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Title: A Left-Hand Turn Around the World: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw
Author: David Wolman
Publisher: Da Capo
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 0306814153
Pages: 236
Price: $24.00
Rating: 50%

As the only righty in my immediate family—my wife and son are both sinister, or left-handed—I've always wondered why some people lean one way and some another. With 10-12% of people being left-handed, this is no small minority. Famous lefties include Leonardo Da Vinci, Franz Kafka, Harry Truman, Jimi Hendrix, Mark Twain and Nicole Kidman. (Of course, famous righties include just about everyone else...) 

Handedness is not absolute. Many lefties write with their right hands, having been forced to do so by teachers, and others may be ambidextrous for many activities. The Edinburgh Handedness Inventory asks people ten questions to determine which is their dominant hand: which hand do they use to write, draw, brush their teeth, eat, etc. Yet some of these tasks have cultural weight that may trump handedness. For example, some North Africans always eat with their right hand, because they use the left to... well, clean up afterwards. 

David Wolman set out in search of "the Mecca of left-handedness", and presents anecdotes about the left-handed, their minds, and how they live. He goes to Paris to examine brains belonging to the famed 19th century neurologist Paul Broca, who discovered the differences between the actions ruled by the left and right sides of our brains and the part of the brain that controls speech, called Broca's area. (And mentions in passing that lefties don't have inverted left-brain/right-brain activities as most people believe.) In London, he meets neuropsychologist Chris McManus, who disappoints him by explaining, in simple terms, how he came to be left-handed. (It's genetic.) And in Ottawa, he learns about Vedic palmistry. He plays left-handed golf in Japan, and southpaw sword-fighting in Scotland. In short, he goes on a left-handed journey around the world. 

Wolman looks into communication, graphology, yet keeps coming back to the brain and genetics. Interspersed with these travelogues are some interesting observations on lefty-ness, but this brief book (just over 200 pages of large type) never gets interesting enough for this righty. With a leaning toward Reader's Digest type prose and anecdotes, instead of more scientific writing, Wolman is unconvincing. This book ends up being more like notes for a book the author probably wanted to write. Wolman's attempts at humor are dry and fall flat, his investigations wander, and, in the end, there really isn't that much to say about left-handedness. 

Lefties will buy this book, because it's there. Righties might buy it for lefty friends or family. But aside from the 10-12% of the population who use the wrong hand (as opposed to the right one), there's little here of interest.

Kirk McElhearn  

Kirk McElhearn ( is a freelance writer and translator living in a village in the French Alps. You can find out all about him at his web site,