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

The hand as the key to the brain.


The hand is, among other things, a complex symbol, representing both the creative and the prosaic. This blending of the spiritual and the mundane is what makes the hand unique, as it in turn makes us unique among animals. Neurologist Frank R. Wilson has taken on a heroic task: to explain the hand on both of these levels and to show us how we use these marvelous instruments to find and create meaning in our lives.
Anthropology, neuroscience, music, and puppetry all figure prominently in The Hand, which effortlessly guides the reader through its million-year biography. Brains and thumbs growing and changing to accommodate each other, discovering tools and language together, kicked us out of the monkey house for good. While there is still controversy over whether we are the brainiest animals on the planet, it is abundantly clear that we are the handiest.

This manipulative ability is our greatest strength and our most terrible flaw. Without hands we would have no Louvre but also no nerve gas. But, Wilson says, our situation is more complex. Our access to far greater means to achieve our ends gives us a greater hunger for meaning. We long to use our hands to satisfy our needs—whether spiritual or down-to-earth. This creation of meaning from nothing may be our greatest achievement. In the end, The Hand is brightly optimistic, showing that our reach truly does exceed our grasp