That Queen Elizabeth I of England boasted that she bathed once a month, "whether I need it or not"? That French peasants believed that a strong body odour promised robust sexuality? (One of their proverbs was, "The more the ram stinks, the more the ewe loves him.") That our current North American standards of over-cleanliness are probably making us sick?
Katherine Ashenburg takes on such fascinating questions as these in The Dirt on Clean, her spirited chronicle of the West's ambivalent relationship with the washed and unwashed body. She searches for clean and dirty in plague-ridden streets, medieval steam baths, castles and tenements, and bathrooms of every description. She reveals the bizarre prescriptions 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 that have brought us to a place Ashenburg considers hedonistic, anxious and oversanitized.
The book Publishers Weekly calls "brimming with lively anecdotes ... smartly paced and endearing" reveals surprising things about our changing and most intimate selves what we desire, what we ignore, what we fear, and a significant part of who we are.