The Bathroom: A Social History of Cleanliness and the Body. By Alison K. Hougland. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2018. 192 pages. Acid free $39.00 (ISBN 978-1-4408-5266-4). Ebook Available (978-1-4408-5267-1), call for pricing.

Alison Hoagland has written a thought-provoking book on the history of the smallest room in the house that no one talks about. The Bathroom: A Social History of Cleanliness and the Body, delves into the history, evolution, psychology, and socioeconomic implications of the American bathroom and its development from the Civil War onwards. She demonstrates how much of the discourse around cleanliness, sanitation, consumerism, and technology has come to be centered on the bathroom in the United States, and discusses the many forms this takes in advertising, public health, and urban and rural infrastructure.

The book begins with a brief overview of the history of the bathroom, from its earliest appearance in China and the Indus Valley through the Roman period and the Middle Ages to the mid-nineteenth century. In the following chapters, she traces the evolution of the American bathroom through different themes such as sanitation, technology, privacy, inequality, and personal care. Through each chapter she describes how the bathroom revealed how Americans perceived issues such as privacy, cleanliness, and personal autonomy, and evolved from a luxury of the rich to a staple of the middle class to a public health necessity for all. The book is jammed with interesting tidbits, for example, that Baltimore was the last major city to build a sewage system, and that the rise of modern-day advertising can be traced to early efforts by soap companies to sell their products. A chronology and glossary help define terms and set the historical context, and a rich bibliography is included for those who wish to delve deeper into the subject. Photographs judiciously used throughout the text and an index round out this compact little volume.

This is the first scholarly work devoted to the American bathroom, and it is a fascinating read. A part of Greenwood’s History of Human Spaces series, it is an affordable and well-researched volume that should find a home in every library, but would be particularly useful for college and university libraries with architecture, sociology, anthropology, or public health researchers.—Amanda K. Sprochi, Health Sciences Cataloger, The University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri


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