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If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home Hardcover – February 28, 2012

72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Who could not be enthralled by the history of toilet paper? Anyone who lives in a home with a kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom will delight in reading this history of the development of home life." ---Kirkus Starred Review --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

Lucy Worsley is, by day, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace State Apartments, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. By night, she is a writer and presenter, most recently author of Cavalier: a Tale of Passion, Chivalry and Great Houses, described by the Mail on Sunday as 'a remarkable achievement by an immensely talented and innovative historian.'

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; First Edition edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802779956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802779953
  • Product Dimensions: 12.2 x 1.2 x 11.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Derek Jones on May 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This is not a work of original historical research. There are no footnotes, and Dr Worsley acknowledges that the book is based on secondary rather than primary sources. It is popular history written to accompany a TV series and an extremely well-written example of the genre. The bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen are lenses through which we view architecture, technology and social history since medieval times, with a cornucopia of interesting facts and humorous anecdotes. The social history ranges widely over fashion, food, sex, class, hygiene, and etiquette. Lucy Worsley covers everything in an informative and amusing way, ranging from the history of the bed and its uses to how people wiped their bottoms in the past.

If the TV series which accompanied the book in the UK is shown in the US (or the DVD is offered for sale) be sure to watch it. Worsley is a quite wonderful presenter with a posh girl accent and great clarity of diction, combined with an ability to make everything she says seem interesting.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Rett01 VINE VOICE on January 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Want to know how Tudor England dealt with a gravy stain on the tablecloth? They peed on it. Or more accurately and with more decorum, the household laundry staff blotted the greasy spot with urine, which it turns out is a great stain-fighting agent.

Worsley loves to ham it up and obviously delights in imagining all that history can offer the present. Her interest is infectious and passing on her enthusiasm seems to be her purpose in writing the book. To me, she succeeds in a way as entertaining as educating.

The book is a tour of four main rooms of the house from medieval times forward, the bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen. Throughout, anecdote means more than evidence.

The Victorian bedroom, for example was a place as you can imagine for many things. Among them, it served as an operating room where Restoration diarist Samuel Pepys famously had surgery to remove bladder stones.

The preparations took place in a cousin's bedchamber. "Pepys was tied down on a table so that he could not thrash about, and two strong men were also present to 'hold him by the knees' and `by the arm-holes.' "

When death came to Mary II from smallpox in 1694, "rich gums and spices to stuff the body" kept her corpse sweet smelling during the period of mourning. (I couldn't help but think of the accounts of exploding pontiffs whose bodies were prohibited by canon law from being embalmed.)

Bill Bryson covers much of the same territory as Worsley in his cultural history "At Home." His book felt to me as cluttered as some of the overstuffed rooms he described. Where Bryson aggregates facts and offers up lists, Worsley tells us how people lived.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By 100bookproject on February 9, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
`If Walls Could Talk' by Lucy Worsley is for the reader who has ever seen pictures of historical figures decked out in cumbersome, baroque finery and thought to themselves: "Hang on, how would they pee?"

This book is written the way all historical non-fiction should be written - with familiarity and humour. Worsley has covered the history of all things domestic, from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen. That's sounds like a dull topic, right? Wrong.

Most people generally don't appreciate how far we had to come from cleaning our teeth with twigs and salt like the Tudors (and conforming to the waxing and waning of attitudes towards bathing) to today where we generally enjoy the highest level of health, hygiene and comfort.

`If Walls Could Talk' contains the answers to the things you've always wondered about life in the past. Worsley also explains things you didn't even know you were curious about - such as old-school contraception, the Elizabethan answer to blonde-in-a-bottle and what knights were wearing for underwear beneath all that chainmail (hardly anything).

What I Loved:
I while I had a general understanding that everyone `back then' was smelly and over-dressed, I was shocked by the customs and beliefs that shaped the way we live today - the way we dress, raise our children and even the way we sleep at night. This is the kind of history that everyone can relate to and yet no one seems to talk about. I was never taught this kind of history at school - if I had been, maybe I would have enjoyed that subject more.

What was Lacking:
Some people will find some topics more interesting than others, but that is also kind of the appeal of this book - there is something for everyone.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Iola on February 26, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home is written in a very readable tone, and covers the four main areas of the house: the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room and the kitchen, from medieval times to the present day. While most of the books I review are Christian, this one is not, and those with delicate sensibilities might be advised to avoid it.

As `An Intimate History of the Home', If Walls Could Talk is filled with fascinating, useful, useless and sometimes just plain revolting information about the homes and lives of our British ancestors (with some information on the Americans). Some of the information (like the discussion on childbirth) I Really Did Not Need To Know. At the same time, it makes me wonder what modern cultural or medical beliefs we hold will be mocked or looked upon with horror by future generations.

For example, have you ever said it is time to hit the hay or hit the sack? Worsley reminds us that this saying derives from a time when most beds were a sack stuffed with hay (at the rich end of the spectrum, Henry VIII apparently slept on eight feather mattresses which travelled with him).

There was also some gentle mocking of some of our modern standards, such as our "strange desirability of imperfection", our belief in the superiority of hand-made products, even through they have "a certain margin of crudeness. The margin must never be so wide as to show bungling workmanship, since that would be evidence of low cost, nor so narrow as to suggest the ideal precision attained only by the machine, for that would be evidence of low cost."

The author has undertaken extensive research, and If Walls Could Talk has over 40 period illustrations, a comprehensive list of references and a detailed index.
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