Read Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing by Katherine Ashenburg Online


Investigates history's ambivalence towards personal hygiene. From the bizarre prescriptions of doctors to the eccentricities of famous bathers, this book presents us with the twists and turns that have led us to our own, arbitrary notion of 'clean'....

Title : Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781846681011
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 368 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing Reviews

  • Carol.
    2019-02-15 22:13

    I love a clean space. I actually like cleaning, particularly when it involves dusting my bookshelves. There's something about a room where I've just removed the dust, hair and debris that says, 'order,' followed by 'exhale.' In the old days, I used to need/have to clean my room before I could work on any term papers. So when I saw this title, I was intrigued. I'm well aware 'clean' is psychologically, personally and culturally defined. I have, after all, lived with other people, one of whom would have dust bunnies the size of hamsters under the bed, and another whose tolerance for dirty bathrooms inevitably resulted in me cleaning it. Every. Week. But I digress. Unfortunately, The Dirt on Clean is largely about Western bathing rituals, from early Greek and Roman period to the English in the Middle Ages and 19th centuries, and then finally modern American. It was vaguely interesting, in a sleepy-time bath kind of way.On the entertaining side, if you've ever wondered how Western bathing rituals evolved through the years, you'll find a reasonable detailing here. The ancient Greeks (no mention of the modern ones) were well known for public baths, plumbing, and a culture that encouraged bathing for both social and health reasons. Hippocrates apparently believed hot and cold baths could bring the body's humours into balance. Of course, bathhouses also served as an important social setting.Ashenburg then devotes a chapter to Christianity and bathing, particularly the unusual non-emphasis on physical cleanliness/ritual as compared to other religions. In fact, excessive washing "signified vanity and worldliness," (p.59) as well as potentially immodest exposure. Hot baths might also be stimulating, a concept that would be echoed in the Victorian era.Several more chapters discuss varying aspects of bathing through Europe during the next millennia. Some areas retained bathing and bathhouses (the Swiss, the French) through the 1300s, but the plague ended up being a fatal blow to the conception of water as healthy because of the growing belief that baths and water opened the pores and let "pestiferous vapour in" (p.94). Mr. Francis Bacon, as a matter of fact, had a regimen where a person had a pre-bath oil and salve routine to close pores, sat in the bath for 2 hours, then wrapped in a waxed cloth that had herbs and resin for 24 hours, intending to re-close pores and 'harden' the body.Further chapters explore the return of cold water bathing in the 1700s which coincided with the view that the pores should be open so that germs could be flushed away from the body. Technology facilitated the rise of bidets and ocean 'baths' in the 1750s. As the trend gained traction in the upper classes, the issue became how to convince the lower classes to clean up, covered in the return of baths/bathouses and development of showers in the 1800s that was connected to cholera. A subsequent chapter looks at plumbing in America during the same time frame, followed by soap and marketing in the early 1900s, and the crazy war on germs from the 1950s onward.My problem with this book is that it was neither fish nor fowl. On one side, it talks about cleanliness from a ritual and conceptual standpoint, occasionally tying it into medical theory or physical resources. The problem with this approach is that she also uses stories as examples of rituals, when--as readers know--sometimes stories are as much about what we wish or fantasize about rather than what is. Or, you know, metaphor. Like using Fifty Shades of Grey to talk about sexual rituals in 21st century America; although they are connected, there's a difference between cultural practices and cultural entertainment. So my academic criticism would be that she muddles her anthropological analysis. For instance, getting the lower classes to bathe was illustrated by Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady. I'll also note that although she rarely brings in examples of various bathing rituals in other countries, it usually lacks context.On the other side, she also enjoys sharing the Trivia(l) Pursuit or Entertainment Tonight type of stories where we get the scandalous and shocking details of what they did Way Back When, such as when Jean-Jacques Rousseau griped that a house was so full of "maids and teasing lackeys [that] I do not find a single wall or wretched little corner" to pee in. She also tries periodically to bring in the issue of 'smells.' Although in the opening chapter she recognizes smell as cultural concept, she still brings it into many of the chapters where people had habits that would be considered culturally unsavory now, but then slams modern (American) culture for being so smell-conscious now.In an effort to be appropriate, I usually read it in the bath, which accounts for the many days it took to complete my reading. it might have also contributed to its soporific effects, in contrast to those crazy Victorians thinking it heats the blood. It's not a bad book, but when it comes to non-fiction, I prefer less attempts to be titillating and more focus on substance.

  • R K
    2019-02-20 19:57

    If anyone ever tells you that you shouldn't be spontaneous. That every decision in life needs a solution. Shove this book in their face. I just saw this book randomly on my Goodread's rec list and thought, "Why not?. What could you possible tell me that I don't already know? Challenge me, book!" And this book, did not disappoint. Everything was built up and up and up and I can tell you that I was giving myself a good scrub down and wash while I was reading this book. Water and Sanitation is something I will never take advantage of. Katherine Ashenburg did a fantastic job in going through history and telling the story how people from different cultures viewed the simple concept of hygiene. It's a lot more complex than you can possibly imagine and the effects of each culture's mentality had affected them both positively and negatively. To you and I, the simple concept of maintaining your hygiene is something you don't even think about. You were taught when you were young and then you just added it to your routine. Yet, had you been brought up in a different timeline, your views would have definitely been different. It's incredible to think that such a minuscule task was something that challenged societal views. I'm talking big issues such as views on "What made a man?", "Is keeping clean a sin?", "How much is too clean?","Can the temperature of water affect my manliness?", "If my enemy cleans, should I not to distance any possible association I have with them?", "What does it mean to be clean?"You may laugh at reading these questions, but I kid you not when I say that these were dilemmas people faced throughout history. Mind you, this book focuses more on European and North American notions and history. Yet, it's fascinating and mind boggling to read how people viewed cleanliness throughout different timelines. You've got conceptions of public baths being normal to it becoming a dreaded sanctity. You have people shunning the idea of having a bath but being totally okay with wading thorough a public bathhouse filled with other people's germs, dirt, blood, hair, and god knows what else. For a long period of time, cleanliness was represented by having closets loaded with clean white linen. It's why today, we still view clean white linen as a sign of cleanliness. So the next time you see a painting where the subject is wearing clothes that show their linen underclothes, realize that it's not because they're trying to be "hot" for their timeline. It was the way of displaying wealth and cleanliness. The concept of cleanliness was so ingrained in people's head that if your enemy kept clean, you wouldn't This happened in Spain when the Moors invaded. The Moors kept clean so the Christians decided to not keep clean as a propagandist act of patriotism. It got to the point where after taking back the invaded land, they declared a law stating that any Moor who converted had to give up bathing. And in court, you would get automatic suspicion if someone accused you of bathing. This notion of staying dirty might boggle and disgust you but there was a reason as to why they saw things this way. It was simply because 1. most people had a fear of water 2. It was considered a sin to bathe too much as it would make you vain. In fact, during the middle ages, the cleanest group of people would have probably been Jewish women. After each menstrual cycle, they were required to take a special purifying bath that required them to have nothing touching the skin. So they would have had a minimum of 12 baths (maybe less depending on how frequent periods were as physical exercise does have an effect on period frequency). Can you imagine though, if the cleanest person in your community took a bath only 12 times a year????Despite having slightly different views on hygiene, most European countries had a fear of water. They had the misconception that water (especially hot water) would remove the "protective" layer of dirt off of one's body allowing harmful pathogens from the outside to come into the body through the now open pores of the skin. If people were to take baths it was due to illness where a special herbal bath was taken. This was because most people up til probably the late 1800's strongly believed in the principles of Greek medicine where there would be 4 humors that needed to be balanced at all times. There was also the fear that water was the "unknown". Who knew where it could take you or what could be hiding within in. Ironically, the lack of regular maintenance is what led to the widespread of many plagues. If you look in the course of history, you will see that most plagues were occurring in Europe. Why do you think that it, especially since the Europeans viewed the East as "Those that bathe.". There was also the conception that regular bathing (if at all any bathing) would lead to prying eyes, vain behavior, and of course, acts of immodesty (ahm..ahm..). Clearly chastity was ranked higher than hygiene... Needless to say, people STANK.Fast forwarding years later, it seems as if the people in America became the pioneers in hygiene. A lot of research was done in the late 1800's to early/post WW1 on hygiene but little was done in actually implementing anything because people didn't want to change. But America did. For them, since there was so much land, it was okay to have expensive homes with built in baths. Yes, people. The only reason we have bathrooms in our house was because Americans were rich enough and had enough space to facilitate it. Soon with the introduction of women to the work field, people became conscious of the odor (yes...smelling clean came from the notion that offending a women by your smell would be despicable) and marketing companies leapt at this goldmine. It's why today many complain of Americans as being too obsessed with hygiene (yes, there is such as thing as being too clean). But you can't blame the people. No. The fault lies in the marketing companies (do I see a familiar trend for today's issues???). However, I also learned some cool things such as how Kotex came to be. You know the infamous pad company? Well guess what their original pads were made from? It was the same bandages that were used to sop up the blood from injured soldiers because people believed that if it was good enough for the soldier, it would be good enough for the women (especially since people were more keen on insulting women after seeing their tenacity during the wars).At the end of the day, this book was magnificent. there were many pictures and little tidbits of information here and there. Ashenburg knows how to capture and audience and how to inform you without boring you. I loved this book (clearly), but you know what surprises me the most? That at the end of it all; even after going through the history of just how important hygiene is, I still see people leaving the washroom without washing their hands. -_-

  • Laura
    2019-02-18 14:07

    Currently in America the average person can visit a drugstore and find entire aisles devoted to a previously unimaginable number of products to clean our bodies with: body wash, shampoos, conditioners, body scrubs, face scrubs, bar soap, liquid soap, gel soap, exfoliators, foaming cleansers, etc... And each of those products is available in a wide range of scents that allow us to choose to smell like baby powder, lilacs, vanilla, sweet peas, even chocolate. In this atmosphere it is easy to forget - if we ever knew - that until relatively recently in human history people smelled like, well, like people. Most of the time they didn't have a choice, but even when they did there was no consensus about the desirability or even the healthfulness of being clean. Over the centuries doctors have repeatedly advised against bathing for reasons as diverse as the fact that washing away the coating of oils on the body "opened the pores" to disease or that regular bathing would lead to "sinfulness" and ultimately insanity.The Dirt on Clean is a fun look at the standards of personal cleanliness down through the centuries. Ashenburg doesn't have any new information to add and if you are interested in the subject and have already read other histories I doubt you will learn anything you didn't already know, but she has an easy, friendly writing style and the book is interspersed with quotes and illustrations that make it a quick read.

  • Victoria
    2019-02-12 19:05

    I have a confession to make. This modern obsession of cleanliness has somewhat passed me by – both in regards to the home and to the body. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from dirty but 2-3 showers a week, regular hand/face washing and daily clean clothes seem to suffice for me. I’ve never bought into this ‘need’ for 2 showers a day, face masks and portable hand sanitiser to be used in every day life. I’m neither dead nor sick (surprise surprise). I’ve always wondered, quietly, to myself, for fear of being thought of as a dirty harlot, whether I am more natural than others or just plain weird and so the blurb on that back of this delightful looking book (admit it – a good cover always helps) pulled me in immediately. Katherine Ashenburg does pretty much what the title suggests. The book details a seemingly well-researched and thoroughly referenced history of washing through Europe and America, starting with the Romans and ending, of course, with modern day. It is full of delightful little factoids that I will most definitely be repeating for a while (until they are pushed out of my memory by other dirty thoughts). From communal – even social – defecating to the belief that blocking the pores with dirt will prevent infection to the obsessive, unnatural cleanliness of modern Americans, this book provides an amusing, entertaining and thought-provoking read. Occasionally, it is true that the narrative is a little jumpy and lacks a polished shine but these occurrences are few and far between and can certainly be forgiven when Ashenburg’s charming and passionate voice shines through. Even in the course of the more mediocre parts of history, particular the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when washing was distinctly average (extremes are far more exciting), Ashenburg’s personal delight and excitement by the things she has learned through her research is obvious and that in itself can create delight and at the very least, interest in the reader. If you are interested in social history and enjoy an amusing and easily readable narrative, this fascinating little book is most definitely for you. It will take you on the roller-coaster of ever changing ‘clean’ rules and regardless of where you land in the ‘cleanliness scale’, it will show you that are most definitely not alone.

  • Tintin
    2019-01-22 19:03

    Emerging squeaky clean after a shower where I lathered my hair with vanilla-scented shampoo and conditioner, scrubbed every inch of my body with J&J milk body wash, and rinsed off everything with soothing warm water, I often used to wonder how our ancestors did without the conveniences of soap, showers, or toilet paper.How did they get by without deodorant? Without toothbrushes or toothpaste? How did they clean their backsides and how did they banish unpleasant odors away?Fortunately for me, Katherine Ashenburg had done the research to answer my burning questions. The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History chronicles the history of washing in the Western world from Roman times to present.The short answer? Humanity did without soap and deodorant for millenia. But did they wash their bodies? It depends on the religion, country, and time period. The early Greeks and Romans were very well washed but didn't use soap. Instead they used a metal implement called a strigil to scrape off dirt. Muslims and Jews were required by religious law to wash. Christian Europe, on the other hand, shunned washing for centuries.Christian saints and mystics, who associated the Roman practice of bathing with hedonism, never washed at all. Abbessa Paula, friend to St. Jerome, said: 'A clean body and a clean dress mean an unclean soul.' The familiar adage 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness. wouldn't come until many centuries later.Throughout medieval Christian Europe, bathing was something to be feared and suspected. Most people took a bath only once a year -- royalty even less. Taking a bath was so dangerous kings only took one upon doctor's advice and with an excess of precaution. For kings and nobles, the crux of cleanliness was in washing the hands and changing into a clean linen shirt everyday. They covered the dirt on their bodies with makeup, powdered wigs, and flamboyant dresses. Dirt and bodily secretions were considered protective and healthy. Washing and soaking the body, no. Bad breath, body odor, lice, and fleas were the order for the day.Yecchhh. Which brings another question: How could they bear to have sex with each other? Ashenburg writes: " In fact, there's no evidence that the birth rate ever fell because people were too smelly for copulation."Yes, people most definitely smelled. But in a world where everyone smells the same, no one would know the difference.In fact, fastidiousness in cleanliness and keeping odors at bay is a very recent introduction. It took root around the latter half of the 20th century thanks to the efforts of soap and deodorant advertisers. All of a sudden, young men and women the world over were terrorized thinking they could be losing jobs, sabotaging relationships, and offending others with their body odor -- without even knowing it!And so in less than a hundred years the evolution of personal hygiene, at least in the developed world, has made a 360-degree turn. But heightened cleanliness with the advent of antibacterial soaps, constant handwashing, and sanitized environments has brought about an unexpected result: highly resistant strains of bacteria have emerged, and people's immune systems are getting weaker. Have we become too clean?It's evident from many of my Japanese friends who experienced severe diarrhea simply from taking a sip of Philippine tap water, the same tap water that millions of Filipinos drink daily. One even had a severe case of food poisoning after eating raw salad from a buffet at Manila Hotel! Clearly Japanese immune systems, used to high levels of cleanliness in food handling and preparation (perishable goods expire mere hours after production based on the stamped date) are poorly equipped to handle the myriad bacteria present in our food and water.My favorite lines from the book are Ashenburg's arguments that "Clean is a moving target" (Cleanliness is relative. What might be considered clean today might not be tomorrow) and that "The nose is adaptable and teachable." (No, I don't think we can do much about our brother Bumbays/Kenyans/Arabs except live with their natural odor). As for myself, my only argument is this: If we Filipinos paid half as much attention to the cleanliness of our surroundings as we do our bodies, imagine what a much better place our country could be.Rating: 4.5 stars, because I hoped for more coverage on Asia and Ashenberg never mentioned anything about backside hygiene. To compensate, she has references to hygiene practices (or lack thereof) down there.

  • P.J. O'Brien
    2019-02-15 18:50

    I loved this book. It temporarily fed the insatiable curiosity that I never quite grew out of. I'm the sort to stop suddenly while in the shower to wonder how the notions of indoor plumbing or soap came about. I'm always intrigued about how cultural systems and perspectives develop and how each is influenced by others. The focus of this book is primarily Europe, and given the diverse practices even on that one continent, I think it would be hard to broaden the scope much further in one volume. Influences from other countries and consequent influences on North America are noted, but it's busy enough covering such a broad range of history, cultures, and geography. It describes the virtues or horrors (depending upon the place and time) of bathing in hot water, bathing in cold water, bathing in lukewarm water, or bathing at all, especially if it involved body parts that aren't generally seen. It brings up an interesting chicken-egg what-came-first musing for me: do clothing patterns determine bathing patterns or did bathing constraints determine clothing styles? The book is full of interesting quotes, paintings, and ads. I tried to keep the various beliefs over time about the sanctity or fears of a full immersion bath in my head while browsing through an art museum yesterday. For some, to go without bathing was to show piety and humility. For others, bathing frequently was to show a desire for holiness and purity. Where heating water was an extravagant use of fuel and privacy was limited, bathing in cold water was not a comfortable thing. Perhaps it’s not surprising that bathing in comfortable temperatures was often believed to sap people of strength or make them slothful. In the days before central heating, the tendency to linger in a warm bath probably happened whenever the opportunity allowed, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that those immersed instead in frigid water jumped out quite energetically as soon as possible. Even so, stories of those who spent four to six hours at a time in warm baths were pretty mind-boggling. I can't help but think they had nothing better to do once out.For many of us, cultural notions of hygiene were determined quite a lot by various marketing campaigns of the last century or two, punctuated here and there by war and disease outbreak. It’s a little jarring, but perhaps not surprising, that what’s now held to be good health and the minimum of manners was born out of ad campaigns between competing 19th and 20th century soap or deodorant manufacturers. Ultimately, there are still the questions: what’s really necessary for good health, respect for those around us, and our own enjoyment? The book doesn’t pretend to give the final word, but rather gives us how various societies chose to answer.

  • Wealhtheow
    2019-02-02 21:58

    I foolishly neglect to take notes while reading this book, so I don't have precise dates, hilarious anecdotes and strange factoids to share. However, all of those things can be found within these pages! Engagingly gossipy, with a clear organizational structure, this was an easy to read introduction to the very broad subject of hygiene. The book focuses mostly on Western Europe, with some side notes and comparison to the Middle East, northern Africa, the US, and a few others. Basically what I got out of this was that just as we are taught in schools, the Roman Empire was a shining moment of cleanliness. Before and after (once the infrastructure of the pipes started to crumble), Europeans were dirty, bathing maybe once a year, and the rest of the world was rather disgusted and astounded by them. Common misconceptions were that water weakened the skin's defenses against diseases, and that wearing clean linen, not water, was the safest and most efficacious method of staying clean. Washing ones hands, face and sometimes feet was often the most even a hoity-toity type would do. Eventually soap became easier to make, less smelly, and more effective, and sanitation too improved, and Europeans started bathing more often. The author discusses how what counts as "clean" has changed throughout the ages and varies by place, as well, and mentions that perceived dirtiness is often a method of denoting us-vs-them against immigrants, minority groups, etc.

  • Lyndsay
    2019-02-08 22:10

    An utterly fun book to read, this history of cleanliness starts in Rome, and brings us up to today. From the fear that a bath would make you gay, a bath would kill you, not having a bath would kill you, swimming in the ocean would kill you, a shower would kill you, and some steam would kill you, to the belief that not bathing every 24 hours will make you a social recluse, this book raises some intersting points about cleanliness and the lack thereof in our long history of soaking for hours, or only bathing at our baptism, marriage, and deathbed.

  • Amber
    2019-02-16 19:59

    Super interesting topic, and I am glad I read this book. However, it was written kind of oddly... Most of it read like a history text book (think watching old-school documentary instead of new "fun" documentary), but then at the *very* end in a tiny section about modern cleanliness the author suddenly switches to super personal-opinion, judgy mode. I happen to agree that Americans today are way too obsessed with cleanliness, but to see such an abrupt switch in writing style was really... weird.

  • Fiona Hurley
    2019-01-30 17:50

    Every age thinks that its own attitude to cleanliness is the "normal" one. Modern Europeans and Americans think that it's normal to shower daily and apply deodorant. Other ages had different ideas.Ancient Romans thought it was normal to spend hours in the public baths, using no soap but scraping sweat and dirt off their bodies. Early medieval Europe had public baths which were used regularly, but these disappeared after the Black Death. Elizabeth I and Samuel Pepys lived in an age when bathing too much was thought bad for the health; those bewigged courtiers probably reeked, but "when all stink, no-one smells". The phrase "the great unwashed" could not have existed before the 19th century, when the rich started bathing on a regular basis and the comparative dirtiness of the poor became evident. In the 1920s, advertisers strove to convince women that they could never find and keep a husband without the correct hygiene products (the phrase "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" was invented by Lysterine), although previous generations managed to have a healthy love life despite their stinkiness.Ashenberg has written a fascinating history, outlining the changing attitudes to cleanliness and hygiene from Roman times to the modern day. She holds a mirror up to history and to our own day, when an overemphasis on squeaky-cleanness may be contributing to allergies and ill health (the "hygiene hypothesis"). The scope is limited to Europe and North America, except for a brief comment about the different attitudes of Muslim and Japanese people, but with that one caveat I would recommend this as an entertaining and informative read.

  • Julie Bestry
    2019-01-30 13:51

    I recently had a conversation with a friend, a physician, about sanitary conditions at various points in history, and she particularly wondered how civilization (such as it was) continued procreating when surely (almost) everyone smelled so bad! I vaguely recalled what I'd learned about the Roman baths and wondered how, and at what point in history, did reverence for cleanliness give way to filth and fear of water, and this book provided that and so much more.Ashenburg provides an anthropological history of bathing and cleanliness from the Greeks and Romans through modern times that, at turns, fascinates, disgusts, delights and provokes thought. Whether you're interested in Germ Theory vs. the Hygiene Hypothesis or the rise of modern bathrooms, or just wondered how the heck the Romans got the water all over the city back before remotely modern technology, this book has an angle for you.Be prepared to pester your friends with bath-based trivia for days or weeks to come. Did you know, for example, that "by 100 B.C., nine aqueducts provided each Roman with 300 gallons of water a day, four times the average consumed by a modern North American"? Also be prepared to cringe at quite a few of the tales of water-averse folks through time.The only thing I'd have liked would have been a wider-scale approach to the bathing customs in non-Western venues. Ashenburg touches on Africa only lightly and in reference mainly to the higher incidences of cleanliness among Muslims than Christians in Spain, references India in only a few tangential sentences (mainly to mention a Hindu man's shock at the lack of prescriptions of bathing rules and rituals in Christianity), Japan on only 7 pages (out of 300) and China on only four. There's practically no mention of hygiene culture or history in aboriginal peoples, either in North America (which is largely ignored until the Civil War era) or elsewhere, and while the interlacing of religion and cleanliness among the three major monotheistic faiths is examined, mostly from a sociopolitical standpoint, there's hardly a whisper of how bathing and hygiene played roles in other faiths' customs.

  • Nicola
    2019-02-13 14:56

    I seem to have read several non-fiction books recently where the pitch doesn’t quite match the book itself. With its cutesy title, The Dirt On Clean* promises to be popular history at its best. Indeed, in places, Dirt is a breezy and amusing look at the history of washing. But the whiff of academia can’t quite be washed off. Parts of Dirt feel overlong and rather boring – as if they belong in a much more serious history book. (*Mystifyingly, this title was changed to simply Clean for UK publication. Why? Because British people hate puns?)Dirt betrays just a little bit of research laziness, too. The book tends to careen from subject to subject, based (I suspect) on what Ashenburg was able to find material for, rather than providing a smooth narrative. We also spend far too long in the 20th century. Do we really need a history of what bathrooms were like 20 years ago? I can remember what they were like then!All in all, Dirt is a diverting read – one filled with fascinating historical factlets that you’ll immediately want to share with people – but it’s not quite the sparkling chucklefest it has been pitched as.

  • Jamie Collins
    2019-02-06 14:02

    A fun and interesting book that traces the history of the standards of personal cleanliness in the Western world, beginning with the elaborate baths of ancient Rome.The author describes the many forms of public and private bathing which have been considered normal over the centuries. She points out that Christianity is one of the few religions that doesn't insist on cleanliness of the body, and describes times and places where bathing with water was thought to be impious, unhealthy or unsavory. She examines ideals of cleanliness which seem incredulous to us, such as the 17th-century notion that clean linen was a superior alternative to bathing with water.I agree with some of the points towards the end of the book, about how modern American cleanliness has perhaps gone too far - particularly with some of the products marketed since the 1960's for women. But for the most part I'm grateful for the lack of odor coming from my fellow citizens.

  • Nicole
    2019-02-18 17:53

    Wow! I read this book for my book group, Bound Together, and boy am I impressed! This book was unlike any other. I will confess that I times I was a bit grossed out, but Ashenburg's detail on the history of cleanliness made the book impossible to put down. I cannot believe how much has changed! The transition from public bathing to the obsessive need of Americans to bathe daily is surprising when you know the scandalous past of showers! I learned so much about the social history of cleanliness and I hope to use much of what I've learned in the history class that I teach. Remember, this book is not for the faint of the heart!

  • Ellen
    2019-02-17 16:03

    This is a wonderful book! The writing is lively and the anecdotes are great. I learned so much ... and laughed a lot.

  • Brunilda
    2019-02-01 15:14

    Piacevole excursus storico che racconta l'evoluzione dell'igiene (o della sua mancanza) dai Romani ai giorni nostri. Molto leggibile, con spunti interessanti che fanno rivedere da un'ottica diversa epoche come il Medioevo, pecca però per il punto di vista esageratamente focalizzato sull'asettica pulizia degli americani, quasi presentati come metro di misura per il resto del (non così lindo) mondo.

  • Karen Brooks
    2019-01-25 20:09

    A tremendous book that reads beautifully, is researched impeccably and which, most importantly, makes social history fun and relevant. Starting in Greek and Roman times, Ashenberg takes the reader on a journey through hygiene and sanitation practices and rituals (and lack thereof) right up to the present day - in the Western World. She explores the role of sex, religion and medicine, fashion and health and the influence they have all had on how we treat our bodies. I found myself laughing out loud, squirming and screwing up my nose and at times agog with the facts and anecdotes she relays. One my favorites was about a royal who was bathed for the first time at seven years of age! Using only words, Ashenberg brings alive the smells, sights and even sounds of yesteryear and in many instances I am grateful I had to rely on my imagination alone to evoke those times! Bringing us right up to the present day, she cannily reconstructs the role advertising and other pressures as well as myths play in our understanding of our bodies and the notion of both 'clean' and 'dirt' revealing that soap operas are not for TV alone. A terrific read. Highly recommended.

  • Kaethe
    2019-02-19 21:03

    Now it's on the stack, and I can't remember why the title appealed to me.***Northern Europeans of the Middle Ages didn't stink as much as I thought. The public baths were quite popular all over until Plague broke out. Nor did I realize that the "stews" which were closed down in Southwerk weren't just brothels, but were bath houses, too.So, I'm enjoying this enormously. Except for an annoying tendency by the author to present beliefs as facts. Unavoidable, I suppose, because otherwise there'd be nothing else but caveats, but still, it bugs me.***I'm well into the nineteenth century now, with Harriet Beecher Stowe among the sanitary advocates.***Interesting to see how the US outstripped everyone else in our zeal for cleanliness and deoderant and teethwhitening and so forth. But I was more entranced learning about clean linen and Beau Brummel than about modern baths. The stuff about Josephine's many bidets, that's where the fun is.

  • Kim
    2019-02-03 16:07

    What a fantastically interesting book! Speaking as someone who loves her long, ridiculous baths, reading this book was a fascinating glimpse into the history of bathing, and what it means to be "clean." Informative, engaging, and honest - Ashenburg does preface by saying that this will be a look into Western ideals of cleanliness, which now makes me wonder how we stack up against Eastern traditions, which are tantalizingly hinted at. It's thought provoking as well - makes you wonder the hows and whys to what we do, and perhaps, if we can do some adjusting. Really, as I was reading it, it made me think about certain stereotypes - for example, the "dirty hippie", and what the "dirty" part meant, and why "dirty" is so often used to discredit someone or something. I can't recommend this book enough as a lovely little curio into something that I don't think most readers think about / consider in our day to day.

  • Jane Night
    2019-02-16 14:53

    I really enjoyed the history in this book. This is an incredibly interesting topic and reading the book gave me a somewhat new perspective on how we look at cleanliness and also how we judge historical people.Many of us have the idea that everyone in history was gross and stinky and that our modern bathing rituals are new and super civilized but those things are not necessarily true.I enjoy non fiction books about various history topics so this book is something I was very eager to read. While I enjoyed the content, I have to say I found the writing just a bit on the dry side. This was not a page turner for me and it took me almost a month to get through just because I didn't feel it particularly calling to me when I left it; particularly once I passed the Medieval Age section.This book is worth reading but for the interesting content but just be aware that it might be a challenge to get through if you are easily bored/distracted.

  • Tracy Trofimencoff
    2019-02-07 18:07

    This is one of the best and most interesting books I have read in a long time. Ashenburg has examined this sometimes taboo subject with both fascinating facts and illustrations. She takes the reader through a journey of clean or in many cases, the filthy hygiene of the past into the obsessive cultural of clean of the 21st century. This book sparked many conversations in my house along with laughter and shock at some of the past practices of what it means to be clean. I highly recommend this book.

  • noelle
    2019-02-07 21:13

    people weren't stanky, and then they were, and then they weren't againi'm halfway through this and i'm bored because how much can you say about how often people did and didn't bathe? like, obviously, there's plenty to be said but it just isn't interesting enough to me. sadly i'm stuck slogging through the rest of this book because sux2bme, that's just the kind of book-reader i am. i should say that it isn't actually bad, just duuuuuuullllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll. (that's supposed to illustrate how it is dragging on and on!!!) pls pray 4 my ability to finish this book.

  • Lee
    2019-02-16 18:10

    This is a truly entertaining and fascinating examination od Western Civilization and its habits of cleanliness of person, house, and street. Also, you'll get glimpses into Eastern cultures that influenced or scorned the Western ways. The text ends asking the question of whether Americans have set unattainable heights of personal cleanliness and bodily perfection. I enjoyed the humor and historical anecdotes throughout the book.

  • Maggie
    2019-02-08 20:59

    A lovely pop history on humans and personal hygiene, starting with the Greeks and Romans and ending in the present day. It's a fast and fascinating read, but take it with the appropriate grain of salt (which is what happens when you have to make sweeping generalizations). Also, she used the word "strigil" probably 124 times.

  • Olwen
    2019-01-30 18:18

    They did what?!!! Was my frequent reaction reading this book. It examines bathing and hygiene practices right back to Roman times. After reading this I remain endlessly grateful for my current life in the 21st century and my own hot shower on tap. Just can’t imagine life without being able to bathe (but apparently some people never did….!)

  • Marilyn Belsham
    2019-02-05 18:56

    Buckets of interesting anecdotes but lacking a little humour...which isn't a necessary element in this type of book, but it does help sustain interest when talking about nothing but bathing for 300 pages.

  • Polly
    2019-02-14 20:56

    I skimmed this because it had to get back to the library, but it's a decently entertaining view of cleanliness in the West. I think today's unbelievable focus on "clean" is soooo fascinating, and it was just such a tiny part of this book. Good stuff, though.

  • Krista D.
    2019-01-24 17:58

    A solid book on the history of western sanitation, accessible enough for anyone to read. Bonus points for the inclusion of Muslim and Jewish wash habits in the middle ages, which provided an excellent contrast to the Christian views.

  • Cyndi
    2019-02-01 21:09

    A well written, well researched micro-history of personal cleanliness and its progress through the ages.As a side note...damn! Some ancient peoples were GROSS!!!

  • Alison
    2019-02-01 21:01

    I wanted to love it - I normally love histories of quirky and interesting every day things in life like food, manners, clothing, etc. This book is very well researched and has tons of info, but it's .... boring. It just wasn't shocking as I was hoping or full of fun facts. It's informative but meh.... didn't make me have to call my husband to tell him of any super cool crazy fact from the past as I normally would. It reminded me of a very long research paper, written clearly and concisely but boring.