Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World” as Want to Read:
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  1,025 ratings  ·  125 reviews
Why is the brain divided? The difference between right & left hemispheres has been puzzled over for centuries. In a book of unprecedented scope, McGilchrist draws on a vast body of recent brain research, illustrated with case histories, to reveal that the difference is profound—not just this or that function, but two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experienci ...more
Hardcover, 608 pages
Published December 15th 2009 by Yale University Press (first published October 30th 2009)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Master and His Emissary, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Master and His Emissary

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Rating details
Sort: Default
Chris Lynch
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This will be a lengthy review, but no less than is deserved. You may even feel, after this review, that you have no need to read the book! This would be a mistake - all I am doing here is summarising in very broad terms, and giving some of my own thoughts on McGilchrist's opus.

This is certainly the most remarkable non-fiction book I have read this century. You know the 'diamond bullet' quote from Apocalypse Now? This book was like a machine gun firing diamond bullets, straight into my skull, thu
Apr 13, 2011 rated it did not like it

It took McGilchrist 20 years to write.

From the author's website, , comes a brief description of the book which you may be best to read first or only.

Now I was very sniffy about even picking this book up. The author had been doing the publicity tour and several people after about the five minutes or so minute interview they may have heard, were waxing lyrical to me about how a real scientist confirmed what the ancients have always known. Such knowledge o
Jay Kamaladasa
Oct 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm being a bit harsh giving this 3 stars because it is a really good book and everyone should read it. But there are inherent flaws on Iain's arguments that I cannot come to terms with. The first being that he treats the Right Brain as superior to the Left brain (the master and the emissary), which in itself is a hierarchical (left brain) way of thinking. Second, the author doesn't realize that religion is mostly left brain oriented. The inability of the left hemisphere to deal with uncertainty ...more
Jim Coughenour
Jan 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Ian McGilchrist's thick book on the "divided brain" is the most interesting book I've read this year. I'd come to regard the fabled right brain/left brain antithesis as so much entertaining pop psychology (e.g., Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind) — handy for provoking corporate robots, but hardly more than a convenient fiction. McGilchrist has convinced me that it's a metaphor worth taking seriously, that in fact it may be the fundamental metaphor for a scientistic age.

McGilchrist's thesis is simpl
Emma Sea
Feb 22, 2018 marked it as dnf
I quit at 46% (which is actually 2/3 of the way through as the ebook finished at 68%) and watched the crib notes

Very well written, thoroughly researched, but I found it a drag read.
Apr 14, 2011 added it
I find it impossible to rate this book. The author is astonishingly erudite, and this book must be the culmination of a lifetime of research and study. The problem with the book is not just that it’s difficult and dense, but, more importantly, that it’s difficult to put the pieces together and get a coherent picture. McGilchrist is making an enormous claim, and he has written a magnum opus to prove it. The individual chapters offer amazing information and insight into not just brain and neurolog ...more
Oct 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
Interesting subject matter, unconvincing conclusions.
Note to self: The first chapters are a real slog to get through, with a litany of neurobiological and psychological differences between the left and right hemispheres, but after McGilchrist sets down all the facts as he found them, it's a fascinating read. Though he repeatedly cautions the reader that the hemispheric differences are not to be considered absolute in any way (as they depend on each other and we are almost always using both hemispheres in our day-to-day lives), his book ironically ...more
Erik Graff
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Julian Jaynes fans
Recommended to Erik by: Tom Miley
Shelves: psychology
This is an ambitious work, reminiscent of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind, but without the happy ending. The first half is a review to date of research in the hemispherical differentiation of the human brain. The second half is a survey of Western history since Homer, told in terms of presumed shifts of hemispherical dominance. One is also reminded of C.G. Jung's Psychological Types, another survey of Western history related to psychological theory, focused primarily on the history of ideas.

Randy Fertel
Jul 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Magisterial treatment of left and right brain hemispheres by a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who read English lit (and apparently philosophy) at Oxford. This is where neuroscience comes of age. McGilchrist offers a readable account on the workings of the hemispheres, then a sweeping account of how in history since the Greeks -- reflected in literature and philosophy and science -- they have come to dysfunction, the rationalistic left brain usurping the intuitive gestalt function of the right. ...more
Vagabond of Letters
Jul 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
2/10. A terrible book which could be profitably, and with little loss, compressed from its current 600-page bloat to no more than the 40 or 60 pages of a short thesis, and even more profitably then have its thesis inverted. I save the appellation 'truly terrible', which I don't believe I've used before, to denote that if someone were to write the exact inverse of this book - interpreting opposite to the author in a framework inverted from that present - that someone would probably have a four-st ...more
Richard Newton
A long slow read for me. McGilchrist seems to be one of those people who really does have a brain the size of a planet - few people could be a consultant psychiatrist, have done scientific research at John Hopkins and taught English at Oxford. His wide spanning knowledge shows in this book where he flows effortlessly between discussions about the structure of the brain, philosophy, literature, poetry, art and history. This is intellectually impressive stuff.

This is a disturbing book, well argued
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
Part 1 is great and would get 4 stars on its own, but I'm left wishing I hadn't invested so much time reading part 2. The principal thesis of the book is a defense of the right brain against the mainstream view of it as a flaky, playful, and less competent portion of the brain. Part 1 does this on the grounds of the latest science, which provides fascinating revelations. For example, a right-brain stroke is more debilitating than an equivalent left-brain stroke, and many of common psychiatric il ...more
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a phenomenal book, perhaps one of the best I've ever read. It is neither short nor an easy one. There are more than 500 pages of very dense text that could easily span above 800 in a bit more conventional typesetting... But the true challenge comes from the author; a true erudite, a modern day polymath, who effortlessly combines neuroscience, with philosophy, with literature, with arts, with social sciences and humanism, and even things that are completely in between, to create a coheren ...more
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This work is not for everyone, but I give my highest recommendation. If you have ever had an interest in the brain, consciousness, or how we all perceive and engage the world, this might your cup of tea. Iain McGilchrist does an incredible job with developing our current understanding of the brain from a hemispheric point of view. The work completely altered my understanding of the right and left hemispheres. The way the right and left sides work are not what you may think. The book then takes y ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow--while I found this book completely fascinating, it is NOT an easy read. It took me a long time to finish it, though I'm very glad I did. I am intrigued by the workings of our brains and this book was a very thought provoking, informative way of looking at current brain research and how it applies to history.

This book points out the complexity, the divided nature of thought itself and asks about its connection with the structure of the brain. McGilchrist looks at the relation between our tw
May 04, 2016 rated it liked it
I was compelled to read the Master and His Emissary after listening to the author give the annual Laing Lecture Series at Regent College this Spring. Spending 3 hours listening to that series will give you a much faster overview of his thesis in M&E and a good sense of his main ideas, but the book itself is worth the read if you’re up for it.

The book is divided into two sections: a neuroscientific overview of the brain and its two hemispheres, and how they differently approach the world, an
Darin Stevenson
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: neuroscience
This book is a key element in understanding the modern milieu in which our species has become 1/10th of our ordinarily accessible intelligence, and think ourselves deities. McGilchrist has done a promethean task; ironically, too — he has sketched with incredible insight and detail the nature of the hemispheres as their are peculiarly organized for producing distinct worlds, and what happens when the dominant ‘twin’... attempts to usurp sovereignty. Essentially, cognitive, relational, social, pol ...more
Like a religious tome-- need to own, re-read & contemplate.

Can't help but think of Leonard Schlain's work positing that the rise of alphabetic language fueled domination by the left hemisphere, resulting in changes in culture. (Also seems like this book explains why we are Predictably Irrational and Strangers to Ourselves, etc.)

Oddly, reading this (& others) prompted me to ponder Fiction (perhaps because have taught Romeo & Juliet to 9th graders). That is, Fiction's domination over
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
Goes way beyond what science currently is able to tell us; the authors makes some sweeping, grandiose claims and generalizations while giving the false impression that the views described are backed by solid, incontrovertible data, instead of disputed, controversial, or even nonexistent facts. The author is sometimes guilty of presenting myth as fact,
On the plus side, it's an interesting read and a welcome respite from the torrent of popular neuroscience and popular psychology works arguing that
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: neuroscience
The main criticism I'd level against this book is that due to the length and density of it, it is not going to be as widely read as it deserves to be and may become one of those books people pretend to have read.It was for me an arduous undertaking requiring frequent breaks, but to give the author credit I found it compelling enough to persist and was never driven to the point of putting it back on the shelf or overdosing on coffee.
What was most off putting for me was the second chapter dealin
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Oh this is such a difficult book to sum up.

There are very, very few books like this.

Some of this has been covered or hinted at by others, but not in this way. Something McGilchrist says which bears repetition is that he does not want to fall into a simplistic or stereotypical way of thinking about the left and right brain, and he doesn't.

I've seen good and bad newspaper reviews ie reviews by people who really have read it (Mary Midgely) and by people who have skimmed it (Boyd Tonkin).

Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
After using neurology, neuroscience and psychiatry to explain Heidegger, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, and thus why a fragmented, decontextualized, devitalized, and self-referential worldview will only lead to meaninglessness and inauthenticity, and ultimately "a distinctive combination of superiority and impotence", the author then canvasses the trajectory of Western cultural evolution and social changes, citing in particular philosophy, paintings and poetry to illustrate his thesis. Thro ...more
Wesley Schantz
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing

So interesting to follow the intellectual ferment of the day some! Peterson promoting this book, this book excoriating Pinker and Chomsky, the latter holding court on Democracy Now... Here are some of my favorite parts of McGilchrist's magnum opus.

In the section Music and Time, having observed that "It has been said that music, like poetry, is intrinsically sad": "The relationship between music and emotion is fascinating, and to some degree baffling.
Miha Mazzini
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I usually don't write and comment on the margins of the books, but this one got me going. In the end, just few pages were left intact. Great.
Paul Cockeram
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Over the course of thousands of years, the human animal has increasingly become the self-conscious animal, growing ever more enchanted with the mysteries of how and why we think. Neuroscience has lately become our greatest hope, it seems, for solving this ancient mystery, and Iain McGilchrist worked for twenty years on the problem of self-consciousness. In examining the problem, he crossed boundaries between the sciences and the humanities, relying upon brain imagery and numerous studies while a ...more
Steve Greenleaf
Growing up in America as a member of the Baby Boom generation, I know that I’ve lived in the best place and the best time in the history of the world—or at least very close to it. Canada, some European countries, Australia, and later Japan can lay some claims to being the best places ever, but suffice it to say that I’ve been lucky. Yet, despite all the material comfort and security that my country and culture have allowed me, there’s still a sense that things aren’t as they should be. The twen ...more
Dana Kraft
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I give this book 4 stars even though I only liked the first half or so of it. I think the overall thesis is fascinating, but I mostly liked his description of how our minds influence and shape the world around us. That has kept me thinking for months. As I read further in the book, I kept returning to that and ended up not even caring about most of the chapters about the history of thought, art, culture, etc.

It took me forever to finish this book. It’s dense and difficult to read, which started
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Ironically there are the occasional assumptions based on abstractions that are not true, almost as if the writer is dressing up in the clothes of the right hemisphere but still carrying out the work of the major left. I want to credit McGilchrist with trying to do the impossible but I will instead criticise him for being foolish to do it in the wrong way.
As the inconsistencies and blindfolded approach show, like most non-fiction works, it is the tyranny of the analytical mind trying to fit evide
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an extraordinary book. It is big and dense, but nevertheless quite readable. And its underlying theme is one that any reader would be able to grasp and apply in thinking about the world we live in. It is difficult, even dangerous, to reduce this data-driven and nuanced presentation to a few words. It does see many of our "modern" problems as arising from the dominance of left-brain processes. These are the literal interpretations of acquired knowledge. Those are just fine, so long as the ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Brain Science Pod...: The Divided Brain 2 31 Apr 29, 2012 12:31PM  
  • The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self
  • Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique
  • The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God
  • Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos, and the Realm of the Gods
  • The Pleasure Instinct: Why We Crave Adventure, Chocolate, Pheromones, and Music
  • The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience
  • Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth
  • A World Without Ice
  • Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter
  • What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life
  • Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England
  • Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain
  • Zen and the Brain
  • Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything
  • Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind
  • Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness
  • Complexity: A Guided Tour
  • Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind
“None of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.
The word 'true' suggest a relationship between things: being true to someone or something, truth as loyalty, or something that fits, as two surfaces may be said to be 'true.' It is related to 'trust,' and is fundamentally a matter of what one believes to be the case. The Latin word verum (true) is cognate with a Sanskrit word meaning to choose or believe: the option one chooses, the situation in which one places one's trust. Such a situation is not an absolute - it tells us not only about the chosen thing, but also about the chooser. It cannot be certain: it involves an act of faith and it involves being faithful to one's intentions.”
“Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalise; words depersonalise; words make the uncommon common.” 8 likes
More quotes…