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

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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

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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