A pop-science look at how hands play a role in physiology, psychology and making us human.
The human hand is a complicated device, and Leas offers a comprehensive portrait of its mechanics and its impact on everything from American history—a disproportionate number of presidents have been left-handed—to crime prevention. (Leas even includes a story about her difficulties having her own fingerprints taken.) The book begins with an overview of the hand’s evolution, from early humans to modern Homo sapiens and then moves to the complicated relationship of its muscles, bones and nervous system. This section’s illustrations are particularly helpful in giving readers a sense of the anatomy it describes. The book goes on to show how hands play an essential part in communication, from gestures that accompany speech to the different forms of sign language that have developed around the world. Leas also explores hands’ cultural aspects, including the different expectations regarding hand-holding around the world and its growing importance in romantic relationships. The author also cites studies that examine how frequently basketball players touch each other during games’ high and low moments. The book addresses pseudoscientific disciplines such as handwriting analysis and palmistry without dismissing them wholesale, but the author maintains a respectable skepticism and draws on mainstream studies to support her cautious approach. (She’s more positive toward chiropractic medicine and other holistic treatments, based on her own experience, but she also explores the role of the placebo effect.) The book is strongly sourced, with plenty of in-text citations as well as substantial notes at the end. The prose is often a pleasure to read, particularly Leas’ glints of humor, such as her description of a treatment for muscle spasms: “a combination of gin and ibuprofen—not a lasting cure, much less a sensible one.”
A balanced evaluation of the ways that our hands shape our lives.