This text proposes that the invention of the alphabet and the process of reading itself fundamentally rewired the human brain, with profound consequences for culture, history and religion. It claims that the result was an immediate decline in the status of women and the rise of monolithic masculine cultures. Making connections across subjects including brain anatomy and function, anthropology, history and religion, the author argues that the very act of reading reinforced the brain's left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, concrete, feminine right. The balance between men and women shifted, initiating the decline in women's social and political status.
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Something happened early in human history that made us go wrong--something that turned men against women and caused sexist oppression and other crimes. Leonard Shlain believes that that thing was literacy, and in particular the literacy of a small male elite; the skills needed to read and write over-privileged one side of the brain and sent humanity dangerously mad. He pursues this hypothesis from Ancient Egypt to Greece and Rome and on into the Middle Ages; usual suspects like Moses and Plato are rounded up and given summary justice. Shlain has hopes for humanity--the increasing role of other media, media based on music and images, means that lost balance is being regained, that equality and the sanity it demands are flooding back. Books that argue so global and controversial a hypothesis need to be well argued, and Shlain is generally up to the task; a habit of special pleading and an autodidact's capacity to ignore contrary evidence are only flaws in his excellent presentation of his case. Various thinkers have suggested something of the sort of course, but Shlain develops those hints into a consistent and intermittently convincing whole. You do not have to agree to be impressed. --Roz KaveneyAbout the Author:
Leonard Shlain is the author of Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light, and The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. He is the chief of laparoscopic surgery at California Medical Center in San Francisco.
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