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The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History Paperback – Oct 28 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Canada (Oct. 28 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0676976646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676976649
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #59,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

A book about filthy people really has no business being thoroughly entertaining. But author Katherine Ashenburg's The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History, which charts the history of human hygiene, is a winner from start to finish despite concerning itself with a motley cast of real-life characters who either don't wash at all (medieval Europeans) or who wash themselves with almost ritualistic fervor (ancient Romans and Greeks).

With exhaustive research and a brisk writing style, Ashenburg similarly transformed grief into a must-read subject in 2002's poignant The Mourner's Dance. Here, she lays out factoid after unbelievable factoid, each demonstrating how hygiene impacted society in ways much greater than just causing a stink. For example, in the mid-17th century, because "washing the body happened so seldom, it ceased to be a subject for painters." In ancient times, men and women bathed communally, spawning a lucrative prostitution business. And the dawn of the advertising age took notions of personal cleanliness and cosmetic care to often ridiculous proportions. In Ashenburg's capable hands, this is really fascinating stuff, with plain old dirt receiving one of the most compelling (and improbable) biographies of the year. --Kim Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

According to Ashenburg (The Mourner's Dance), the Western notion of cleanliness is a complex cultural creation that is constantly evolving, from Homer's well-washed Odysseus, who bathes before and after each of his colorful journeys, to Shaw's Eliza Doolittle, who screams in terror during her first hot bath. The ancient Romans considered cleanliness a social virtue, and Jews practiced ritual purity laws involving immersion in water. Abandoning Jewish practice, early Christians viewed bathing as a form of hedonism; they embraced saints like Godric, who, to mortify the flesh, walked from England to Jerusalem without washing or changing his clothes. Yet the Crusaders imported communal Turkish baths to medieval Europe. From the 14th to 18th centuries, kings and peasants shunned water because they thought it spread bubonic plague, and Louis XIV cleaned up by donning a fresh linen shirt. Americans, writes Ashenburg, were as filthy as their European cousins before the Civil War, but the Union's success in controlling disease through hygiene convinced its citizens that cleanliness was progressive and patriotic. Brimming with lively anecdotes, this well-researched, smartly paced and endearing history of Western cleanliness holds a welcome mirror up to our intimate selves, revealing deep-seated desires and fears spanning 2000-plus years. 82 b&w illus. (Nov. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gustav A. Richar on July 27 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author shows any curious reader the fluctuations of human cleanliness--well, mostly uncleanliness--from ancient Rome to our days. This is a well-researched book, which took the author four years to write and edit. It is a treasure chest offering the oddities of beliefs regarding the human body. For centuries "not washing" yourself was considered healthy and supported by medical doctors. The author reports about unbelievable deficiencies [forwarded by medical people of consequence] for "healthy" dirt and stench.

Exceptionally revealing are the vignettes offered on most pages like: how to cure the goat-like stench of armpits or when the chamber pots were emptied onto the streets of Madrid or where in Europe "the devout do not wash their bottoms." This would be a great read while, after a day's work, commuting home in an overcrowded subway, tram, or bus, with their many human smells filling the space.

But there's also another aspect. Whenever I watch now a movie set in--say--1720, I can imagine what's missing in this movie: dirt, filth, and the invisible stink.

This is a fascinating book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER on Jan. 22 2008
Format: Hardcover
In this book, the author discusses the varying views that people have had through the ages on the subject of the cleanliness of the human body. Spanning the period from ancient Greek times to the twenty-first century, the book contains details on the varying extents to which people sought (or desperately avoided) bodily cleanliness; the associated reasons for the many shifts in perspective are also presented. There is much fascinating information presented here and in great detail. On the down side, there may be too many details for the casual reader, and some of the detailed descriptions are (or seem to be) repetitive. Unfortunately, this tends to nudge some passages towards the boring side. The writing style is clear, friendly and accessible, although it seems to lack that certain spark that would make the book difficult to put down. But despite these minor drawbacks, this book certainly does contain a lot of fascinating information that should be of interest to anyone. However, I suspect that history buffs would likely relish this book the most.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on Aug. 20 2010
Format: Paperback
I heard Katherine Ashenburg talk at one of the Banff Literary Primetime lectures last month. She described how she wrote this book - with trepidation and recurrent doubts about whether she was up to such a large task. Well, I think she definitely was up to the task! 'The Dirt on Clean' is a fascinating read: a non-fiction-page-turner filled with fascinating facts (complete with references) about the history of human cleanliness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laura O'Reilly on Oct. 9 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has everything you could want for a biography.
The author goes through each century and along the way she give you little tid-bits and fun facts or stories that make this look light, fun and breezy.
You never realize how clean people where back in Roman/Greek times and how dirty we were in Medieval times, or how wrap our sense of clean has become now, we are OVER clean.
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