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Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing [Hardcover]

Katherine Ashenburg
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Mar 2008

Napoleon once wrote in a love letter to Josephine 'I return to Paris in five days. Stop washing.' To smell like a human was not always the misdemeanour it is today. Body odour was in fact an important factor of sex and courtship, considered by some to be a powerful aphrodisiac, as we see in Napoleon's letter. Contrary to what we like to think, no bodily odour is innately disgusting, instead it is our noses which adapt to fit our beliefs.

The Romans would bathe in company and daily. Later, Europe underwent four centuries without a bath. Was it the threat of diseases like syphilis that it feared in the soapy water? Religion links the act of washing with forgiveness and regeneration. We wash the bodies of dead loved ones because somehow we imagine it as the end of the old and the beginning of the new. The history of washing our bodies reveals much about our intimate selves, about how we want to be seen and what we desire most...

In this gripping new history, Ashenburg searches for clean and dirty in plague-ridden streets, hospitals, battlefields and makeshift water closets. In the bizarre prescriptions of history's doctors, the eccentricities of famous bathers and the hygienic peccadilloes of great writers we see the twists and turns that have brought us to our own, arbitrary notion of 'clean'.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; 1st Edition edition (20 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846680956
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846680953
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 344,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

...terrific history of personal hygiene...a wonderfully interesting and amusing book. (Daily Mail)

(A) very enjoyable read. (Catholic Herald 2008-07-11)

This is perhaps the final irony in this splendid exercise in cultural relativism: that we can be too clean. (The Tablet)

...highly entertaining, nicely illustrated history of washing. (The List)

Ashenburg is a lively and entertaining guide... this is a sparkling, discursive and witty history: good, clean fun. (Cressida Connolly New Statesman)

Ashenburg...rounds off with a splendid diatribe against American super-cleanliness, which, like every section of this book, is full of acute perceptions...The only possible complaint about Ashenburg's exceptionally enjoyable book is that, being beautifully designed and illustrated, it is not suitable for reading in the bath. (John Carey The Sunday Times)

In Clean Ashenburg rolls up her sleeves and takes us on an engaging tour pf hygiene through the ages. Her masterful mix of erudition and anecdote makes this a fascinating, fast-paced read...More than just a witty insight into washing, her book confronts our obsession with preening, plucking and perfuming our bodies so that we smell less like humans and more like exotic fruits...Thought-provoking, charming and great fodder for dinner-party chat, this is a memorable read. (Time Out)

A lively history of personal hygiene shows that cleanliness hasn't always been next to godliness... In Clean, Katherine Ashenburg tells the weird, zigzagging story of our most intimate rituals through lively, heavily-illustrated chronological chapters... Ashenburg is especially good on the differences to be found in hygiene around the world...If dire predictions about future water shortages turn out to be correct, Ashenburg's book will one day serve as the key text in defence of a dirtier way of life. (Isabel Berwick FT magazine)

Ashenburg's account of our changing attitudes to cleanliness is fascinating. (Waterstone's Quarterly)

As this enthralling journey through the bathrooms of history reveals, attitudes to cleanliness have ebbed and flowed...Where Clean succeeds brilliantly is in the liberal use of fascinating facts, quotes and anecdotes. Ashenburg has clearly had fun writing this book. You'll enjoy reading it. (BBC Focus)

...entertaining tale of changing attitudes to cleanliness. (Guardian)

(M)eticulous tome on the history of personal hygiene. (Esquire)

(F)ascinating and entertaining. (Country Life)

The history of cleanliness is a fascinating one, and one that Ashenburg chronicles to perfection in her excellent book... a glorious romp...full of interesting facts and peppered with anecdotes and quotes...I can guarantee that you will find this book totally engaging. (Oxford Times)

Amazing factoids abound in this charming history of personal hygiene. (Tatler)

The history of soap and water is a refreshing read. (Jamie Merrell The Independent 2009-01-27)

An entertaining book that really does belong in the bathroom'. (Claire Allfree Metro 2009-03-26)

Awash with smart allusions from the Iliad to Ian McEwan, absorbing on Roman water-heating or Victorian soap, this finely-illustrated survey turns on a foaming jacuzzi for the mind. (Boyd Tonkin The Independent 2009-03-27)

Book Description

Personal hygiene is something that only other people never seem to get quite right...Yet in this fascinating history of washing our bodies Katherine Ashenburg discovers that cleanliness exists above all in our minds: it is a cultural creation and a constant work in progress...

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
For the modern, middle-class North American, "clean" means that you shower and apply deodorant each and every day without fail. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't read while eating 11 May 2009
By biblia
Format:Paperback
This is an extremely interesting and enlightening book. The author explains the belief systems behind washing (or non-washing) habits and sanitation through the ages; this makes other people's practices far easier to understand. If you believe that washing opens the pores and thus can let fatal diseases into the body, that linen has special cleansing properties and that only the morally corrupt are interested in smelling sweet then dirt has a certain appeal. The book investigates all sorts of wonderful bathing and showering inventions and the anecdotes and illustrations add depth and detail. The twentieth century section is great anthropology for our times, and I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in social history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting History of Washing 18 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I recommend this book to the students of Hygiene and Sanitation
In my technical library it will have a place in evidence.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars clean but also dirty 29 Dec 2011
Format:Paperback
Being a plumber by trade (and vocation) I found this narrative fascinating, full of small gems, quotations and anecdotes. The relationship between cleanliness (or lack of it) and health is now obvious to us all but too often neglected.Highly recommended for my fellow plumbers and to all non-plumbers (the rest of you)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "When all stink, no-one smells" 3 May 2011
Format:Paperback
Every age thinks that its own attitude to cleanliness is the "normal" one. We (modern Europeans and Americans) think that it's normal to shower daily and apply deodorant. Other ages had different ideas.
Ancient Romans thought it was normal to spend hours in the public baths, using no soap but scraping sweat and dirt off their bodies. Early medieval Europe had public baths which were used regularly; but these disappeared after the Black Death. Elizabeth I and Samuel Pepys lived in an age when bathing too much was thought bad for the health. The phrase "the great unwashed" could not have existed before the 19th century, because that was when the rich started bathing on a regular basis. In the 1920s, advertisers strove to convince women that they could never find and keep a husband without the correct hygiene products (the phrase "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" was invented by Lysterine), although previous generations managed to have a healthy love life despite their stinkiness.
Ashenberg has written a fascinating history, outlining the changing attitudes to cleanliness and hygiene from Roman times to the modern day. She holds a mirror up to history and to our own day, when an overemphasis on squeaky-cleanness may be contributing to allergies and ill health (the "hygiene hypothesis"). The scope is limited to Europe and North America, except for a brief comment about the different attitudes of Muslim and Japanese people, but with that one caveat I would recommend this as an entertaining and informative read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read 19 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback
Kept me rivetted over Christmas with lots of fascinating facts. You either find grime fascinating or you don't, but as a keen watcher of Kim and Aggie I find dirt horribly fascinating. The author makes an interesting case for why bathing fell badly out of fashion in the later middle ages, and the book has many old adverts which I liked to look at. The author seems to have missed out a few important aspects - Bath in SW England gets the most cursory of mentions, Russian sweat baths don't figure at all (I think). Much of the information is america-centric but the dear gal does a good job of indicating how different americans are to Europeans in matters of body smells and body hair.
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