Book Review – The Left-Hander Syndrome

After sitting on my bookshelf for an inordinate amount of time in an unfinished state, I decided to dust off this book & finish reading it. Lately, I’ve been thinking more about my flaws as a human being & one that many geeks & hackers feel is a big one (other than being blind) is being left-handed. This book explores all of those subjects with a keen, scientific eye.

This book starts off as any good scientific book does: talking about religion & some of the old beliefs that followed the stigma of being left handed. It essentially boils down to the fact that we were persecuted, no different than people deemed witches, the ill, or the dying.

Even within the first chapter, I found interesting tidbits that told me this book was destined for an individual like myself: A political scientist who knew about my work on handedness told me a story about the Ayatollah Khomeini who served as the rallying point in the revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran. During his exile in France, the Ayatollah wrote a large number of propaganda pamphlets and proclamations. In one of those, he claimed to have proof that the Shah was cursed by Allah. His proof was that the Shah’s firstborn son was left-handed!

The book from then on spends a considerable amount of time & chapters discussing what determines someone’s handedness — society? injury or damages during birth or adolescence? mental deficiency? In addition, considerable amount of research is devoted to, to what extent is someone dominate in one hand or another.

What I found unique is that, the ‘age’ (that is to say, the amount of research on the subject of southpaws) is very young. Majority of the research & information mentioned in the book, at the furthest, dates back to the 1900s. This shows that, scientifically, we’re barely out of the jungle when it comes to understanding southpaws & what things may befall such an individual.

One bit of information I found fascinating was the use of sodium amytal to shut down a particular hemisphere of the brain — by doing this, we discovered which side of the brain controls which functions. Of course, information like this causes me to go down the rabbit of hole research. The drug in question, if it sounds familiar is related to (or a derivative of?) sodium pentathol. This drug is typically used as a truth serum, placing people in a coma &/or to help with Cesarean section (more on this later!)

If you’re still not getting the picture, this should remind you of what class of drugs we’re discussing:

(curse you, Fox, for making the full scene of this impossible to find!)

If you’re interested in a great Business Insider article on truth serum, this one is quite excellent.

Once scientists had discovered that each side of the brain was responsible for different functions, they then had to figure out the why & how of becoming left handed. This also goes along with determining the signs of someone who is left handed. Is there any correlation between left-handed individuals & certain pathological conditions?

It turns out, there’s quite a bit – to the extent that, it makes you begin to doubt yourself as an individual. I do not want to delve too much into this section, as I feel the book does a far better job of explaining all of this than I ever will. But, one observation they did make, is that generally, people have issues at birth (e.g. c-section birth, or other general issues, premature, etc) generally ended up left handed. In addition, left-handed individuals generally matured slower than their peers.

Toward the end of the book, there are some chapters that I didn’t fully read due to being uncomfortable with the subject matter (Do left handed individuals die at an earlier age?). Thinking about such morbid subjects doesn’t lend itself to a good night’s sleep.

I’m reminded of some of the struggles I had with school when reading the closing chapters that cover the struggles that left-handed people deal with while growing up in a ‘right-hand’ world. Numerous examples are given of items that may have an inherent danger in how they are designed, such as saws that have cutting teeth that expect you to send material to the saw from a specific direction. There are plenty of examples here.

(I hated this desk so much as a child)

Numerous other examples in the book are provided of places where a left-handed person would struggle, namely the kitchen, the workplace & driving. There are also some publications & organizations listed that exist to help people who are left-handed.

Overall, I’m glad I picked up this book & decided to give it the full attention it deserves. I wish there was more research (or rather, more books) on this subject that go into this sort of detail. Unfortunately, the author who wrote the book moved on to psychology of dogs & pets. If those post fascinates you & you want more, you might want to check out some of these.

If you got this far, thanks so much! I’d love feedback in private on this review & the pacing, structure & framework 🙂