The hand is, among other things, a complex symbol, representing both the creative and the prosaic. This blending of the spiritual and the mundane is what makes the hand unique, as it in turn makes us unique among animals. Neurologist Frank R. Wilson has taken on a heroic task: to explain
the hand on both of these levels and to show us how we use these marvelous instruments to find and create meaning in our lives.
Anthropology, neuroscience, music, and puppetry all figure prominently in The Hand, which effortlessly guides the reader through its million-year biography. Brains and thumbs growing and changing to accommodate each other, discovering tools and language together, kicked us out of the monkey house for good. While there is still controversy over whether we are the brainiest animals on the planet, it is abundantly clear that we are the handiest.
This manipulative ability is our greatest strength and our most terrible flaw. Without hands we would have no Louvre but also no nerve gas. But, Wilson says, our situation is more complex. Our access to far greater means to achieve our ends gives us a greater hunger for meaning. We long to use our hands to satisfy our needs--whether spiritual or down-to-earth. This creation of meaning from nothing may be our greatest achievement. In the end, The Hand is brightly optimistic, showing that our reach truly does exceed our grasp. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Neurologist Wilson (Tone Deaf and All Thumbs?) gathers arguments from anthropology, psychology and medicine, along with the personal stories of musicians, backhoe operators, puppeteers and prestidigitators, to demonstrate the centrality to intelligence of our human hand. His account of the coevolution of hand and brain through our primate ancestors is fascinating, and the science he sites is rigorous and profound. The insights along the way are startling to the layperson even if old news to savants. For example, the size of a primate's neocortex is proportionate to the size of its maximum stable social group (our own being about 150). The emphasis throughout is on "the interaction of the biologic and social processes," as, for example, an artist, from early childhood, finds her way toward her instrument, and also as the species itself evolves over millennia, starting, as Darwin observed, with the freeing of the upper limbs by our descent from the trees. Out of the analysis of intelligence as fundamentally somatic there emerges a critique of educational theory. Wilson is a passionate advocate of process-centered teaching with attention to individual intelligences. Despite absorbing material and an ultimately cogent and important argument, his book dwells too long on inessential details of the case histories, and it sometimes loses steam in scholarly discourse; also, the organization into short, pithy chapters obscures the structure of the whole. Thus, although their work is rewarded, readers have to labor a bit too hard to tie the argument together. B&w illustrations throughout.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.