The Dirt on Clean

In the summer of 1979, I was riding in a crowded, sweltering second-class train car through Spain, and watched as a jovial woman in a sleeveless dress took a spraycan of deodorant and blasted each of her hairy armpits to counter the rigors of travel. This occurrence is of a piece with many episodes recounted in Katherine Ashenburg's illuminating and ripely sensual study of humanity's ever-evolving attitudes about bodily hygiene, The Dirt on Clean. Planting herself knowledgably at the tangled nexus of science, technology, feminism, sex, medicine, class, business, warfare, advertising, architecture, nationalism, religion, fads and politics, Ashenburg surveys the prevailing beliefs about how and when the body should be maintained, from the ancient Greeks to the hypersensitive present. Not truly global in its remit -- Asian nations are lightly examined, and Africa is terra incognita -- this study nonetheless enthrallingly portrays our variously stinky and sweetly scented ancestors and coevals. At times, a Monty Python sensibility reigns (Napoleon cogitated best in his bath, sometimes receiving reports from the battlefield amid the soap bubbles). But overall 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? -

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.