The Dirt on Clean
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Praise for The Dirt on Clean

"In 'Clean,' Ashenburg rolls up her sleeves and takes us on an engaging tour of hygiene through the ages. Her masterful mix of erudition and anecdote makes this a fascinating, fast-paced read. It's the history that's hinted at but never taught, from bawdy bathhouse tales to now-hilarious scientific notions such as the supposed cleansing properties of linen ... More than just a witty insight into washing, her book confronts our obsession with preening, plucking and performing our bodies 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, London, March 31, 2008

"Ashenburg rounds off with a splendid diatribe against American supercleanliness, which, like every section of the book, is full of acute perception... 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."

The Sunday Times, March 23, 2008

"Ashenburg is a lively and entertaining guide ... a sparkling, discursive and witty history: good, clean fun."

New Statesman, March 27, 2008

"terrific history of personal hygiene... Ashenburg has produced a wonderfully interesting and amusing book."

Daily Mail, April 1, 2008

"Brimming with lively anecdotes, this well-researched, smartly paced and endearing history of Western cleanliness holds a welcome mirror up to our intimate selves, revealing deep-seated desires and fears spanning 2000-plus years."

Publisher's Weekly, September 9, 2007

"Utterly engaging as guided tours of human history as seen through the lens of a single idea ... Ashenburg, for her part, operates within a more literary frame of reference, mining 'The Romance of Flamenca,' Madame de Sevigne's letters, Thackeray's novels and others over the course of a lively account in which we learn that: Napoleon spent two hours in a steaming bathtub every morning while an assistant read him newspapers and telegrams; Louis XIV had halitosis; Caucasians possess merocrine sweat glands 'in profusion,' while Asians have few or none; and Kotex were first manufactured by a Wisconsin company during World War I as absorbent bandages for Army hospitals in France."

New York Times Style Magazine, October 21, 2007

"Cleanliness has a surprising history... The morning routines of Americans generally include a shower, but people in other times and places have thought differently about what constitutes an appropriately clean body, writes Ashenburg (The Mourner's Dance, 2003, etc.)... In clear and straightforward prose, Ashenburg condenses a vast amount of information into smooth chapters that are free of padding... She closes on a disturbing note, pointing out that Americans have developed the standards of cleanliness they enjoy today at least in part because modern irrigation and rainfall levels made it possible for millions of people to shower regularly. If the global climate changes, our current habits may strike our 22nd century descendants as odd, if not shocking... Dozens of charming illustrations distinguish a book notable for its engaging design as well as its illuminating content."

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2007

"With an easy, conversational tone and sense of humor, Ashenburg carries us from ancient to modern times, peppering the text with fascinating factoids gleaned from texts that range from Homer's "Odyssey" to wartime letters to vintage soap advertisements."

Seattle Times, November 19, 2007

"Rather than strangle the meaning from her anecdotes and examples the way my grandmother could wring every last droplet from a washcloth, Ashenburg is content to let the rich material she's amassed speak for itself. Reading this book, as a result, feels more like participating in a stimulating conversation than attending a lecture... I highly recommend that you read this book, and that you go back and reread the prologue once you're done. Ashenburg is one of our most interesting thinkers, and she's one of our best writers, to boot."

The Globe and Mail, 27 October 2007

"...Katherine Ashenburg's illuminating and ripely sensual study of humanity's ever-evolving attitudes about bodily hygiene, The Dirt on Clean... Ashenburg exhibits a catholic respect for the dramatically divergent mores of different cultures and periods. Was there ever a book more suited to be read while lolling in the tub?"

Barnes & Noble Review

"The Dirt on Clean offers a lighthearted tour of cleanliness in the Western world... Katherine Ashenburg conducts the tour with a discerning anthropological eye and a generous appreciation for human folly. She's done substantial research, yet offers her findings so laced with her own lively interest that the reader feels not lectured to, but confided in."

San Diego Union-Tribune, November 18, 2007

"Clearly, our ancestors had a more relaxed attitude toward body odors and emanations. Finding out about these wild variations is a big part of the fun of The Dirt on Clean, Katherine Ashenburg's chipper, thought-provoking Unsanitized History... Ashenburg reminds her readers — with merry, well-researched work — that only recently has humanity cultivated its taste for privacy... Ashenburg has written an entertaining work, but a shrewd one, too, for our attitudes about dirt touch on religion, law and our deepest convictions... Ashenburg has put her nose to something elemental and profound. Her touch is light, her facts endearing ..."

Plain Dealer (Cleveland), December 2, 2007

"Part of the fun of this utterly charming book lies in its casual dissemination of historical gems... Ashenburg does a lovely job of tracing the development of popular thinking about clean."

Vancouver Sun, November 17, 2007

"Katherine Ashenburg has a real gift for making the abhorrent utterly irresistible... Ashenburg's ability to establish context is part of what makes The Dirt on Clean so appealing. She similarly transformed grief into a must-read subject in 2002's poignant The Mourner's Dance, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised by her ability to wring eloquence out of something as foul as perspiration, soot and plain old grime... Really, who would relish curling up with a cast of historical characters who bathe maybe (maybe) once a year...? Answer: anyone who picks up this book."

Toronto Star, December 2, 2007

"In her new history of Western cleanliness, The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History (North Point, $24), Katherine Ashenburg takes a cross cultural approach. 'For the modern middle class North American,' she writes, ''clean' means that you shower and apply deodorant each and every day without fail. For the aristocratic seventeenth century Frenchman, it meant that he changed his linen shirt daily and dabbled his hands in water but never touched the rest of his body with water or soap.' And for centuries, she says, the filth of Europeans appalled the more scrupulous Muslims. Even if we take cleanliness seriously today, Ashenburg argues, it is a moving target. 'Nothing,' she says, 'would change our bathing habits more quickly than a serious water shortage.'"

Washington Post, November 13, 2007

"This 'unsanitized' cultural history of hygiene is packed with illustrations, diagrams, and unusual footnotes from which you'll learn that loo may derive from Gardez l'eau!, Old French for 'Watch out, I'm about to dump my chamber pot out the window!' Ashenburg's kitchen sink approach is surprisingly enjoyable, and likely to make you insufferable at cocktail parties for weeks."

Details, November 2007

"Taking a look at bathing customs over the last 2,000 years, the author, a journalist and lecturer, debunks myths associated with cleanliness and sheds light on the sometimes surprising origins of commonplace ideas and practices... Entertaining and humorous, [The Dirt on Clean] is an engaging read for anyone obsessed with cleanliness, or who's just looking for a way to kill time in the bathtub."

Nylon, November 2007

"With significant research and well-placed examples, Ashenburg outlines just how notions of cleanliness have changed and where they intersect with sexuality, social movements, and of course, hygiene.... The book successfully lays bare the fact that our idea of cleanliness is a haphazard construction. By the end, you'll look at your bathroom a little differently."

Quill & Quire

"Journalist Ashenburg again plunges into a subject not usually the focus of everyday conversation: cleanliness... Add to accumulation of information saucy quotes, from the Greeks and Romans to 2007, and just plain facts, and dinner dialogue will be sparkling."


"It is written with great zest, energy, aplomb and scholarship. It has also been designed and created with great passion. Perhaps in that respect it looks like a truly wonderful soap -- that sort that might be given for a Christmas present. Unlike soap it won't wash away! ... This is popular history at its very best and it tells a wide and surprising story."

— Andrew Franklin, Publisher, Profile Books Ltd., England

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