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

The Dirt on Clean by Katherine Ashenburg
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's review
Sep 05, 2009

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bookshelves: non-fiction, social-history
Read in September, 2009

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.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Nancy (new)

Nancy This is a nice review of a book I probably would never have picked up or read. Now I know why I am crazy -- too many baths. Someone should have told me earlier. Guess it was poor parental guidance.

Laura I can't let my 10-year-old see this review - he'll use it as ammunition in his "anti-bath" crusade.

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