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If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  2,462 Ratings  ·  371 Reviews

Why did the flushing toilet take two centuries to catch on? Why did Samuel Pepys never give his mistresses an orgasm? Why did medieval people sleep sitting up? When were the two "dirty centuries"? Why did gas lighting cause Victorian ladies to faint? Why, for centuries, did people fear fruit? All these questions will be answered in this juicy, smelly, and truly intimate h

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 7th 2012 by Walker Books (first published 2011)
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Fascinating and enjoyable social history of the home!

"Every single object in your home has its own important story to tell..."

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home focuses on the history of the home, mainly four rooms - bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. Most of the book focuses on English history and distinguishes between various social classes. The noble class and their servants feature prominently in the stories.

Changes in hygiene, technology, and social customs and
I am only on page 36 and am already pretty frustrated with this, and I may or may not keep reading. This is exactly the type of chatty, sociological survey that I adore, but I also adore proper citations in my non-fiction.

For this book, there's a bibliography, there's a topical index, but there are NO FOOTNOTES. If you tell me that a medieval travel guide used certain phrases, then I want to know what travel guide it was, I don't want to have to pour through the bibliography hoping to stumble a
Sharon Stoneman
A very lightweight treatment of a very interesting subject.

It turns out that the book is an accompaniment to a television program of the same name that was shown on the BBC. And it reads as such. There are four main sections, looking at the bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen. Within each section there are little bits related to those areas - some are only a page or two, some a little longer. They are written in a very conversational style, and while I'm sure Dr. Worsley has an appropriat
Dec 07, 2014 Nikki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
If Walls Could Talk isn’t exactly an academic, peer reviewed, footnoted piece of work, but it is kinda fun as a light read. Some of her etymological claims seem a bit spurious, some I’m sure I’ve heard debunked elsewhere, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. I think it could’ve been more interesting if she’d gone more into the things she experienced for herself like sleeping on a rope bed, blacking a range, etc, etc. That’s a perspective most of us don’t know anything about, and which she couldn’t ...more
Apr 25, 2012 CS rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, Anglophiles, Social historians
IF WALLS COULD TALK is a fascinating social history of the home. Written in a very chatty and informal manner, it is a breezy read that even the most history-adverse will find fun and easy to get through.

A few caveats, however:

1) This is about the BRITISH home. Actually, to be even more specific, it is about the ENGLISH home, as Scotland, Wales and Ireland are barely mentioned.

American (not to mention non-Western hemisphere) domestic dwellings and habits evolved differently. And while the Unite
Lucy Worsley opens the door and casts the reader in a medieval one room dwelling. She drags them through the centuries and drops in the court of Henry VIII (repeatedly) and later walks her audience through all the specialised rooms of a Victorian house. She airs the royal bed-sheets and empties the chamber pot (again, repeatedly).

In a word, she brings history alive.

All the things a modern man (or woman) might instinctively associate with medieval, Tudorian, or perhaps Victorian age, the author
Biblio Curious
Pretty good micro history of the home!! It's packed with cool trivia about everyday items, expressions and duties. The Medieval times were by far the most interesting! It covers the evolution of the home right up to modern day's environmental issues in a concise conclusion.
Feb 25, 2013 Orsolya rated it liked it
Shelves: history, library-2
Those who heavily read historical-related material are familiar with “odd” rooms, items, and even customs in the common household of the past. However, just how much do you know about the evolution of such things as: toilets or toilet paper, a hair dresser, or a fork? Lucy Worsley, known to BBC audiences for her television host work as the Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, reveals the hidden “lives” of our homes in “If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home”.

“If Walls Could Ta
Mar 18, 2012 Iola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful-William Morris

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home is written in a very readable tone, and covers the four main areas of the house: the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room and the kitchen, from medieval times to the present day. While most of the books I review are Christian, this one is not, and those with delicate sensibilities might be advised to avoid it.

As ‘An Intimate History of the
Simcha Lazarus
May 29, 2012 Simcha Lazarus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, had recently published a book in which he takes readers on a tour of his house, examining the history of each object in it. Since I love Bryson's writing style and enjoy learning interesting facts about random objects, this was a book that I was really looking forward to reading. Unfortunately the book wasn't quite what I had expected and after a couple of chapters I set it down permanently. Shortly afterwards I came across If Walls Could Talk, which soun ...more
Jul 18, 2013 Melody rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What there was of it was terribly interesting, there just wasn't enough of it. There were also precious few citations and no footnotes. Each chapter was much too short, and only just scratched the surface. To suit me, each chapter should have been a book of its own.

Also, I expected An Intimate History of the Home to be a history reaching back further in time, and ranging over more of the world. This should have been titled An Intimate History of the Home in Britain from the Normans On, With Spe
Michelle L
Jul 22, 2012 Michelle L rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is one of two simultaneous difficult reads, and this is the one that's not worth the effort. Which is very disappointing as it was highly recommended and my interests in design and history were practically lapping at the metaphoric nectar this book was supposed to serve up.

I haven't seen the series hosted by the author, Dr. Lucy Worsley - who has one of the world's dream jobs as chief curator at the not-for-profit caretaker charity Historic Royal Palaces - and perhaps her flighty, tip of t
Worsley has collected a large set of amusing anecdotes, mixed it with easily digested history, and presented it as "the history of the home." It's charming, if flighty. If you already know much English history, few things will surprise you--but if you don't, I'm sure you'll find this fascinating and useful for countless ice-breaking dinner conversations.
Dec 30, 2015 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Great piece of history in written form. Interesting, funny, and written with a cracking pace. I learnt a lot, even though I know this type of history quite well. I love Lucy's style. It's like I'm sitting having a chat with her.

It took me a while to finish it because I've been reading novels at the same time. But I could have devoured this much faster if I had wanted too. Instead I savoured it.

I shall now read her other book "The courtiers"

** Having glanced down the list of
Mar 14, 2016 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Надеюсь продержаться еще месячишко на фактах из этой книги, заполняя соцсети фотографиями интерьеров работодателя. Вроде наглядно получается - на картинке свечи, хрусталь, цветы, и подпись: "А вы знали, что раньше свечи ЖРАЛИ в голодные времена?"
Strange to have left this unfinished for so long whilst knowing how likeable it is. It's a guilty-pleasure history book: full of fascinating factoids and inferences about every day human behaviour in the past - the kind of thing that could inspire a teenager to do a history degree; however, if gathering evidence for an essay, you'd need volumes like those in the bibliography, as there are no footnotes, and this is obviously just popular narrative history to be devoured like a story.

Last year I s
Jodi Blackman
Excellent book. Thank you to whoever commented about it on a review of Bill Bryson's At Home, which I have also read. My full review will follow soon.
I'm really not sure why I am so fascinated by how my forebears lived. And I'm not talking about the big stuff, like a biography of Lincoln or Washington or Henry VII. I want to know what the average man did to earn his keep, feed his family, and clean his house. How did he clean himself? What kind of clothes did he wear? How were they fastened (buttons and zippers are relatively modern inventions)? What kind of home did he live in? Were people really half-drunk all the time, as they drank beer i ...more
Feb 01, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Making magic by imagining the past
Want to know how Tudor England dealt with a gravy stain on the tablecloth? They peed on it. Or more accurately and with more decorum, the household laundry staff blotted the greasy spot with urine, which it turns out is a great stain-fighting agent.

Worsley loves to ham it up and obviously delights in imagining all that history can offer the present. Her interest is infectious and passing on her enthusiasm seems to be her purpose in writing the book. To me, she
Pauline Ross
This is a fairly lightweight and easy to read discussion of the history of the four main rooms of the house: living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Starting with the medieval manor house with its single large room, the author describes the origins of each separate room, how they were used in the centuries since and what that says about the society of the time. This could have been very dull and dry, but actually it's a lively read, filled with anecdotes and stories of the people of the time ...more
Jan 19, 2012 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

From the blurb:

Why did the flushing toilet take two centuries to catch on? Why did Samuel Pepys never give his mistresses an orgasm? Why did medieval people sleep sitting up? When were the two 'dirty centuries'? Why did gas lighting cause Victorian ladies to faint? Why, for centuries, did people fear fruit? All these questions will be answered in this juicy, smelly and truly intimate history of home life. Lucy Worsley takes us through the bedr
Amy L. Campbell
Note: Advance Reader Copy received via Netgalley.

Although many comparison will be drawn to Bill Bryson's "At Home" (2010), I believe that Lucy Worsley's addition to our knowledge of the home and home life is superior for several reasons. To be sure, Bryson has his charms, but "At Home" was a particularly disjointed ramble, although an enjoyable one. Worsley, however, manages to stay very much on topic, and focuses less on how the introduction of new technologies and information changed the room
Feb 13, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing
From the title of this book, you might expect a historical treatment of the home itself -- perhaps a book about architecture -- but it's far more than that. Lucy Worsley, chief curator for Britain's Historic Royal palaces, uses the four main rooms of the home -- the bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen -- as a framework for revealing the lives of the people who live within those walls.

It sounds dull on paper, but the book is fascinating. And it answers questions I've always wondered abou
Jun 23, 2016 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The audiobook reader certainly maximized this book's flaws, using odd accents and voices when quoting children, French people, Germans (those two oddly similar), Americans, and various regional English people (also oddly similar). The dragging in of all sorts of tangential history to the "these four rooms" doesn't make the book any less repetitive, and despite the research, this book comes across as oddly speculative. And...what is it with British nonfiction that we are ending with the author's ...more
Jun 28, 2012 Stef rated it really liked it
Not having read Bill Bryson's At Home, I am nevertheless aware of his history of the home as one of the leading histories on that subject. I was interested when I saw this book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, was Worsley just ripping Bryson off? Well, yes and no. It is a similar idea, but as the author is British curator of historic places, her viewpoint is somewhat different than Bryson. Most of the improvements Worsley discusses are about Britain and the Royal families from Tudor to presen ...more
Justine Olawsky
Mar 15, 2015 Justine Olawsky rated it liked it
This casual history of the home is divided into four parts: the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen. I think I am getting a little tired of Lucy Worsley, so I was glad to finally finish this one. I'm not sure if it was just not as interesting as I thought it should have been, if it was the writing style that was grating on me, or if I was just ripe for a novel and went with a conversational, chatty non-fiction full of many disgusting "fun facts" instead. Whatever my problem w ...more
Apr 05, 2012 Ariel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is the second book that I've read based on a BBC radio program. The first was A History of the World in 100 Objects which I enjoyed a great deal. I wish we had radio programs like that here. In any case the author of this book is the head of the agency that preserves several important British landmarks such as The Tower of London which is why the history of the home is told from a decidedly British point of view. If other cultures contributed to what constitutes our modern dwellings, the id ...more
Sep 30, 2016 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
AMAZING book by one of my favorite historians.

I feel like I have so much to learn from Lucy Worsley, not only interesting facts, but also how to write a damn good book! I love her writing style, it's just like she's talking to you in one of her tv programmes. Also, I learned so many new little history tidbits that I am sure to pass on to anybody willing to listen.

The concluding chapter was a nice ending to the book. It made me slightly frightened of the future, but it really brought the histor
This is the perfect bathroom book. And I don't say that in a derogatory way, or because a quarter of the book is devoted to that room. The book is presented in convenient "bite-sized" chapters filled with interesting tidbits on a variety of obscure topics relating to four rooms of the house: Bedroom, Bathroom, Living Room, and Kitchen. It is easy to digest a sliver of the book and come back some time later to resume without missing anything. Discovering the origins of various phrases like "Chair ...more
I always been curious about the everyday life of people in prior times so I got in line for this book at the library right after reading a review.

It is generally an interesting book with some excellent information on day to day household life in prior centuries. Unfortunately for my curiosity, most of it focuses on intimate history of upper classes. I realize there is not much source material available for middle and lower classes. Mundane everyday life was rarely recorded for ordinary folks and
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I was born in Reading (not great, but it could have been Slough), studied Ancient and Modern History at New College, Oxford, and I've got a PhD in art history from the University of Sussex.

My first job after leaving college was at a crazy but wonderful historic house called Milton Manor in Oxfordshire. Here I would give guided tours, occasionally feed the llamas, and look for important pieces of p
More about Lucy Worsley...

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“Many argue that the twentieth century’s council estates have had disastrous social consequences. People in poverty feel, and indeed actually grow, poorer if forced to live in a sink estate, while the middle classes flee to their own leafy ghettoes outside city centres. A successful ‘place’ mixes up the different groups in society, forcing them to mingle and to look out for each other.” 6 likes
“This change in biological understanding had enormous implications for society. Women gradually shed their medieval stereotype as insatiable temptresses in order to become the Victorian ideal of pure, chaste, virginal angels. A society where sexual order was maintained by physical chastisement gradually began to give way to internal moral codes, where behaviour was policed by social forces such as shame and expulsion from the community for sexual transgression.” 4 likes
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