The Dirt On Clean

The Dirt On Clean

An Unsanitized History

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
Rate this:
For the first-century Roman, being clean meant a public two-hour soak in baths of various temperatures, a scraping of the body with a miniature rake, and a final application of oil. For the seventeenth-century aristocratic Frenchman, it meant changing his shirt once a day, using perfume to obliterate both his own aroma and everyone else's, but never immersing himself in - horrors! - water. By the early 1900s, an extraordinary idea took hold in North America - that frequent bathing, perhaps even a daily bath, was advisable. Not since the Roman Empire had people been so clean, and standards became even more extreme as the millennium approached. Now we live in a deodorized world where germophobes shake hands with their elbows and where sales of hand sanitizers, wipes and sprays are skyrocketing.

The apparently routine task of taking up soap and water (or not) is Katherine Ashenburg's starting point for a unique exploration of Western culture, which yields surprising insights into our notions of privacy, health, individuality, religion and sexuality.

Ashenburg searches for clean and dirty in plague-ridden streets, medieval steam baths, castles and tenements, and in bathrooms of every description. She reveals the bizarre rescriptions of history's doctors as well as the hygienic peccadilloes of kings, mistresses, monks and ordinary citizens, and guides us through the twists and turns to our own understanding of clean, which is no more rational than the rest. Filled with amusing anecdotes and quotations from the great bathers of history, The Dirt on Clean takes us on a journey that is by turns intriguing, humorous, startling and not always for the squeamish. Ashenburg's tour of history's baths and bathrooms reveals much about our changing and most intimate selves - what we desire, what we ignore, what we fear, and a significant part of who we are.
Publisher: Toronto : A.A. Knopf Canada, 2007.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780676976632
Characteristics: 358 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Aug 04, 2018

Great insight on the history of personal cleanliness. Makes me appreciate modern conveniences like readily available clean and hot water.

May 22, 2012

You will never look at central plumbing the same way again..
I dont think a warm bathtub was never soooo appreciated as after reading this particular book.
A fascinating history on the the view of personal and community hygiene from the Roman Baths, The plaguen that struck in Europe and how it came to affect millions and now in present day marketing to pressure the masses into sterilizing & scrubbing themselves and every surface without mercy! An expose on cultural, ethical and moral divide that will suprise you. The upper classes were not always the wisest of the lot!! The mentality of 'way back then' was somewhat disturbing in its atrocious ignorance of what was deemed 'Clean' or not..

Jun 29, 2008

Easy read, fun, interesting.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at WPL

To Top