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5.0 out of 5 stars Iain McGilchrist 'The Master and His Emissary': For sceptics and careful investors, 2 Jan 2010
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This review is from: The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Hardcover)
Iain McGilchrist `The Master and His Emissary' : For sceptics and careful investors

Recent decades constitute a golden age for brain research, using new technology and methods. However, this gold has too often been mixed with lead, and even mud. Some have clung stubbornly to quickly outdated research, while others have aimed to cash-in on the prestige and fascination of such research by exploiting (sometimes for psycho-political as well as commercial purposes) half-truths and misunderstandings. At one extreme the brain becomes a fetish, while at another extreme it seems smart to speak of the allegedly obvious as `a no-brainer'. Hence, when a new, big, brain-book attracts such enthusiastic acclaim as this one, it is only prudent to be mindful of the need for caution.

Happily, Iain McGilchrist has provided on a personal website ( - ) not only summaries of his qualifications, experience and commitments, but also his book's complete and illuminating Introduction (about 15 pages), along with his table of contents and chapters. The caution, and respect for evidence and argument - as well as for his readers, to be found in this introduction are sufficient to show that he is an outstanding thinker, as well as researcher, polymath, cultural critic and humanistic practitioner, who deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt by any prospective purchaser. He is a genuinely interdisciplinary thinker, who - just because he appreciates disciplinary boundaries - is well prepared to cross them responsibly in developing his argument and insights.

Another impressively reliable reviewer, in addition to those already available on the Amazon site, is the great moral philosopher, interpreter of life-sciences, and cultural critic Mary Midgley. (The range of her work and the general high regard for this can be seen by looking her up on Amazon). No one could ever fairly accuse Midgley of being uncritically swept along by any version of scientism (abuse of the sciences). Her review of McGilchrist appears in the Guardian (Review section) for Saturday 02 January, 2010, page 6, under the title `The Music of the Hemispheres'. Midgley's review begins, `This is a very remarkable book. It is not (as some reviewers seem to think) just one more glorification of feeling at the expense of thought. Rather, it points out the complexity, the divided nature of thought itself and asks about its connection with the structure of the brain. Midgely ends by welcoming the book as `...clear, penetrating, lively, thorough and fascinating. ...And I do have to say that, fat though it is, I couldn't put it down'.
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Initial post: 11 Apr 2011 14:42:13 BDT
"No one could ever fairly accuse Midgley of being uncritically swept along by any version of scientism (abuse of the sciences)."

No, but one could most certainly fairly accuse her of the opposite, and I shall proceed forthwith to do just that. I refer of course to the quite ridiculous knee-jerk vendetta she has pursued against Richard Dawkins particularly, and, by extension, sociobiology as a whole for the last 32 years. "Gene-Juggling" was the beginning, and the mind-bogglingly vast train of preconceptions, misconceptions, misunderstandings and animosity continues to chug to this day. I find A. C. Grayling rather more "impressively reliable" as a reviewer, and he managed to point out the gaping hole in this book's evidential basis at the same time as praising its author's obvious skill and erudition.

I also can't help feeling that my utter lack of surprise on finding that McGilchrist's philosophical education included theology (which, oddly enough, doesn't seem to be mentioned on the personal website you mention) must be of some significance...
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