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A Left-Hand Turn Around the World: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw

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Are Southpaws really more creative, or is that just a myth? Is there a gene for left-handedness? David Wolman--a lefty, and proud of it--sets out to answer these and other questions on a journey through the world of the left-hander. Traveling from the halls of history to the halls of science, Wolman explores a Scottish castle designed for left-handed swordfights, visits a Are Southpaws really more creative, or is that just a myth? Is there a gene for left-handedness? David Wolman--a lefty, and proud of it--sets out to answer these and other questions on a journey through the world of the left-hander. Traveling from the halls of history to the halls of science, Wolman explores a Scottish castle designed for left-handed swordfights, visits a Paris museum to inspect nineteenth-century brains that hold clues to this biological puzzle, consults an Indian palm reader, subjects his own brain to research in a basement laboratory in California, and sits with a primatologist in Atlanta whose chimpanzees may hold the key to the evolutionary mystery of left-handedness. Along the way, Wolman meets fellow left-handers who share his sense of kinship and help him uncover the essence of Southpaw. There is sinister Diabolos Rex, follower of the Left Hand Path; left-handed handwriting analysts; and John Evans, an amputee whose left hand was reattached to his right arm. In Japan, Wolman tees off with the National Association of Left-Handed Golfers, and seeks wisdom from a left-handed baseball legend and a world renowned biologist. A seamless blend of science, travel, culture, and humor, this inquisitive exploration of all things Southpaw is sure to be the perfect book for lefties and the righties who love them.


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Are Southpaws really more creative, or is that just a myth? Is there a gene for left-handedness? David Wolman--a lefty, and proud of it--sets out to answer these and other questions on a journey through the world of the left-hander. Traveling from the halls of history to the halls of science, Wolman explores a Scottish castle designed for left-handed swordfights, visits a Are Southpaws really more creative, or is that just a myth? Is there a gene for left-handedness? David Wolman--a lefty, and proud of it--sets out to answer these and other questions on a journey through the world of the left-hander. Traveling from the halls of history to the halls of science, Wolman explores a Scottish castle designed for left-handed swordfights, visits a Paris museum to inspect nineteenth-century brains that hold clues to this biological puzzle, consults an Indian palm reader, subjects his own brain to research in a basement laboratory in California, and sits with a primatologist in Atlanta whose chimpanzees may hold the key to the evolutionary mystery of left-handedness. Along the way, Wolman meets fellow left-handers who share his sense of kinship and help him uncover the essence of Southpaw. There is sinister Diabolos Rex, follower of the Left Hand Path; left-handed handwriting analysts; and John Evans, an amputee whose left hand was reattached to his right arm. In Japan, Wolman tees off with the National Association of Left-Handed Golfers, and seeks wisdom from a left-handed baseball legend and a world renowned biologist. A seamless blend of science, travel, culture, and humor, this inquisitive exploration of all things Southpaw is sure to be the perfect book for lefties and the righties who love them.

30 review for A Left-Hand Turn Around the World: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I write with my left hand, my mother writes with her left hand, my firstborn writes with his left hand, some of my favorite people write with their left hand, so of course I've got more than a little interest in handedness and lefties in particular. When I listened to a segment (http://www.radiolab.org/story/whats-r...) on Radiolab about left-handedness, I knew I needed to read A Left-Hand Turn Around the World. As it turns out, I am apparently not a strong lefty, but more mixed-handed. David Wol I write with my left hand, my mother writes with her left hand, my firstborn writes with his left hand, some of my favorite people write with their left hand, so of course I've got more than a little interest in handedness and lefties in particular. When I listened to a segment (http://www.radiolab.org/story/whats-r...) on Radiolab about left-handedness, I knew I needed to read A Left-Hand Turn Around the World. As it turns out, I am apparently not a strong lefty, but more mixed-handed. David Wolman has an example of the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory, and I scored 5-5 (5 for using my left hand, 5 for using my right hand, for various tasks listed). My husband scored 1-9 (1 for left, 9 for right), so he is strongly right handed. It made me wonder, though: am I mixed handed because I have had to adapt to a right handed world? I learned how to crochet using my right hand because my friend was right handed and couldn't flip things to teach me, nor could I follow her and flip the intricate steps of holding yarn and crochet hook and somehow making something lovely in the process. I learned to use a computer mouse with my right hand because back in the day, that's how it was configured for the family computer. I cut with scissors with my right hand, but was that because the few 'lefty' scissors that my elementary school supplied were always bent and dull and I really had no choice but to learn to cut with my right hand? I simply cannot say whether I learned to do things with my right hand because it was necessary to adapt to the world around me or because I am mixed handed. Wolman explores various theories for what determines handedness. Is it nature? Nurture? He also introduces the thought that perhaps it isn't right or left so much as the degree of handedness, which speaks to me since I seem to be an evenly mixed handed person as opposed to being a lefty. I enjoyed this journey that Wolman takes us on as he investigates different scientific theories of handedness. There aren't very many answers as handedness is still not well understood, but I enjoyed what I did learn. Recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Deirdre

    The number of words used to describe left-handedness that have negative connotations are rife. This is the story of one lefties trip to try to find out the why of left-handedness and if humans are unique. His conclusion? That the scientists are still kinda stumped and unsure what's the reasoning but that some of them are arguing that handedness is a spectrum rather than a fixed thing. For a leftie it's interesting, for everyone it has something to say. Assumption is interesting and it's also a sit The number of words used to describe left-handedness that have negative connotations are rife. This is the story of one lefties trip to try to find out the why of left-handedness and if humans are unique. His conclusion? That the scientists are still kinda stumped and unsure what's the reasoning but that some of them are arguing that handedness is a spectrum rather than a fixed thing. For a leftie it's interesting, for everyone it has something to say. Assumption is interesting and it's also a situation that until people stop trying to force people to use particular hands for tasks we will not really understand it properly.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marci -

    Interesting as the book was, it isn’t for one that doesn’t have at least a rudimentary education in sciences. It left me with more questions then answers. But interested no none the less. I wonder if they will ever crack the left hand right hand debacle, they may be inched no closer, but not yet.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    Honestly, my coworker lent this to me and I felt like I couldn't say, "No thanks, I have zero interest in reading about left handers." Honestly, my coworker lent this to me and I felt like I couldn't say, "No thanks, I have zero interest in reading about left handers."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marinello

    "Scientists have even suggested that left-handedness has persisted through the ages because those individuals are sexy, at least in the Darwinian sense." "So the next time someone asks how left-handers are different, reply by saying they're special. And that science can prove it." hahaha I loved it!! #teamsouthpaws "Scientists have even suggested that left-handedness has persisted through the ages because those individuals are sexy, at least in the Darwinian sense." "So the next time someone asks how left-handers are different, reply by saying they're special. And that science can prove it." hahaha I loved it!! #teamsouthpaws

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This was a fun romp into the author's quest to understand (and affirm his belief in) left-handed "exceptionalism." Wolman could probably have said a bit more about the research and people he talked to (and a bit less about himself), but what's here still makes for interesting reading that made me think differently about the relationship between genetics and cultural construction. This was a fun romp into the author's quest to understand (and affirm his belief in) left-handed "exceptionalism." Wolman could probably have said a bit more about the research and people he talked to (and a bit less about himself), but what's here still makes for interesting reading that made me think differently about the relationship between genetics and cultural construction.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Larissa Root

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Entertaining journalism, but you must be content with leaving the question of what makes lefties special a mystery. Could be edited down in parts. Heavy in scientific descriptions (not necessarily a negative).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Really interesting and thorough research on why lefties are the best.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mike Mutschelknaus

    A book only a left-hander could love.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Some fun theories and facts for my fellow lefties.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    If I could I'd give this a 3.5. This is my second David Wolman book, this time about the origins of handedness in the human brain, and the cultural constructions around/related to left handedness. (FYI, Wolman is a self-proclaimed proud Southpaw.) The central pieces of the book -- both in their longer lengths and in actuality being at the middle of the book -- focus on the investigation into the neurological and biological background of body asymmetry, which leads to handedness preferences, which If I could I'd give this a 3.5. This is my second David Wolman book, this time about the origins of handedness in the human brain, and the cultural constructions around/related to left handedness. (FYI, Wolman is a self-proclaimed proud Southpaw.) The central pieces of the book -- both in their longer lengths and in actuality being at the middle of the book -- focus on the investigation into the neurological and biological background of body asymmetry, which leads to handedness preferences, which leads to left-handed people. Wolman speaks with many scientists, and his encounters with multiple scientific theories are well explained, and just utterly fascinating. As someone very interested in neurology and the mysterious workings of the human body, I really enjoyed this element of the book. The other parts of the book are more focused on Wolman’s travels and encounters, with more humour. These include attending left handed golf tournaments, learning handwriting analysis and palmistry (his account of his stay as a palmistry student is particular indicative of Wolman’s humorous writing style), and visiting the Scottish castle of the supposedly dominantly left-handed Kerr clan. These accounts are at times very interesting at times, and at times not so great. So I’d say the scientific aspects are the meat of the book, a rigorous look at what we know about left-handedness, and the cultural elements are a complementary but still important side of it. All in all an interesting and quick read, good for the curious-minded.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    As a lefty, I was intrigued by this book (anyone remember "The Simpsons" episode where Flanders opens his southpaw store "The Leftorium"?) and all things southpaw. This was an interesting read, but it did get cumbersome at times in the middle, when Wolman dove right into the inner workings of the brain and got a little too scientific. There are a lot of misconceptions about handedness. One is that those who use both hands are ambidextrous. That isn't entirely true. A more accurate way to describ As a lefty, I was intrigued by this book (anyone remember "The Simpsons" episode where Flanders opens his southpaw store "The Leftorium"?) and all things southpaw. This was an interesting read, but it did get cumbersome at times in the middle, when Wolman dove right into the inner workings of the brain and got a little too scientific. There are a lot of misconceptions about handedness. One is that those who use both hands are ambidextrous. That isn't entirely true. A more accurate way to describe those people would be "mixed-handedness." A true ambidextrous person uses both hands with EQUAL ability. Then there's the whole part about being a strong left. It can get a bit confusing. "Whereas early humans who smelled like saber-tooth tiger bait would have been selected out of the population, lefties, as far as anyone can tell, have been stubbornly present in human history, suggesting Southpaws are here for a reason," Wolman writes.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anna Engel

    [3.5 stars] As a lefty, I'm fascinated by all things related to that minority of us blessed with left-handedness. So obviously, I was interested in this book. Once you get into the nitty-gritty of handedness, though, you start to realize it isn't just about what hand you write with. It turns out that most of us are much more mixed-handed than we realize. Our traditional conception of handedness = writing hand is being challenged by scientific discoveries in neurology, primate research, genetics, a [3.5 stars] As a lefty, I'm fascinated by all things related to that minority of us blessed with left-handedness. So obviously, I was interested in this book. Once you get into the nitty-gritty of handedness, though, you start to realize it isn't just about what hand you write with. It turns out that most of us are much more mixed-handed than we realize. Our traditional conception of handedness = writing hand is being challenged by scientific discoveries in neurology, primate research, genetics, and behavioral science. Although fascinating, the results of these studies means I'm not quite as unique as I'd imagined. Sigh. Sometimes the text dragged as Wolman tried to simplify complex scientific ideas. Overall, he did a commendable job. I'm interested to see where future research leads. Maybe we'll find out that lefties are special after all.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lea Ann

    This book is both fascinating and frustrating. I really liked the content and for the most part, the author's approach. But I felt like a couple of the chapters were a complete waste of time. The interesting aspects come from the absolute absence of a clear reason as to why a minority of people are left handed. I always assumed, probably like most people, that handedness was genetic, like being able to curl your tongue, or blood type. But it's much more nuanced, complicated, and evasive. I know This book is both fascinating and frustrating. I really liked the content and for the most part, the author's approach. But I felt like a couple of the chapters were a complete waste of time. The interesting aspects come from the absolute absence of a clear reason as to why a minority of people are left handed. I always assumed, probably like most people, that handedness was genetic, like being able to curl your tongue, or blood type. But it's much more nuanced, complicated, and evasive. I know in some years time I will read a CNN article about a scientist finally unlocking the secret, but for now that seems very far away. Until then I will love being a lefty. For all the smudging it's given me over the years.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mike Smith

    This is a chatty, first-person account of the author's quest to find out what causes left-handedness and what implications it might have for those who are so gifted/cursed. There are many theories, but none appears to be wholly satisfactory. In other words, researchers don't really know. They do seem to agree that handedness, whether left or right, is connected to other asymmetries in the body (such as the differences in the left and right hemispheres of the brain and the off-center nature of ma This is a chatty, first-person account of the author's quest to find out what causes left-handedness and what implications it might have for those who are so gifted/cursed. There are many theories, but none appears to be wholly satisfactory. In other words, researchers don't really know. They do seem to agree that handedness, whether left or right, is connected to other asymmetries in the body (such as the differences in the left and right hemispheres of the brain and the off-center nature of many internal organs), but don't know what causes what or what the connections are. An entertaining read, if not very illuminating.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alexa

    Wolman uses left-handedness as a way in to looking at various different theories about human development, including our asymmetrical brains. It's not as exciting as some pop nonfiction, but the science behind his explanations seems thoroughly researched and well-represented. It's more than a novelty book for left-handed people, though I have to admit I was probably more interested than I would have been if I weren't left-handed. Wolman uses left-handedness as a way in to looking at various different theories about human development, including our asymmetrical brains. It's not as exciting as some pop nonfiction, but the science behind his explanations seems thoroughly researched and well-represented. It's more than a novelty book for left-handed people, though I have to admit I was probably more interested than I would have been if I weren't left-handed.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kate Holden-Laudig

    My good friend gave this book to me for a great reason. I've always been mixed-handed but employed the right one most of the time. Four years ago I had a stroke in the left hemisphere of my brain, specifically the Broca's brain. I lost the use of my favored (right) hand and I also lost my language. It did not fully come back until about a year after the stroke. This book was highly interesting and informative and had a fun presentation. My good friend gave this book to me for a great reason. I've always been mixed-handed but employed the right one most of the time. Four years ago I had a stroke in the left hemisphere of my brain, specifically the Broca's brain. I lost the use of my favored (right) hand and I also lost my language. It did not fully come back until about a year after the stroke. This book was highly interesting and informative and had a fun presentation.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nico

    A book editor (and fellow lefty)I know dismissed this book saying "oh, I'm sure it's full of everything I've already read about lefties." However, it's full of oodles of new facts and research, and is an entertaining read to boot. spoiler: Including dismissing the myth that lefties are natually "artistic." A book editor (and fellow lefty)I know dismissed this book saying "oh, I'm sure it's full of everything I've already read about lefties." However, it's full of oodles of new facts and research, and is an entertaining read to boot. spoiler: Including dismissing the myth that lefties are natually "artistic."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Puja

    for those of you who know me, you know that i find left handedness extremely sexy. the author of the book travels all over the world to find mysterious and humorous facts about the origins of left-handers...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This book is REALLY interesting and I have since made everyone who's come to the house fill out the handedness chart that Wolman prints from a 1971 article. There's more to left handedness than meets the eye! This book is REALLY interesting and I have since made everyone who's come to the house fill out the handedness chart that Wolman prints from a 1971 article. There's more to left handedness than meets the eye!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Stethem

    More scientific than I wanted. It did make me think about all the stuff us lefties have to deal with. A lot of the things did seem to reflect me which was a little disturbing. I suggest lefties read this

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    It's a fun read! Some concrete science, some more pseudo-science, but all quite interesting theories/facts regardless. It's a fun read! Some concrete science, some more pseudo-science, but all quite interesting theories/facts regardless.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Explains a great deal about us 'lefties' Explains a great deal about us 'lefties'

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    Of course the question still remains...Why are there only a few special lefties in the world while most are right handed?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    I'm not left-handed, but I am curious. I'm not left-handed, but I am curious.

  26. 5 out of 5

    rob

    I started and lost interest in this book three times. Maybe I just didn't get the point. I started and lost interest in this book three times. Maybe I just didn't get the point.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    This book was awfully boring. I wanted so much to like it. I couldn't even finish it. This book was awfully boring. I wanted so much to like it. I couldn't even finish it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paul Wells

    Excellent round up of current theories on handedness. If you're looking for books about funny facts about those wacky left handed people, please go and patronize a different minority. Excellent round up of current theories on handedness. If you're looking for books about funny facts about those wacky left handed people, please go and patronize a different minority.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Erica Chang

    i only remember the story about the guy who's got his left arm sewed to his right shoulder. i only remember the story about the guy who's got his left arm sewed to his right shoulder.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aimee

    Although I've always been fascinated with my own lefthandedness, and my sister's (we're the only 2 lefties in our entire known, large extended family), this book really didn't do it for me. Although I've always been fascinated with my own lefthandedness, and my sister's (we're the only 2 lefties in our entire known, large extended family), this book really didn't do it for me.

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