cover image The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture

The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture

Frank R. Wilson / Author Pantheon Books $30 (397p) ISBN 978-0-

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. (July)