I just finished this fascinating book and I can't recommend it highly enough. Bryson is a master at making the mundane interesting and writing general history that is fun to read.
This book goes through houses room by room and tells the general history of things relating to that room. You learn about the evolution of the house, the things in it, our relationships to it, and much more. Bryson explains where we get the names for various rooms, for instance the parlor is called that because people went there to, as they say in France, parlez, to talk. The drawing room is called that not because of artistic endeavors, but because the owner of the house and his family withdrew there to be alone, to have some privacy, to 'withdraw' from others.
The two main things that I took away from this book are these:
- From the fall of Rome up until very recently, people, especially Europeans, and yes, I'm including the British in that group, were dirty. They were willfully dirty and unsanitary. They had an unnatural fear of washing and they went to great lengths to cover that fact up, they wore wigs and make up to mask their filth and they drowned themselves in perfumes and colognes to cover their stink. It was so bad at times that literally thousands of people died from infections during childbirth and other relatively straightforward medical procedures because doctors and nurses rarely washed their hands. Women who gave birth in hospitals were at a huge risk for getting infected because doctors refused to wash their hands between births. When it was shown that less women died the more the hospital staffs washed their hands, it was ignored, until the deaths started affecting the wealthy.
- Women and children had it really really bad until just this past century, and in most of the world they still do. It used to be perfectly legal to beat your wife and daughters as long as you did not kill them, but even if you did you'd find that hardly any judge or jury would convict you. It used to be a crime to steal the clothes off kids but it wasn't against the law to steal children. Female servants had it rough, they routinely work 15 hour days and got one full day off a month, but as rough as they had it, children had it worse, especially boys who were forced to become chimney sweeps.
I highly recommend this book, it's fascinating, entertaining, and it will make you appreciate our modern world all the more.