Praise for The Master and his Emissary

Early thirty years ago, Iain McGilchrist published a book called Against Criticism. What he was really against was the dominance of literary theory, as it was taking hold of the academic study of English at that time. The fashion was to begin with a theoretical ‘position’ and to read literary texts from the appropriate point of view. If you were a feminist, you would find the patriarchy inscribed within the plays of Shakespeare or the novels of Dickens. If you were a deconstructionist, you would discover that your chosen text contradicted itself, collapsing into an abyss of uncertainty. And if you were a Marxist, every book you read would be revealed to be constrained by class and ideology. For McGilchrist, these approaches were mechanistic whereas great ‘art-objects’, as he called literary works of merit, were created organically. The theoretically-minded critic imposed a grid on the text. The intuitive reader allowed meaning and value to emerge inductively – gradually, tentatively, surprisingly – from the text itself.

Click here to read Sir Jonathan Bate’s full review

Sir Jonathan Bate

Foundation Professor of Environmental Humanities, College of Liberal Arts & College of Global Futures, Arizona State University

Really superb! Best book on laterality I have ever read, with profound implications for the nature of consciousness … McGilchrist turns conventional wisdom about our hemispheric specializations on its head. By reflecting more deeply on dimensions of mind and culture, he coaxes us to understand how the supposedly “non-dominant” right hemisphere, deeper in both feeling and wisdom, has long guided the best of human life, often to be undone by the chattering and confabulating servant on the other side. This is a profound analysis of the divisions within our higher mental apparatus that have been writ large in the history of our species. No wonder the other animals do not speak. They still socialize more through their right hemispheres, allowing the servant in the left to pursue food and facts, and chattering in humans, rather than the more intimate experiences of mind. Through interdisciplinary scholarship unparalleled in recent years, McGilchrist reintroduces us to ourselves, and cultural history: a true masterpiece–a synthesis of decades of pondering a vision that coaxes us to question many conventional “wisdoms”. The best book I’ve read in the past decade … a groundbreaking and beautifully written book.

Professor Jaak Panksepp

Baily Professor of Animal Well-Being Science at Washington State University, author of the classic works 'Affective Neuroscience', and 'A Textbook of Biological Psychiatry'

Novel, compelling, and profoundly consequential … obviously the product of many years of research and thought on the part of a thinker of depth and originality as well as deep learning across a number of fields that are very seldom combined … McGilchrist is an unusually good writer, with as much talent for clear and exciting exposition as anyone I can think of … unbelievably rich … the formulations are often beautifully done, managing to state in maximally clear fashion issues of the utmost subtlety. The erudition is staggering. The overall arguments are compelling and well-handled. I think the basic thesis is indeed of absolutely crucial cultural and intellectual importance.

Professor Louis Sass
Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at Rutgers, author of Madness and Modernism and the Paradoxes of Delusion

A marvellous and highly original synthesis of ideas on how the division of labour between the two brain hemispheres can provide key insights into human nature – it’s odd that such an important subject has been neglected.

Professor VS Ramachandran
Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Head of the Neurosciences Graduate Program at the University of California, San Diego. Author of The Tell-Tale Brain, and Phantoms in the Brain

Iain McGilchrist’s ideas about human capabilities are among the most provocative I’ve encountered – and I mean provocative in a positive sense.

Professor Howard Gardner

John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, and author of 'Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences'

McGilchrist’s careful analysis of how brains work is a veritable tour de force, gradually and skilfully revealed. I know of no better exposition of the current state of functional brain neuroscience …

Professor WF Bynum
Professor Emeritus of the History of Medicine at University College, London and former head of the Academic Unit of the Wellcome Centre, writing in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

A beautifully written, erudite, fascinating and adventurous book. It embraces a prodigious range of enquiry, from neurology to psychology, from philosophy to primatology, from myth to history to literature. It goes from the microstructure of the brain to great epochs of Western civilisation, confidently and readably. One turns its five hundred pages – a further hundred are dense with notes and references in tiny print – as if it were an adventure story … McGilchrist tells us about the rapidly evolving technologies and experimental work in fascinating and lucid detail.

Professor AC Grayling

Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, writing in the Literary Review

I want to congratulate you on your remarkable and breathtaking volume … which instantly entranced me … Soon after reading the book I recommended it to many of my colleagues across the US, who also were galvanized by your theses … Again, congratulations on a magnificent piece of scholarship.

Professor Allan Schore

Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and author of 'Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self'

This is a very remarkable book … McGilchrist, who is both an experienced psychiatrist and a shrewd philosopher, looks at the relation between our two brain-hemispheres in a new light, not just as an interesting neurological problem but as a crucial shaping factor in our culture … clear, penetrating, lively, thorough and fascinating … splendidly thought-provoking … I couldn’t put it down.

Professor Mary Midgley

Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy, Newcastle University, writing in 'The Guardian'

An intensely academic exploration of one of the most important aspects of human neurobiology, which directly reflects upon that which is most central to the question of what it means to be human, firmly based in a neurobiological subtext.

Professor Michael Trimble

Emeritus Professor of Behavioural Neurology at the Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London, and author of the classic 'Biological Psychiatry', writing in 'Cognitive Neuropsychiatry'

McGilchrist’s remarkable book brought to mind a conversation with Roger Sperry, when I was a research fellow at Caltech in the ’70s. Sperry, already famous for his work on hemispheric specialisation, and with California’s New Age abuzz with ill-considered attributions to left and right hemispheres, was, also, not at all happy at any existing attempt to define the differences in the hemispheres’ functions. Roger felt that the cognitive tests of the time, which tended to show the right hemisphere’s overall inferiority to the left, were missing something – something really important that was not captured by standard procedural tests. I feel sure that he, like McGilchrist a literary scholar turned biologist/psychologist, would have applauded McGilchrist’s book, capturing as it does so much outside the range of a narrowly conceived cognitive science, and doing so without loss of rigour.

Professor James Wright

Honorary Professor of Psychiatry, University of Auckland, winner of the Royal Societies of Australia’s Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Research, and one of the original researchers with Nobel Prize-winner Roger Sperry at Caltech

A remarkable book…[McGilchrist] is immensely erudite. He writes with great clarity, and while the book develops an argument it is also a treasure chest of fascinating detail and memorable quotation. Its thesis is profoundly interesting: most readers who enter here with time to spend will be richly rewarded … the effort to make sense of the totality of our lives in terms of brain function is exhilarating and worthwhile.’

Professor Adam Zeman

Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology at the Peninsula Medical School and School of Psychology, author of 'Consciousness: a User’s Guide' and 'A Portrait of the Brain', writing in 'Standpoint Magazine'

This book is a wake-up call. In the most comprehensive, and lucid, review to date of findings from research on differences in consciousness, motives and emotions in the two cerebral hemispheres, from animal ethology, neuropsychology, split-brain research, developmental psychology and psychiatry, Dr McGilchrist, a humanist scholar and psychiatrist, deliberates on their significance for our scientific and philosophical understanding of ourselves, and of our fate in the modern technical world with its complex artificial devices. He brings back insights and concerns that Charles Sherrington expressed in his Gifford Lectures Man on his Nature nearly 80 years ago. Roger Sperry would have approved.

Professor Colwyn Trevarthen

Professor of Child Psychology and Psychobiology, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, and one of the original researchers with Nobel Prize-winner Roger Sperry at Caltech on perceptuomotor and cognitive functions of the cerebral hemispheres

A wonderful book – broad in scope and full of incisive detail. It should be required reading for any serious student of human psychology. For researchers involved in hemisphere studies, the historical/cultural context provided by McGilchrist is essential background. For others more concerned with understanding the psychological factors underlying human history over the past few centuries, consideration of cerebral laterality will add a new dimension that puts many topics into proper perspective. Highly recommended!

Professor Norman Cook

Professor of Informatics at Kansai University, Osaka, author of 'The Brain Code: Mechanisms of Information Transfer' and the 'Corpus Callosum'

Clearly more than any ordinary life-time’s work … capitalising on an extraordinary range of knowledge and experience to unite the humanities and brain sciences in this comprehensive way. I know of no one else who could have done it. Really fascinating stuff … vast amounts to admire and marvel over. [McGilchrist has] read and thought deeply about an astonishing volume of the literature … the arguments and deductions seem to me to be immaculate … the sections on language and music have gripped me particularly.

Professor Alwyn Lishman

Professor Emeritus of Neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, and author of the seminal textbook 'Organic Psychiatry'

Fascinating, groundbreaking, relentlessly researched, and eloquently written … Although McGilchrist’s research here into the latest developments in neuroimaging is breathtaking, the newcomer to neuroscience may find it daunting. That would be a shame. The Master and His Emissary, while demanding, is beautifully written and eminently quotable … a fascinating treasure trove of insights into language, music, society, love, and other fundamental human concerns. One of his most important suggestions is that the view of human life as ruthlessly driven by “selfish genes”, and other “competitor” metaphors, may be only a ploy of left brain propaganda, and through a right brain appreciation of the big picture, we may escape the remorseless push and shove of “necessity.” I leave it to the reader to discover just how important this insight is.


Gary Lachman

writing in 'The Los Angeles Review of Books'

I read your book over the past couple of months. It took so long not because I was not really into it – quite the opposite: almost every page of the book resonated so strongly with me that I simply could not read it in larger chunks. It would have been too much. I think it is a brilliant book, and a daring one: thank you again for a book that shook me to my intellectual core.

Professor Oliver Schultheiss

Professor of Experimental Psychology, Motivation, and Affective Neuroscience, Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen

A work of exceptional importance which—from the starting-point of examining the different ways in which the two brain hemispheres make sense of the world—argues a persuasive case that we rely too much on the essentially verbal, lifeless, static, Platonic perceptions of the left hemisphere and should restore the equal validity of the right, which experiences the world in interactive, living, dynamic, pre-Socratic terms.

Jonathan Gaisman, QC,

writing in 'Standpoint Magazine'

An illuminating and commanding work… The Master and his Emissary was not only a confronting exercise in psychological self-analysis, but also the window to explanation of so many legal debates about doctrine and approach … There are few books where one carries on a running commentary aloud with oneself and with friends on the phone as one reads.

Chief Justice James Allsop

Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia

As the last of us sleepwalks into the abyss whistling a happy tune, this book may well provide one of the most lucid explanations to future inhabitants of our planet.

Professor Theresa Marteau

Director, Behaviour and Health Research Unit, Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge

The Book of the Century? [McGilchrist] writes with authority in natural science and humanities, and the abundant links that lie between them for those few who know how to look. In addition to this polymathic erudition, one can also sense, between the lines, an old soul with a dry wit who is immensely generous in spirit …The thesis is as strong on science as it is on narrative, replete with nuances, caveats, and references …it is one of the most important books of the 21st century. It is a grand theory for our times. If properly understood and acted upon, it has the potential to transform our view of our selves and our cultures, and prevent us from making a huge number of mistakes that might otherwise seem like sensible decisions …a truly wonderful book.

Dr Jonathan Rowson

Senior Researcher, Social Brain project, RSA, on the RSA blog

A giant in his vital field shows convincingly that the degeneracy of the West springs from our failure to manage the binary division of our brains.

David Cox

‘Book of the Year’, writing in the 'Evening Standard'

Should send thinkers and cultural commentators into the stratosphere … This may well be a book that comes into its own in the years to come.

Lesley McDowell

writing in 'The Independent on Sunday'

A landmark new book … it tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now.

Bryan Appleyard

Writing in the Sunday Times

Besides being a brilliant work, this book is an event. McGilchrist lays out a startling, novel account of the importance of the right hemisphere of the brain, and what is more, he turns this into a gripping and dizzying account of the trajectory of the whole of human (but especially of Western) civilisation and offers, in the course of this, the most powerful argument penned by any living author of the importance of the arts and humanities (including philosophy, properly understood, the social studies and ‘les sciences humaines’) … The Master and His Emissary is a work of extraordinary erudition. McGilchrist seems to be a polymath, who has managed to feel his way into a vast array of different ‘literatures’. The book’s bibliography is so huge that the publishers excised most of it in the paperback version, so that one must go online to find the full bibliography to check many of the references.…there are gems on virtually every page … No one who is seriously interested in the focal subject matter of this journal can afford to ignore this book.

Dr Rupert Read

Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, writing in 'Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences'

[An] epic book … brilliantly written … a relevant book for any psychiatrist (and any neuroscientist or philosopher for that matter).

Dr Jacob Freedman

Harvard Medical School, writing in the 'American Journal of Psychiatry'

[A] magnificent exploration of the two halves of the brain.


‘Book of the Year’, in the 'British Medical Journal'

A landmark new book … it tells a story you need to hear, of where we live now.

Bryan Appleyard

Writing in the Sunday Times

20 years in gestation, this remarkable survey of the human brain is one of few contemporary works deserving classic status … [McGilchrist] writes with penetrating authority.

Nicholas Shakespeare

writing in 'The Times'

This remarkable book is a bold thought-experiment, a history, a manifesto – and a mystery. Psychiatrist and philosopher, McGilchrist strides across cultures and histories.

Boyd Tonkin

‘Best of the New Books’, writing in 'The Independent'

‘Terrifically important.’

‘To call this monumental achievement an account of right and left brain hemispheres is to woefully misrepresent its range and power … McGilchrist persuasively argues that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere losing touch with its natural regulative ‘master’ the right. Brilliant and disturbing.’

Salley Vickers

‘Book of the Year’, writing in 'The Observer'

A fascinating book … [McGilchrist] is a subtle and clever thinker, and unusually qualified to range with such authority over so many different domains of knowledge.

Harry Eyres

Writing in the 'Financial Times'

Few books this year can match this one in breadth of erudition, scope, and ambition … a highly stimulating read.

‘Best Books of 2009’, Barnes & Noble


‘Best of 2010’,

McGilchrist’s book is a dazzling achievement … Neuroscience is crowded with expert, nerdish describers of tiny islands. Until now it has had no-one to map the whole, and give each island the often unwanted knowledge of its own relationships. Now there’s a map. Just as a read, it’s an immense pleasure … Almost every page forced a delighted readjustment of my world view … It is many normal lifetimes of work.

Charles Foster

barrister and Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford, writing in the 'Contemporary Review'

I have just finished reading your remarkable book …and feel obliged to thank you for writing such a masterpiece. It was like looking at a brilliant map of the human intellect, and discovering for the first time with such clarity the ground over which my own lifetime’s research as an anthropologist has been travelling.

Professor Christopher Hallpike

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, McMaster University, Ontario

I am now reading your stunning book The Master and his Emissary. It’s a masterpiece.

Professor Todd Feinberg

Professor of Neurology & Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York

A scintillating intelligence.

The Economist

A profound examination of the differences between the left hemisphere of the brain and the right.

Philip Pullman

writing in 'The Guardian'

A seminal book.

Professor Ervin László

Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York, writing in the 'Huffington Post'

Excellent scholarship … I much admire the blend of simplicity and complexity in the book and think it remarkable. Congratulations … I continue to digest your book. It deserves multiple readings.

Professor Peter Whitehouse

Professor of Neurology, Case Western Reserve University

Ich glaube, dass McGilchrist auf einer tiefen Ebene recht hat. In den Hemisphären mit ihren unterschiedlichen Komponenten und Fähigkeiten stecken unterschiedliche Persönlichkeitsschwerpunkte.’ [I believe that, at a deep level, McGilchrist is right. In the hemispheres, with their differing components and capabilities, lie different facets of the personality.]

Professor Onur Güntürkün

Professor of Biopsychology at Bochum, University of the Ruhr, and winner of the Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz-Preis for his work on brain laterality, writing in 'Die Zeit'

Absolut faszinierend. [Absolutely fascinating.]

Dr Peter Brugger

Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Neuroscience Center Zürich, University of Zürich (ZNZ), and noted hemisphere researcher, writing in 'Die Zeit'

I think your book is one of the best contributions to the world of thought ever written – and certainly badly needed in this historical situation – in academe and beyond …Thank you for your monumental achievement and contribution.

Professor Ellen Dissanayake

School of Music, University of Washington, and author of 'Art and Intimacy, Homo Aestheticus', and 'What Is Art For?'

McGilchrist transcends almost all the disciplinary boundaries and offers penetrating insights into a whole range of historical, philosophical, cultural and scientific issues. [The book] is based on an enormous amount of research, disguised somewhat by the book having a select bibliography of only five pages. On McGilchrist’s website there is a 68 page bibliography, obviously having been prepared to be published in the book. This is clearly the most scholarly and inclusive book of the study of brain lateralization and its significance yet written, and makes an extremely strong case for the importance of this research for virtually every field of the humanities and human sciences … brings into focus the problematic state of the arts, of disciplines within the humanities and the human sciences and of science generally, and underlies all the major problems currently facing civilization … McGilchrist’s book, providing new insights into the minds and modes of operation of those who undermine civilizations and a clearer idea of what constitutes healthy culture and the flourishing of civilization, is a major contribution to wisdom.

Professor Arran Gare

Professor of Philosophy & Cultural Inquiry, Swinburne University, Melbourne, writing in 'Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy'

The most thoughtful and extraordinary book I have read in a long time and should one day be regarded – properly – as being as important to the evolving Western philosophical tradition as something like Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. It also vindicates the idea that it is still possible to be a fox and not a hedgehog per se even if the fox is pursuing a very big idea indeed.

Professor Rob Watts

Professor of Social Policy, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University, Melbourne

The Master and his Emissary is one of the greatest, most insightful books I have ever read … It has helped reshape my thinking about humanity, and it is underpinning my thinking in relation to other work …

Professor Barbara Oakley

Department of Medical and Biological Engineering, Oakland University, and author of 'Evil Genes', 'Pathological Altruism' and 'Cold-Blooded Kindness'

It is no exaggeration to say that this quite remarkable book will radically change the way you understand the world and yourself … Reading this book, to which you will want to return on a regular basis (one reading cannot possibly exhaust its multifaceted insights) will help you better understand reality and the way we experience and represent it. It is a genuine tour de force, a monumental achievement – I can think of no one else who could have conceived, let alone written, a book of such penetrating brilliance.

David Lorimer

Chair of the Wrekin Trust and Director of the Scientific and Medical Network, writing in the 'Scientific and Medical Network Review'

The author brings together his impressive knowledge of clinical psychiatry and an elegant expressive ability … Every point made is referenced: in fact, almost a quarter of the book’s pages are notes and bibliography. I found myself moving back and forth between the text and the notes and marking references that I must look up. The bibliography is a valuable source for scholars in the field … The evidence in support of these conclusions is presented fully and extremely well in the book… the breadth of the author’s knowledge is nothing less than extraordinary …This is, indeed, a fascinating book and one that will stimulate debate and ideas.

Professor Lesley Rogers

Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University of New England, Australia, world authority on lateralisation in animals, writing in 'Laterality'

Utterly amazing – probably the most exciting book I’ve ever read (I’m currently working through it for the second time).

Sue Palmer

cience writer and broadcaster, and author of 'Toxic Childhood' and 'Twenty-First Century Boys'

The most comprehensive and coherent account of human brain lateralisation yet published.

Rita Carter

prize-winning science writer , and author of 'The Brain Book', 'Mapping the Mind', and 'Exploring Consciousness'

His élan and love of life are apparent on every page … That a book can lead me to question myself is high praise indeed – I can think of no higher recommendation.

Felix Dux

writing in 'Parabola'

I was not asked to write this review; I asked to be allowed to. I ordered my copy immediately after reading Mary Midgley’s Guardian review and waited impatiently for it to arrive. When it did, I read it in every spare moment I had, and a lot I hadn’t, ending up with underlinings and sometimes manic exclamation marks pencilled onto almost every page …Iain McGilchrist’s qualifications for his massive undertaking are ideal, perhaps unique … McGilchrist’s grasp of this vast field, and the depth of his philosophical and artistic insight, is staggering … It underpins, validates, explains a whole slew of intuitions about general practice and life which I have felt and tried to express in (inevitably) inadequate words and which I know are widely shared.

Dr James Willis

Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, writing in the British Journal of General Practice

I am reading your important Master and his Emissary … fascinating … Your book demands careful reading … This is the first time in my career that I have written such an e-mail, but I did it because, even early in my reading of your book, I have been impressed by your ability to make a persuasive argument and to draw on a wide variety of connections as you make your case.

Professor Howard Kushner

Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Professor of Science & Society at Emory University, Atlanta, brain lateralisation researcher and historian of medicine

It’s rare that you come across a book that changes the way you think, rarer still a book that offers a persuasive critique of your own actual thinking processes, but [this book] can do both these things … In doing all this, McGilchrist shows great mastery of both the tiny but significant detail (left-hemisphere), and the bigger picture (right-hemisphere) – and the connection between the two. He himself, then, is true to his word … Given the depth, breadth, even brilliance of its interpretations of disparate material evidently developed patiently over decades, though, no brief account could possibly do this book justice. The only recommendation can be to buy it, and make up your own mind.

Dr Roger Kingerlee

writing in 'Neuropsychoanalysis'

One of the most exciting and thought-provoking books that I have read in a very long time, and beautifully written into the bargain … Much of my own historical work has been in fields to which your ideas are highly relevant, so I shall have a lot of rethinking to do. There are quite a few ways that I would want to modify your historical sketch, but one of the great virtues of your approach – to my mind – is its flexibility … Many congratulations on a tremendous achievement.

Dr Robin Briggs

Special Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University and Fellow of the British Academy

È sicuramente una perdita per gli studiosi e i lettori italiani perché il libro solleva interrogativi di grande originalità, rileggendo in una prospettiva diversa l’influenza esercitata dall’asimmetria dei due emisferi cerebrali. [The fact that it is not available in translation…] is certainly a loss to Italian scholars and readers, since the book raises questions of great originality, reinterpreting the influence exerted by the asymmetry of the two hemispheres of the brain from a new perspective.

Professor Massimo Ammaniti

Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Rome, writing in 'La Repubblica'

It is no exaggeration to say that Part One of the book is a tour de force … [in Part Two] McGilchrist puts on display a remarkable erudition, an ability to discuss with intelligence and insight the history of Western art and literature, philosophy of a whole range of stripes, musicology (and the relationships between music and the brain), and the varieties of religious experience, just to mention a few of the topics he touches upon … he has some of the qualities of a Renaissance man.

Professor Andrew Scull

Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego, and historian of medicine, writing in 'Brain'

No-one can read The Master and His Emissary and be indifferent to its arguments. This is a book written with great clarity, purpose, and ardor. McGilchrist’s erudite and cogent language will attract people from a multiplicity of disciplines inside and outside the fields of neuroscience and the psychological sciences, as well as the educated reader … each chapter of this volume deserves a review in its own right … This colossal oeuvre stimulates, intrigues, and propels us beyond the usual study of neuroscience … Every page of this book confronts, challenges, and captures our intellects as well as our imaginations.

Dr Rita Testa

writing in 'Neuropsychoanalysis'

McGilchrist’s demonstration of the damage which has been done, and is increasingly being done, by the dominance of the left hemisphere operating alone, is masterly and totally convincing.

Professor Keith Sagar

Professor of English Studies at the University of Nottingham, writing in 'Resurgence'

One of the most exciting and thought-provoking books that I have read in a very long time, and beautifully written into the bargain … Much of my own historical work has been in fields to which your ideas are highly relevant, so I shall have a lot of rethinking to do. There are quite a few ways that I would want to modify your historical sketch, but one of the great virtues of your approach – to my mind – is its flexibility … Many congratulations on a tremendous achievement.

Jonathan Mills

Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, in the 'State of the Arts address to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2010'

McGilchrist writes well, with a direct engaging style, so that a reader with no background in neuroscience could easily follow his descriptions of brain function…This is a very good book, both informative and erudite.

Professor Ian Gibbins

Professor of Anatomy at Flinders University School of Medicine, writing in the 'Australian Book Review (ABR)'

What startled me when I encountered your work was the nature and range of your ideas, reminiscent to me more of the intellectual climate of Renaissance Florence, or Periclean Athens, than of England today. I mean that as the highest praise. Your book was what I hoped scholarship would be, but never was. For this reason, I find it difficult to overstate what your words mean to me.

Vaughan Pilikian

poet and filmmaker

You express in the most eloquent, readable way, and with such vast breadth of knowledge, research, expertise and experience, that which I have ‘felt’ (and battled with) for so long. I am a musician – and have been all my life. I find myself deeply moved and stirred by the state you report on and by the gauntlet you throw down. You have, to me, created a truly remarkable work – a work I trust will deeply impact and stir the lives of many, many… and for years to come. Thank you.

Julian Marshall

musician and composer

Ein umfangreiches, tiefgründiges Buch, wie man es nur ganz selten lesen kann. Iain McGilchrist, anerkannter Psychiater in London und offensichtlich in kulturellen Belangen sehr versierter Kenner beginnt mit einer Darstellung der Struktur und Funktion des Gehirns und den Unterschieden zwischen den Hemisphären, nicht nur in Bezug auf Aufmerksamkeit und Flexibilität, sondern auch bezüglich der Einstellungen gegenüber dem Impliziten, dem Einzigartigen, und dem Persönlichen, sowie Körper, Zeit, Tiefe, Musik, Metapher, Empathie, Moral, Gewissheit und des Selbst … Selten findet sich eine so profunde übersichtliche Darstellung zu diesem komplexen Thema.
[Only very rarely does one come across a book as extensive and deeply grounded as this. Iain McGilchrist, a respected psychiatrist in London and obviously very knowledgeable in matters to do with culture, begins with an exposition of the structure and function of the brain and of the differences between the hemispheres, not only in relation to attention and flexibility, but also with respect to their attitudes towards the implicit, the unique and the personal, as well as the body, time, depth, music, metaphor, empathy, morals, certainty and the self … A profound, lucid treatment of this complex theme, the like of which is scarcely to be found.]

Professor Jürg Kesselring

Professor of Neurology, University of Bern, and Neuroscience Center Zürich (ZNZ), University of Zürich, writing in 'Die Schweizerische Ärztezeitung' (Swiss Medical Journal)

I was astonished by so many aspects of your book … I was most moved by what you call “betweeness” … If I had to summarize my river-born understanding, it is precisely what you describe so beautifully as “betweeness” … Thank you so much for your important work. It is lucid, deep, and wonderfully researched, so very humane and so very desperately needed in this mechanizing, zombifying, fracturing world. It is so very necessary in the midst of hubris.

Suprabha Seshan

Director of Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Western Ghats, and winner of the UK’s top conservation award, the Whitley Prize

If you are interested in the brain and consciousness, this is one of the best books ever written … although I have been dipping-into and stepping-away-from the book for more than a year, I still keep coming across sections that jump out at me as if I hadn’t seen them before … for the sheer number and density of insightful and suggestive points, there is little else in this league … it is a wonderful achievement, especially for the time and place it was published – very much an old style piece of scholarship, written from the heart by a man of exceptional brilliance and erudition who expended two decades of his best efforts on the task.

Professor Bruce Charlton

Professor of Theoretical Medicine, University of Buckingham, charltonteaching blog

Absolutely fascinating.

Jessa Crispin

Editor of

At last! A book on neuroscience that is a thrilling read, philosophically astute and with wonderful science …

Mark Vernon

Guardian columnist, 'Philosophy and Life' blog

A truly astounding work of scholarship

John Sandoe

Favourite Spring Books 2011

Most groundbreaking psychology text of the last decade? Although I am only 110 pages in, I think the answer is Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World …The book is ridiculously well researched. The second chapter alone, where McGilchrist synthesizes an enormous amount of data concerning the functions of each respective hemisphere, has a staggering 535 endnotes, each citing one or more scientific studies. The scholarly work that went into this book is epic … this book has already stunned me in its scope and significance.

Gary Williams

Editor of

Massive and wide-ranging … mind-bending … a fascinating and unique lens through which to view the history of the world and the way we live … manages to balance medical/clinical-related content with often astounding insights, analysis and philosophy … joins my short-list of non-fiction works that I look forward to re-reading over the years.

Oliver Ho

A brilliant, exciting and important book [of] exemplary precision and subtlety … perhaps the most impressive and important piece of scientific synthesis I have ever read. I kept saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you, for what you are doing and how you are doing it’. The conclusions seem to me extremely robust … of extraordinary importance for both scientists and humanists. There is no doubt in my mind that the excellence of the book is largely a product of the depth of the writer’s expertise in the two fields of science and culture. There is virtually no-one who can match this combination. It is also important that the book is not laboured, but light and user-friendly. Again few writers can match him. But in the end the value of the book is really in the rich and complex exploration of the two hemispheres and their cultural correlates. Most readers will experience the book as a tour de force.

Professor John Onians

Professor Emeritus of World Art at the University of East Anglia, and author of 'Neuroarthistory' (Yale University Press)

A wonderful book about brain function and its wider implications … that two different styles of perception and cognition, holistic versus narrowly focused, are both needed for survival, hence evolutionarily ancient, [is] a very nice insight into why brain division was selected for … And it’s refreshing to see sense being talked about the Libet experiments.

Professor Michael McIntyre

Fellow of the Royal Society, and Professor of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge

In a book that I read in the summer after a series of weighty recommendations had made it feel imperative, The Master and his Emissary [etc], the author Iain McGilchrist … reflects at several points on how our sense of time is related to parts of our brain … one also notices how much religion is gripped by what McGilchrist sees as the spirit of our age, seeking clear and literal certainty, following rigid rules, and competing for control over lives and societies.

Professor David Ford

Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, writing in 'The Times'

A dazzling masterpiece, hugely ambitious and the most comprehensive, profound book ever written on brain laterality, which examines how our two brain hemispheres differ, relate to each other, and the huge implications of this discovery. We have two brain hemispheres, each capable of functioning independently. Each has a different point of view about the world. The right hemisphere – long thought of as “non-dominant” – is actually the Master, perceiving the world more directly, holistically and in context; the left is its Emissary, meant to serve the Master by developing more focused attention, when called for, and creating maps of the world. McGilchrist shows, through a brilliantly rich survey of the Western world, how in different eras, the arts, sciences, philosophy and even psychological health flourish when the balance between left and right is maintained. But our brains are plastic, and today, the plastic left hemisphere has become too dominant, inhibiting the right, and thinks itself the Master (this is not simply an anthropomorphism; the left hemisphere does not see its limitations, and confuses the maps it makes for the world it maps). Our art, aesthetics, philosophy, technologies, even our legal systems and bureaucracies show these stifling effects, and new kinds of mental illnesses have emerged. One puts down this beautifully written, profound, philosophically sophisticated book thinking psychiatrist and former Oxford English professor McGilchrist might just be one of the most learned people in Europe.

Professor Norman Doidge

University of Toronto & Columbia University, NY, and author of 'The Brain That Changes Itself', ‘Book of the Year’, writing in Canada’s 'The Globe & Mail'