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

The Dirt on Clean by Katherine Ashenburg
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's review
Apr 20, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: real-books
Read from September 15 to 20, 2011

So uh, yeah.
Anthropology masquerading as history, I think. There's a lot to this, but it should have chosen to show it's bias completely, or to be much more blandly historical/over-focused. The thesis is basically: the Romans had it right, the early Christians hated the body (ugh!! not true!!), the Dark Ages folks washed sometimes, depending on their country. The plague closed the bathhouses, and then nobody in Europe had bathrooms until the end of the nineteenth century, and even then, not most people.

I think this could have been a great book if it was about the history of bathhouses as a cultural phenomenon, or about the onset of plumbing in the last few centuries, or just Germany or just France or just England or just North America, or the philosophies of dirt and clean. But as it was it felt Western-European-centric in an uncomfortable, thesis-affirming way, which was: we should be as clean as the Western Europeans are now. They like human smells, but not actual dirtiness. Basically, she was not the most skilled or smooth writer in the world, in the grand tradition of quirky historical writers (always a difficult thing to pull disparate and often conflicting pieces of information together and make something that doesn't look, well, pieced together).

That said, I learned alot, especially about how linen shirts were thought to be superior to , and how baths like Bath came to be, and how cleanliness came with a class distinction only in the last few centuries (no thanks to you, Mr. Dickens). A medium-quick read, worthwhile for a bath and history lover like myself, but not the greatest book in the world.


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