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Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Puzzle of Left-handedness

 Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have both signed bills into law with their left hands. And being left-handed certainly did not hold back the artistic achievements of Michelangelo or Raphael. And the dexterous guitar playing of Jimmi Hendrix may only have been aided by his southpaw tendencies. Left-handedness, in fact, would appear to be no big deal. Yet throughout history, it has been associated with clumsiness and generally dubious personality traits like untrustworthiness and insincerity. Even the Latin word for left, sinister, has ominous connotations.
In The Puzzle of Left-handedness, Rik Smits uncovers why history has been so unkind to our lefthanded forebears. He carefully puts together the pieces of the puzzle, presenting an array of historical anecdotes, strange superstitions, and weird wives’ tales. Smits explains how left-handedness continues to be associated with maladies of all kinds, including mental retardation, alcoholism, asthma, hay fever, cancer, diabetes, insomnia, depression, and criminality. Even in the enlightened twenty-first century, left-handedness still meets with opposition—including from one prominent psychologist who equates it with infantile negativism, similar to a toddler’s refusal to eat what’s on his plate, and another who claims that left-handed people have average lifespans that are nine years shorter than those who favor the right hand. As Smits reminds us, such speculation is backed by little factual evidence, and the arguments presented by proponents of right-handedness tend to be humorously absurd.
The Puzzle of Left-handedness is an enlightening, engaging, and entertaining odyssey through the puzzles and paradoxes, theories and myths, of left-handed lore. Chock full of facts and fiction, it’s a book to be read with both hands.

384 pages | 78 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Biological Sciences: Physiology, Biomechanics, and Morphology

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“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.”

Sunday Times

“In his highly entertaining and erudite book, left-handed linguist and science journalist Rik Smits dispenses with the positive myths alongside the negative ones.”

The Dubliner

“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.”

Times Higher Education

Table of Contents

1. Malice and Misunderstanding
2. The Left-handed Picador
3. Opposites and Contradictions
4. Taboos, Sex and Handicrafts
5. Lovers of the Left
6. Magic and Superstition
7. The True Nature of Left and Right
8. Strange Creatures in the Uncanny Valley
9.  Witchcraft and Pogroms
10. Factionalism
11. The Ideal Warrior
12. The Polymorphism of One-sidedness
13. The Heart of the Matter
14. The Power of Small Differences
15. How Freud Found his Right Side and Pooh Didn’t
16. Why a Running Rabbit Doesn’t Tear Itself Apart
17. Tintin’s Law
18. Dead Men and Voluptuous Women
19. Mary’s Little Troublemaker and Other Portraits
20. Little Johnny Cries to the Left, Little Johnny Smiles to the Left
21. The Circle Dance of the Alphabet
22. The Weight of the Liver
23. The Morbid Views of Abram Blau
24. Thwacking and Hurling
25. Thinking About Brains
26. Animal Crackers
27. Other Asymmetries and Preferences
28. Tallying Up
29. Genetic Left-handedness
30. Hormonal Left-handedness
31. How Even Detrimental Characteristics Can Survive
32. Left-handers as Undercover Twins
33. The Consequences: Contrary, Perverse and Sick
34. Two Left Hands: The Ford Scale
35. The Things That Make Us Do
36. Writing and Other Useful Handiwork
37. The Myth of High Left-handed Mortality
38. Creative, Musical, Brilliant and Famous!

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