The Divided Brain: Iain McGilchrist explains ‘why we are so unhappy’ in his new ebook short

The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning

The Divided Brain…

Following the release of Frank Ledwidge’s ebook short Punching Below Our Weight last month, we take a look at a new ebook essay from psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist. The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning, published this week, gets to the root of an essential human question: why are we so unhappy?

“If we take a look at the brain, lying there on the pathologist’s slab, the first thing that will strike us is that, despite millions of years of evolution, it has remained deeply divided. And that is odd, since the whole purpose of the brain as we understand it is to make connections. How can this be? Evolution would never have sacrificed the apparent advantages of massively greater interconnectivity, unless there were a commanding advantage in, at the same time, keeping some things apart.”
–Iain McGilchrist in The Divided Brain… 

Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissarya fascinating exploration of the differences between the brain’s right and left hemispheres and their effects on society, history, and culture, was published in 2009 to instant acclaim by critics and book buyers alike, selling extremely well all over the world. McGilchrist’s combination of fascinating neurological research with a deep knowledge of Western culture and a profound insight into what it is to be human struck a chord, and, ever since, Iain has been deluged with follow-up questions and suggestions, and invitations to speak at events and conferences. Last year the RSA even animated one of his lectures (in conjunction with the aptly-named Cognitive media – see below).


Since the publication of The Master and His Emissary there has been an staggering amount of interest in a potential follow-up from McGilchrist, who is a former psychiatric consultant and has taught English at Oxford. However, as McGilchrist’s bestselling book drew on more than twenty years of research, a new full-length book would be a significant undertaking. Instead, to coincide with the new paperback edition of The Master and His Emissary, Yale invited Iain to write one of the first in a new series of short, lively e-books by some of our most popular authors, in which he draws on his research into the role of the right and left hemispheres to address the crucial question: just why are modern Westerners so unhappy?

Iain McGilchrist

Iain McGilchrist

In The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning (priced at just over £1) McGilchrist asks why – despite the vast increase in material well-being – people are less happy today than they were half a century ago, and suggests that the division between the two hemispheres of the brain has a critical effect on how we see and understand the world around us.

In particular, he suggests, the left hemisphere’s obsession with reducing everything it sees to the level of minute, mechanistic detail is robbing modern society of the ability to understand and appreciate deeper human values.

“In the contemporary world, where I fear we are currently in thrall to the left hemisphere’s way of thinking, the problem, that the piece of paper has become more important than the reality that it refers to, is endemic. Surgeons have a saying that is, I sometimes think, only half-facetious: ‘the operation was a success, but the patient died’… Nowadays the operation is scarcely required, as long as the box was ticked. That way success is assured, because ‘that’s what it says on this sheet of paper’… In life we need the contributions of both hemispheres. As Kant memorably put it, concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind. We need the contributions of both, but for different purposes. An uncritical following of intuition can lead us astray, but so can an uncritical following of logic.”–Iain McGilchrist in The Divided Brain… 

Accessible to readers who haven’t yet read The Master and His Emissary as well as those who have, The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning is a fascinating, immensely thought-provoking essay that delves to the very heart of what it means to be human.

The publication of McGilchrist’s 10,000 word essay coincides with a series of new short ebooks from Yale. Last month we published Frank Ledwidge’s Punching Below Our Weight, which looks at the problem of rivalry between the top ranks of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Ledwidge argues that senior generals, admirals and air marshals have focused more on empire-building within their own services rather than on the needs of the UK armed forces as a whole, with enormously damaging results.

To keep an eye on new short ebooks from Yale authors visit our Yale Shorts page.

Read an extract from the new edition of The Master and His Emissary on this blog.

Share this


  • Hey, I just stopped in to visit your site and thought I’d say I enjoyed myself.
    I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for putting up. “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”

  • I purchased “Master & His Emissary” in hardback shortly after it came out. I regard it as one of the most profound works of philosophy (with the necessary contemporary demands for a scientific basis and research to support the thinking) that I have ever read. For me it follows in a direct legacy from Hannah Arendt’s “The Life of the Mind”.
    This video animation of Mr. McGilchrist’s lecture is a fantastic resource as a summation of the principles McGilchrist discusses in his book. I have bought a couple of copies for friends as well.
    Absolutely thrilled to read this new essay, I purchased it from Amazon, so thank you very much.

    I would just like to say, though, _please_ do not forget about hardback. This is not a book that should really be in paperback in an ideal world, it should be in hardback or ebook only, the shrunk size of the text to fit the paperback edition and the weaker strength of paperback binding is fundamentally flawed for a book like this which should be kept for a lifetime. If there are any extra versions published of this great work, they should really be in hardback or ebook only. (As it is, I might consider printing the new essay and having my original hardback edition rebound with the extra pages added. The portability of ebooks is absolutely essential for publications of essays in particular, but to read 100,000 words on a screen is painful, if not indecent. I rather suspect that just about every author in the world of any esteem would agree…)

You must be logged in to post a comment