Left-handedness seems no big deal. After all, it didn't stop anyone from becoming President of the United States. Many of us - just like Barack Obama - are left-handed and those of us who aren't don't really give left-handedness any thought. Yet throughout history left-handedness has been associated with clumsiness and with unpleasant traits such as untrustworthiness and insincerity. Just look at the Latin word for left, sinister, redolent of all kinds of ominous connotations. For author Rik Smits, left-handedness is a puzzle. Why has history been so unkind to our left-handed forebears? In this book he carefully puts together the pieces of the puzzle, presenting an array of historical anecdotes, strange superstitions and weird old wives' tales. In 38 brief and entertaining chapters, he relates how left-handedness was and is associated with maladies of all kinds, including mental retardation, alcoholism, asthma, hay fever, homosexuality, cancer, diabetes, insomnia, suicidal urges and criminality. Even the twentieth century has its opponents - or are these just advocates for right-handedness? - with one prominent psychologist announcing it was tantamount to 'infantile negativism', the equivalent of a refusal to eat everything on your plate; and another claiming left-handed people had lifespans nine years shorter than average. As Smits reminds us, speculation about left-handed mortality was and remains public entertainment - hardly the stuff of real illness. The Puzzle of Left-handedness is an enlightening, engaging and often entertaining odyssey through the puzzles and paradoxes, endless philosophizing and theorizing, of left-handedness lore.

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