Katherine Ashenburg
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The Dirt on Clean
Knopf Canada, 2007 » www.thedirtonclean.com

The apparently routine task of taking up soap and water (or not) is Katherine Ashenburg's starting point for a unique history of private life. Every age and culture was convinced that their version of cleanliness was the correct one, from the Roman who spent a few hours a day soaking in public baths of various temperatures to the 17th-century Frenchman who never touched water and believed he cleaned himself by changing into a fresh linen shirt. Our own over-deodorized world — where germophobes shake hands with their elbows and where sales of hand sanitizers, wipes and sprays are skyrocketing — is as extreme, and potentially unhealthy, as the 17th century. And, as with every other age, our definition of "clean" says much about us. Filled with amusing anecdotes and unexpected insights into our notions of privacy, health, individuality, religion and sexuality, The Dirt on Clean takes us on a journey that is by turns intriguing, startling, humorous — and not always for the squeamish.

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