Rick Smits' "The Puzzle of Left-Handedness" is a clever look at the sociology and science of left-handedness.

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‘The Puzzle of Left-Handedness’

by Rik Smits

Reaktion, 304 pp., $35

Let’s get one thing straight: It’s not weird that 10 percent of the human population is left-handed. It’s weird that 90 percent is right-handed. In all other animals that show handedness (or pawedness or flipperedness), the split is virtually even. So why are humans so lopsided? Nobody really knows.

Sorry, that last line should have carried a spoiler alert, because it gave away the ending — and the middle and the beginning — of “The Puzzle of Left-Handedness.” There are no startling conclusions in this book. And left-handed apologists: Don’t look for any coddling, either. Rik Smits is darned if he’s going to grant southpaws any special powers or status. His basic premise is that left-handers are just people who, you know, favor their left hands. Instead, he takes a rambling tour through the sociology and science of left-handedness through the ages — providing a fair amount of snarky commentary along the way.

Turns out it hasn’t always been that bad for lefties. Oh, sure, the left side of things has long been identified with darkness, magic, illness and death. But all in all humans have conducted surprisingly little persecution of left-handed people, according to Smits. (Well, except for designing scissors, spiral notebooks, power tools and lots of other implements for the tyrannical convenience of the right-handed majority.)

Smits is no artist (unlike lefty all-stars da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael), statesman (unlike the five of seven most recent presidents who were left-handed) or super cool dude (unlike Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney), but he is a clever and thorough researcher. “The Puzzle of Left-Handedness” can get pedantic but is sprinkled with enough oddball characters and head-scratching factoids to keep you reading. Or at least 10 percent of you.

Greg Schneider can be reached at schneiderg@washpost.com.