Generally Speaking

The Matter with Things [Iain McGilchrist]

I have just posted this review on Goodreads of this massively important book.

The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World by Iain McGilchrist

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Nobody who understands Iain McGilchrist to be a Master, as I do, could commit the folly, fall into the trap, of trying to be his Emissary.

Iain McGilchrist has spent the 11 years since the publication of The Master and his Emissary’ assembling, arranging, tuning the left hemisphere tools he has to use – words – to try to evoke in our minds the cloud of right hemisphere ideas that he wants, with burning urgency, to share with us.

He knows – as well, I submit, as anyone has ever known – that it is intrinsically impossible to transmit such ideas as any kind of finished ‘thing’, however long he might strive to perfect its intricacy. That’s the point. That, in essence, is ‘the matter with things’. He will explain if you let him.

And to do this, the master must do his best to choose the words – the things – accepting their limitations, to be sent into the world, and you, as his emissary. And to that extent his labour is now ‘finished’. He has brought forth a book, or actually two books ā€” two things indeed ā€” and beautiful things they are, thanks to his personal curation.

That’s a paradox of course, but that mystery is in his message as well.

I further submit that any person who reads The Matter with Things with a receptive mind (is that too much to ask?) or who listens to McGilchrist’s recorded talks and conversations, and who becomes aware of the richness of his experience across disparate fields, expert and professional, and who witnesses his easy familiarity with such an astonishing range of sources (the Bibliography alone fills 182 pages of Volume II) and glimpses, with me, the almost superhuman achievement of organising this prodigious whole, conceived over such a long period of time, into one coherent, lucid, readable, indeed compelling, narrative thread, can doubt that he is uniquely equipped for this task.

A task which is nothing less than to challenge the basis of Western, reductionist thought since the time of Plato. He’s not the first, but may well be the best. From my own rich experience of life, as a husband, a father, a family doctor as it happens, plus a lot else, his message rings profoundly true. I believe it is incredibly important.

I urge you to get the book and read it and respond to it in your particular way. We shall never see its like again.

The above was written to post on Waterstones bookshop website as I reached the end of Volume I. I don’t want to lose its freshness by re-writing it now. But now, having reached the end of the whole work, I just want to add that the second volume brings the thesis to a magnificent and (as others have said) potentially life-changing culmination.

And the other thing I would say is: yes, by all means dip in and out if you like, as some have suggested here, but I strongly urge you to read the whole thing, and take your time, and let it gradually sink in. It is most beautifully readable, and the whole journey a slow crescendo of wonder.




View all my reviews

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