A rich mix of sociocultural history detailing how marketing transformed beliefs about cleanliness.



A wide-ranging study that shows how cleanliness was not always next to godliness.

A staff writer for the Atlantic and lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health, Hamblin notes that for centuries, bathing was viewed as suspect in Western culture, in which Christianity celebrates baptism but otherwise lacks the ritual washings of other religions. Germ theory changed all that, launching a hygiene revolution that followed the Industrial Revolution. Entrepreneurs made millions creating an ever expanding soap and skin care industry promising baby-soft, germ-free skin. The author believes we have gone too far. The skin that shields us from the outside world is also home to trillions of bacteria. Like their kin in the gut, the bugs are useful, aiding the skin’s protective and immune functions. Wash them away and you throw the immune system out of whack, so it attacks the body’s own cells in a frenzy that gives rise to allergies, eczema, and other conditions. To demonstrate that less is better, Hamblin gave up showering while writing the book. (He did wash his hands.) He did not become a public nuisance, he writes, and his skin improved. As he admits, this is not for everyone. Indeed, the very lack of clean water, soap, and sanitation among impoverished groups across the globe leads to needless disease and death. Hamblin, however, is not a righteous crusader exposing marketers of skin lotions and potions as phonies. He does call out some products, but most are benign. Cosmetics, which are not subject to safety and efficacy rules, can often cause dangerous side effects. Ultimately, Hamblin argues for more skin microbiome research and greater biodiversity in all aspects of our lives, underscoring the value of pets and plants and parks to enhance our lives—and those that live in and on us.

A rich mix of sociocultural history detailing how marketing transformed beliefs about cleanliness.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53831-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.


Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

Did you like this book?