walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Dirt on Clean_, Katherine Ashenburg

Subtitled: An Unsanitized History

The Good: a tour of personal hygiene practices over the last couple thousand years, mostly Western Civ perspective (Greeks, Romans, Europeans, Americans). Nice explanation of the development of the Roman bath (and the return to sanity of the Roman Bath), how forms of public bathhouses hung around in various parts of Europe and the Middle East and how they changed and adapted and what eventually did them in in some areas of Europe (but not all). Lots of illuminating anecdote.

The Bad: kinda skips around, definite Euro-American bias.

Ashenburg concludes with the Hygiene Hypothesis, and is clearly kinda weirded out by the whole completely-eliminate-human-odor-and-replace-it-with-something-else thing so characteristic of mid 20th century America. And hey! I'm with her there.

It took me a while to finish it, simply because there is no strong narrative thrust -- it really is just one thing after another. I'd say it would make great bathroom reading (maybe in the tub), but that sounds just a bit too trite. Even for me.

I'll send it along to the local library, to amuse others. I'm really glad she wrote it. I wouldn't be too surprised if I regretted sending this along, when I want to refer to some piece of information in it years from now to make a point. If this is the kind of thing that appeals to you, track down a copy. If the idea leaves you cold, and it falls in your lap, give it a try anyway -- it just might suck you in. Spin you around. Scrape you down. And leave you feeling fresh and renewed.

Or, like a cookbook can leave even a full person looking for something to cook, it might send you off for a long, hot soak.
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