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On the Other Hand

, 216 pages

15 halftones, 4 line drawings

August 2017



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On the Other Hand

Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History

Since the late Stone Age, approximately 10 percent of humans have been left-handed, yet for most of human history left-handedness has been stigmatized. In On the Other Hand, Howard I. Kushner traces the impact of left-handedness on human cognition, behavior, culture, and health.

A left-hander himself, Kushner has long been interested in the meanings associated with left-handedness, and ultimately with whether hand preference can even be defined in a significant way. As he explores the medical and cultural history of left-handedness, Kushner describes the associated taboos, rituals, and stigma from around the globe. The words "left" and "left hand" have negative connotations in all languages, and left-handers have even historically been viewed as disabled.

In this comprehensive history of left-handedness, Kushner asks why left-handedness exists. He examines the relationship—if any—between handedness, linguistics, and learning disabilities, reveals how toleration of left-handedness serves as a barometer of wider cultural toleration and permissiveness, and wonders why the reported number of left-handers is significantly lower in Asia and Africa than in the West. Written in a lively style that mixes personal biography with scholarly research, On the Other Hand tells a comprehensive story about the science, traditions, and prejudices surrounding left-handedness.

Howard I. Kushner is the Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Professor of Science & Society Emeritus at Emory University and John D. Adams Professor of History Emeritus at San Diego State University. A visiting scholar in the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at the University of California–San Diego, he is the author of A Cursing Brain? The Histories of Tourette Syndrome and American Suicide: A Psychocultural Exploration.

"Kushner, a distinguished historian of science and medicine with a deep knowledge of neuroscience, identifies an extremely interesting and puzzling set of issues around the phenomena of left-handedness, handedness in general, brain asymmetry and laterality, and questions of left brain/right brain dominance. Illuminating."

"This scientific landscape in perpetual, cyclical flux is well described by Kushner’s engaging, accessible panorama."

"This is a useful addition to the growing library of laterality literature and gives us a solid overview of the history of left-handedness."

"Howard Kushner's On the Other Hand is a review of the history and current state of scientific knowledge about human handedness. This doesn't sound like thrilling reading, but it is."

"The book will be of special interest to left-handed people, particularly those who have suffered negative consequences as a result, and to members of other stigmatized groups. For the rest of us, it is an interesting case-study in the seemingly limitless capacity of human beings to discriminate against those who are different from themselves."

"In this interesting and highly informative book, Howard Kushner brings together a wealth of information on handedness in humans, including research into its possible causes, and past and present attitudes to left-handedness."

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