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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two books, 14 Jan. 2011
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This review is from: The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Paperback)
This weighty tome has two parts, which reflect the different stages of McGilchrist's life. The first is a scientific one, exploring the two halves of our brains from a different perspective. He asks why the two halves have specialised in different ways and comes up with a convincing evolutionary argument: we need to keep aware of our surroundings even as we puzzle out what steps to take next. From this he deduces that the right half of the brain embraces wholeness even as the left half analyses to distraction.

The first half of the book is a dazzling display of up to date appreciation of the neurological world and totally to be recommended. I wish I could say the same about the second half. Here he takes on nothing less than a critique of western history from the Greeks onwards. The metaphor he uses is totally about control: he wants to give it back to the right half of the brain. This leads to a rather ridiculous glorification of the Romantics as being the only positive movement of modern times. Interestingly, the other two periods he likes (the flowering of the Greeks and the Renaissance) don't fit his metaphor as they represent a balance between the two halves.

So the second half is distinguished by all-out attacks on the Reformation, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, three periods when he sees the left as firmly in control. Now there is plenty to say in criticism of each of those periods, but he ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I wasn't convinced. I think by this time he was getting exhausted by the effort of writing and couldn't stop. As an example he starts to link Modernism to Nazism as a way of discrediting it - but then stops as, presumably, he realises the futility of the argument.

Curiously he doesn't give any arguments for his assertion that the left-brain is power-mad. He just asserts it. History doesn't seem quite so simple. Were the evil dictators of the 20th century (Hitler, Mao etc.) left-brainers? I don't think so. Indeed it's as easy to make the case for the evil done in the name of religion (which he defends - religion that is - in a rather non-specific way) in other centuries.

Maybe the master needs his emissary after all.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Feb 2012, 22:39:27 GMT
Actually, Hitler met the criteria for Asperger's, so yes, he was a 'left-brainer'.

Posted on 11 Apr 2012, 17:06:29 BST
L. Diggle says:
Iain never denies that indeed the master does need his emissary. The point is that the emissary wrongly thinks that it does not need the master. That is the key message of the book, I think

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Jan 2014, 15:27:54 GMT
eddwo says:
Hitler must have been more than just a left brainer,
He wouldn't have begun as an artist, nor developed his fluidity with the use of rhetoric and cadence, nor the knowledge of symbolism used in the state propaganda if he had been working from the left brain only.
Possibly he was was operating with quite a split-conciousness, and the two sides didn't quite meet up very well.

Then again, I think the idea of what Aspergers is seems to be limiting.
The most highly functional people with Aspergers may appear to be quite left brain dominant on the surface, but you may find they are often making use of their right brain in quite surprising ways.

Not that I'm praising Hitler's actual actions or anything like that. ;-)
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