Clean, By Katherine Ashenburg

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin@indyvoices
Friday 27 March 2009 01:00

For much of post-medieval history, the East scrubbed and the West stank. The twain met one early 18th-century day, when the "notoriously grubby" traveller Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had to shed her stays in the women's baths in Turkey.

Europe used to cleanse itself more often, as this sparklingly enjoyable history of washing (and its avoidance) shows. Bath-houses thrived until they picked up a name for "bad behaviour" and then the Black Death fixed a link with plague.

Awash with smart allusions from the Iliad to Ian McEwan, absorbing on Roman water-heating or Victorian soap, this finely-illustrated survey turns on a foaming jacuzzi for the mind.

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