Wealhtheow's Reviews > The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History

The Dirt on Clean by Katherine Ashenburg
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Oct 04, 11

bookshelves: historical, health, non-fiction, british-history
Read on August 01, 2011

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.
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