are meant to work together. Each has a different but complementary perspective on the world: the right hemisphere apprehends the whole and mediates new experiences, while the left provides focus. The snag is that this narrow focus prefers abstraction to experience and treats living things as mechanisms. This mechanistic metaphor pervades the whole of modern science and indeed economics, with its emphasis on manipulation.

This view tends to dehumanise the world and impose a bureaucratic mentality, from whose excesses we currently suffer as we strive to eliminate all risk in favour of a certainty which does not exist outside mathematics. The second part of the book examines our cultural history in terms of a power struggle between left and right hemispheres, in which the left hemisphere is currently privileged. Here is a new take on the history of Western thought, which will radically reshape your understanding. The book is impressive not just in its scope, but is beautifully written, positively bristling with insights and creative intelligence on every page.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There are Two of Each of Us 10 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover
Very few people are as qualified as Iain McGilchrist to write with simultaneous authority on the medicine, philosophy, psychology, sociology, religion and literature of humankind. His book is a tour de force that re-situates Western thought and culture through the strong metaphor of the two-sided brain; so strong is the metaphor that his suggestion that it is also perhaps literal seems more convincing with every page.

I would recommend that anyone trying to think seriously about the world from virtually any point of view should read this book first. It tells us who we are and what the world is better than many shelves-full of science and philosophy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard work, but worth it.
I haven't finished this yet but I am enjoying the challenge. McGilchrist is a medical specialist in the brain and its disorders. Read more
Published 2 months ago by John Ogden
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting...
...and complicated, loads of information and big words that are difficult to understand, however if you read it and read it and read it again it makes loads of sense!
Published 4 months ago by Federica Bresciani
5.0 out of 5 stars a disturbing but peaceful book
This book has enabled me to sink into the whole of my self and sigh - it has been exciting but very difficult - I have read and re read many sentences before beginning to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by bearpadi
5.0 out of 5 stars Delves, twists around and burrows into the core assumptions of the...
If you have any deep interests in philosophy or/and ontology put aside the time to embark upon this profound book

Hanging on every word I now feel more aware of the root... Read more
Published 9 months ago by G. P. E. Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars for study
Brought this book for my college work, came in very handy. Will also need it again in the future for my next course
Published 10 months ago by Lisa Mathew
3.0 out of 5 stars An attempt by a scientist to write history
I started reading this book, but my intelligence as a social scientist was insulted from the first page. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Geoffrey Rothwell
5.0 out of 5 stars the master and his emissary
A 'must read' for all mental health professionals. A lot of really interesting information to take in and written so well that it's an absolute pleasure to read.
Published 11 months ago by M.E.
2.0 out of 5 stars Good topic poorly presented
What should be an interesting topic is ruined by rambling, overly floral writing. It's an uphill battle getting through the first section and he's definitely being paid by the... Read more
Published 12 months ago by C. Collins
3.0 out of 5 stars The Master and His Emissary - heavy going at times but worth the...
A fascinating subject, thoroughly researched and presented, in simple terms arguing that the left "analytical" half of our brain has usurped the right "instinctual"... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Tel
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
well presented information consider the intensity of the material it treated, good study book for those who want to know and learn more about our brain work
Published 13 months ago by phoenix
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