From pre-historic grooming rituals to New Age medicine, from ascetics to cosmetics, Clean looks at how different cultures have interpreted and striven for personal cleanliness and shows how, throughout history, this striving for purity has brought immense social benefits as well as great tragedies.
Looking at human history through the lens of public baths, lavatories, laundry, teeth cleaning, cosmetics, food storage and panty liners, Virginia Smith here combines archeology, psychology, biology, and other fields to illuminate our modern obsession cleanliness. She peppers her entertaining account with engaging and often surprising details. The book reveals, for instance, that even at the earliest stages of human development, our bodies produced pleasure-giving chemical opiates when things smelled or felt clean, inducing us to bathe or at least remove dirty clothes. She describes how, during the Bronze Age, an emerging hierarchy of wealthy elites turned their love of grooming into an explosion of the cosmetic and luxury goods industry, greatly affecting the culture and economy of Eurasia and leading to advances in chemistry and medicine. Likewise, in Greece and Rome, citizens focused much of their leisure time on perfecting, bathing, or just writing about the model athletic body. Even today, our enlightened medical knowledge could not stop an onslaught of health remedies, treatments, spas, and New Age nature cures--all in the pursuit of purity.
This engrossing and highly original work will introduce you to the customs and ideas of a myriad of cultures across centuries of human history, providing a marvelous new perspective on the importance of cleanliness to human civilization.
--New York Times
"An authoritative and fascinating account of how hygiene has transformed societies and how, sometimes, humanity's attempts to scrub up can backfire."