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If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home

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3.83  ·  Rating details ·  3,451 ratings  ·  471 reviews
Why did the flushing toilet take two centuries to catch on? 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 rich people fear fruit?

In her brilliantly and creatively researched book, Lucy Worsley takes us through the bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. She
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Published May 28th 2012 by Tantor Media (first published 2011)
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Melissa
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
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Nikki
Dec 07, 2014 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
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
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CS
Apr 25, 2012 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
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Leslie
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a scholarly tome, you don't get bogged down with details. This is a chatty, tour guide type tale of the history of the house. The house in England, I am sure there are hundreds of different stories about houses around the world but they aren't in this book. I am not complaining I am just explaining what you get.

Instead of starting at the beginning and working her way to the end, she separates out individual aspects of the home and follows its iteration from the Norman Conquest
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Christine Nolfi
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chock full of fascinating anecdotes, If Walls Could Talk is an engaging history of domestic life in the Western World. Curious about the origins of the phrase "chairman of the board"? Ever wonder when the fork came into use? Would you believe a Mr. Crapper was instrumental in the widespread production of toilets? At turns whimsical and amusing, this intimate history of the home is that rarity among history books: a fabulous page-turner.
Simon Clark
If Walls Could Talk is a mostly enjoyable, frothy look at the history of the home. In England. The book is based on Worsley's experiences as a working historian in a variety on historical homes in England, and so it could be expected that the book would focus on English homes. It does, however, do this to the exclusion of all but the most passing mentions of homes elsewhere, and this does the book a great disservice. A far more interesting (and admittedly, ambitious) project would have been a ...more
rameau
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
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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.
Orsolya
Feb 25, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Iola
Mar 18, 2012 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
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Simcha Lazarus
May 29, 2012 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 ...more
Diane S ☔
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One can tell when reading this book that the author had a great time and a fascination for her subject. Although comparisons can be made to Bryson's "At Home", I found this book to be less rambling and more centered. She takes the major rooms of the house and traces them and everything that goes on in them from dressing, underwear (or lack of such)to chamber pots. She also traces the different time periods and shows how they and the people in them have changed. It is mostly her writing style ...more
Melody
Jul 18, 2013 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
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QNPoohBear
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is a companion to a BBC series presented by Lucy Worsley. The book is divided like the show into sections: bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen. I found the first section on the bedroom most interesting. I had no idea that the President/Prime Minister's Cabinet was named after a literal cabinet (closet) and am ashamed to say I never caught on to the fact British homes don't have closets the way our do in the U.S. Some of the information presented in the bedroom section is graphic ...more
Antonomasia
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
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Michelle L
Jul 22, 2012 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
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Sue
Dec 30, 2015 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
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Wealhtheow
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.
Ariel
Apr 05, 2012 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 ...more
Nat K
Quirky & delightful!

I find that Ms Worsley has an amazing ability to bring history to life, to make it interesting and accessible. This was a good mish-mash of topics, regarding everyday items which we now take for granted (such as the bedroom and living room becoming standards in modern homes).

Ms Worsley's writing style is the same as her BBC shows. Friendly, informative and never boring. I look forward to reading more of her books.
Rebecca Radnor
Dec 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, british-uk
A history of the British home, how it changed over time (the idea of dedicated rooms for instance) and varied by place in society. She talks about how social norms regarding the little things, bathing, eating, cost of manual labor, etc., impacted if and when technologies were accepted into the home (like is bathing a good thing? And should it be done with cold water or hot?) so that things we assume a house should have may or may not have shown up irrelevant of had someone invented the tech to ...more
Ellie Lloyd
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a really great, fun and interesting read. It takes you on a truly fascinating journey through the home that spans across so many time periods that no matter your area of historical interest it'll touch on something you love!

I really enjoyed reading this and found it thoroughly entertaining. It was a great introductory text for domestic studies I would highly recommend this to anyone who has even the slightest interest in learning more about the home and the evolution of the
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Novelle Novels
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 out of 5 stars
This is a great non fiction book that goes into so much detail about every area of the house and the history of it all. I also loved the bits on life in general. Lucy worsley is one of the best non fiction authors I’ve ever read and she goes into so much detail which is perfectly written. I also love the way she links the chapters so well and you never get lost which is all to easy In this genre.
Evelyn
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A work of non-fiction by Dr. Lucy Worsley, it gives all kinds of insights into how each room of the home has evolved over time. Along the way, you learn about how certain common expressions came into being and how people lived their daily lives in times gone by. A lot of the history has a British slant, because she is a museum curator in London, but other places and cultures are mentioned also.
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.
Rachel
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who's interested in architecture
Entertaining and informative, but it made me want a version of this book that wasn't just about England.
Dave
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Charming overview of home and hearth in history. Worsley makes light work of lots of research. And her idea that many of the ways of the past will be back in a changed future is oddly comforting.
Linda
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating look at the evolution of each room in a house from the medieval times to current. The book focuses on British castles and homes, but shows how western and eastern cultures, economy and social issues influenced how the people lived and changed their homes accordingly.
Dustin
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This had a lot of really compelling information and provided an in-depth look into things that today we really don’t think about very much and take for granted. I enjoyed it very much!
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2017 Reading Chal...: If Walls Could Talk 1 11 May 17, 2015 06:50PM  

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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
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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.” 12 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.” 7 likes
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