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Imprint: Profile Books
Pages: 256
Subject: History & Classics


The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life

'May god make your house dirty!' - Dogon blessing from Mali

9781846684791 (24 Mar 2011)

About the book

Dirt - obsessively avoided, often misunderstood, but paradoxically also an indicator of 'civilisation' (through production of waste), and a near-magical source of renewable life and medical discovery. History is rich with progressive victories over dirt, from the aqueducts and sewers of the Roman Empire to Sir Joseph Bazalgette's triumphant 'Main Drainage of London' in the mid-nineteenth century, which still functions today. Yet our relationship with dirt is complex and ambivalent. Dirt is waste, excrement, rubbish - but what then is soil? Is cleanliness next to godliness - or sterility? And in a throwaway society, does the battle against dirt depend on an exploited and half-seen underclass of cleaners? Published to coincide with a major new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London in March 2011, and lavishly illustrated with images from the Wellcome's archives, this provocative book features specially commissioned essays and a short graphic novel section on the significance and implications of dirt from the microbial level through to the environmental.

About the author

Virginia Smith is a freelance historian and research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Rosie Cox is a senior lecturer at Birkbeck College. Elizabeth Pisani is an epidemiologist. Rose George is a freelance writer. Peter Brimblecombe is professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of East Anglia. Brian Ralph is an illustrator and lecturer at the Maryland Institute of Art.



- Paul Levy, Wall Street Journal

A thought-provoking read.

- Doug Johnstone, Big Issue


- Christopher Hirst, Independent

This splendidly edited book activated both my inner child, fascinated with all that's revolting - and my social conscience.

- New Scientist

Very accessible and copiously illustrated... the visual side is excellent

- Alastair Mabbott, Herald

Additional Information

Imprint: Profile Books
Pages: 256
Subject: History & Classics