November 13, 2015

Clean. Katherine Ashenburg

book cover
Clean. An Unsanitised History of Washing
Katherine Ashenburg
Published: Profile Books
Date: 2007
Format: Hardback
Pages: 358
Genre: Microhistory
Source: Local Library
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Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing by Katherine Ashenbury is not my normal realm of reading! This is a microhistory and I read it for The Eclectic Reading Challenge. I might have been becoming desperate as to what book I might read!

I thought it was going to be a general book on being clean like house cleaning and so on. However it is a history of personal cleanliness and was interesting enough.

The Romans had a sophisticated system for bathing, and spent much time in the bath houses, doing many other things beside bathing. However it was a relaxing place and mostly communal. So I thought well why didn't it stay that way.

The early Christians often were more interested in the spirit than the body and some even thought the smellier and dirtier they were the more saintly.  So pleased I wasn't an early Christian.  So other cultures often regarded Christians as dirty and who can blame them.

The Middle Ages saw the revival of public and some private bath houses. However with the advent of plagues like The Black Death, these were more and more closed. There was a belief that the body was porous and all kinds of things could get into the body through water, it was believed you might even become pregnant among some!!

Bathing from the 16 to 18th centuries was not that prevalent, again it was a belief water would permeate the body through pores. Although by the time Napoleon came along he was into long hot baths to relax. Anyone able to say they love a six hour bath?

The 18th and 19th centuries saw more developments around washing and if you're interested Charles Dickens believed cold showers were the thing! What makes this book interesting to me are the small inconsequential details and sketches of strange looking things people have used in the quest for cleanliness.

Now today we have certain beliefs about cleanliness. Products abound. Some people have become germophobic. Practices vary - some shower or bath every day and some still don't. However most of us expect the people around us to be clean.

What will it be like one century on? Will a future water shortage have any impact?

This book had everything I didn't know I needed to know. If it weren't for the challenge, I wouldn't have read it - but there you are!

The eclectic reader challenge badge.Microhistory


  1. So glad I did not live among the smelly ones

  2. An original read, it must have been interesting :)

  3. Oh, I am definitely happy not to have lived when people around us smelled...LOL. Thanks for sharing.

  4. an interesting choice, I'm glad it worked out okay for you :)

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

  5. Not my cup of tea either, but its awesome that you picked it up due to a challenge, it broadens your horizon.

  6. This actually sounds different and interesting. Thanks for sharing.


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