This is a fairly lightweight and easy to read discussion of the history of the four main rooms of the house: living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Starting with the medieval manor house with its single large room, the author describes the origins of each separate room, how they were used in the centuries since and what that says about the society of the time. This could have been very dull and dry, but actually it's a lively read, filled with anecdotes and stories of the people of the time, gleaned from contemporary writings. Occasionally the author resorts to the more speculative 'could have been', and if I have my suspicions that some of this is perpetuating popular myths, it's none the less entertaining, for all that.
For anyone interested in the
medieval period, there's a lot of material here that doesn't usually
find its way into history books. Most interesting to me are the fixed
beliefs that people of earlier centuries held which affected not just
their lifestyles but also their health and (ultimately) their life
expectancy. And yet there was a curious logic to it. Not eating raw
fruit and vegetables? Dangerous in the age before clean piped water. And
almost anything might be feared without the knowledge of how diseases
could be spread. Even today, when we have more scientists at work than
ever before, there's still mystique surrounding what we should eat and
drink, and how best to live our lives.
Anyone looking for the raw
research data won't find it here, although there's a detailed
bibliography. It's also got a very English feel to it. The rest of the
UK gets an occasional mention, the rest of the world or recorded history
before medieval times, hardly a word. This is a gentle overview of the
subject, not inaccurate but sugar-coated and pre-formed for easy
digestibility. It's also short; fully a third of the book on my Kindle
is taken up with the bibliography, index and a whole series of pictures
which should more properly have been in the body of the text, but
presumably wouldn't fit. But as light background reading, it's useful
enough and quite enjoyable. Three stars.