Rik Smits

The Puzzle of Left-Handedness

How hand-preference colours the world

Throughout history left-handedness has been associated with clumsiness, maladies of all kinds and unpleasant character traits. All these negative connotations have meant that left-handed people were subjected to harsh treatment, even persecution. Today left-handedness no longer bears a stigma – it did not stop Barack Obama and four of his predecessors from becoming president of the United States – but we remain puzzled by the fact that around ten per cent of people, a constant and universal proportion, exhibit a congenital deviation from what we consider normal.

Rik Smits carefully assembles the pieces of the puzzle, placing new insights from neurological and genetic research beside an array of historical anecdotes, strange superstitions and old wives’ tales. Scare-stories abounded even in the twentieth-century; only a few years ago psychologists claimed that left-handed people had life-spans nine years shorter than average. As Smits points out, speculation about left-handed mortality was and remains public entertainment, which would hardly be the case were it truly an illness.

In his exploration of theories and philosophies of left-handedness around the world, Smits undertakes to explain among other things why no prejudices exist against it in China, although Chinese children too have been forced to eat and write with their right hands. In contrast to the rest of the world, the association of the left with Yang in contrast to Yin makes Chinese attitudes neutral or even positive.

Smits has written a rich cultural history of left-handedness.



Rik Smits

Rik Smits is a linguist, a science journalist and the author of books on a wide range of subjects, including The Left-Handed Picador. On left- and right-handedness: facts and fabrications (1993; translated into German) and (with Liesbeth Koenen) the Handbook of Dutch (2004).…

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Het raadsel van linkshandigheid. Hoe handvoorkeur de wereld kleurt (2010). Non-fiction, 384 pages.
Words: 100,000
Copies sold: 3,000

With references and black-and-white illustrations


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