Simply messing around in books


Gert has been bending her brain to serious matters in these last few weeks. First, Iain McGilchrist’s The Master And His Emissary:The Divided Brain And The Making Of The Western World. Gert was taught that the right hemisphere is the “minor” one, sort of messing round with music and spatial and emotional stuff while the left hemisphere does all the important jobs. Not so, according to the research McGilchrist describes in the first half of the book. It’s the right, he argues pretty convincingly, that’s the more complex and nuanced. It sees and weighs things in context. It’s the master. Or it should be: McGilchrist thinks the left hemisphere, with its addiction to rules and systems and black-and-white thinking, has far too much sway in the modern world. The first part of the book setting out the scientific evidence for the different ways the hemispheres work, is fascinating; the second half pushes the argument a bit too far, but is interesting in its own right for its coverage of art, philosophy and music. If this sounds forbidding, it isn’t; this is a book for the lay person who’s interested in what makes us tick. It will make you look at yourself, and other people, in quite a different light. It almost makes you understand Donald Trump.

And with the anniversary of Trump’s election upon us, a new biography of Tricky Dick, Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell. Of Nixon’s very first campaign, where he won by beating the communist drum against a man he knew wasn’t a communist, Farrell says:
Audacity. Resourcefulness. Resilience, Toil…political prescience and an almost visceral identification with the longings of his constituency.
Yet in that campaign, as well, are inklings of tragedy – portents of a slide into the deepest valley of disgrace. Some were idiosyncracies – the awkwardness and detachment, surmounted by will. Others were more troubling: the erosion of worthy purpose and its supplanting by expediency. The great, haunting need, and chronic insecurity. The use of smears. In the crucible of the presidency such cracks could give way, and such a man could shatter
A fascinating and troubling insight into the inner workings of the presidency and the awesome consequences of presidential decisions. You see just how much the character of the president matters.


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