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"A deep, stimulating history of the Russian banya. . .there's no question that Pollock's book is a boon to Russian studies." -- Eliot Borenstein, author of Plots against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy after Socialism

"Sacred, inspiring, magical; or indecent, barbarous, and outmoded? Ethan Pollock's fascinating and vivid study of the banya answers-without the banya we would perish! Peopled with courtiers and warriors, doctors and literati, commissars and countless bathhouse attendants, this book entertains as it rejuvenates your senses." -- Dan Healey, University of Oxford

"In Ethan Pollock's creative telling, the long history of the Russian banya bubbles with insights on health, hygiene, faith, leisure, and the nation, among other topics. This is steamy history of the best kind! A wonderful book." -- Willard Sunderland, University of Cincinnati

"In this bracingly original and eloquently argued book, Ethan Pollock traces the history of one of the few constants in Russia's turbulent past, the bathhouse, which survived Peter the Great's westernization and Lenin and Stalin's sovietization. Opening this book, readers encounter an intriguing cast of characters-from tsars and serfs to Scythians and New Russians-philosophizing, communing, and sweating together. Pollock's masterful storytelling...illuminates thousands of years of Russian history one steam-filled room at a time." -- Alexis Peri, author of The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad

"True banya lovers will regret only that there is not yet a waterproof edition." -- Catherine Merridale, author of Lenin on the Train

When so much in Russia has changed, the banya remains. For over one thousand years Russians of every economic class, political party, and social strata have treated bathing as a communal activity integrating personal hygiene and public health with rituals, relaxation, conversations, drinking, political intrigue, business, and sex. Communal steam baths have survived the Mongols, Peter the Great, and Soviet communism and remain a central and unifying national custom. Combining the ancient elements of earth, water, and fire, the banya paradoxically cleans bodies and spreads disease, purifies and defiles, creates community and underscores difference.

Without the Banya We Would Perish tells the history of this ubiquitous and enduring institution. It explores the bathhouse's role in Russian identity, following public figures (from Catherine the Great to Rasputin to Putin), writers (such as Chekhov and Dostoevsky), foreigners (including Mark Twain and Casanova), and countless other men and women into the banya to discover the meanings they have found there. The story comes up to the present, exploring the continued importance of banyas in Russia and their newfound popularity in cities across the globe. Drawing on sources as diverse as ancient chronicles, government reports, medical books, and popular culture, Pollock shows how the banya has persisted, adapted, and flourished in the everyday lives of Russians throughout wars, political ruptures, modernization, and urbanization.

Through the communal bathhouse, Without the Banya We Would Perish provides a unique perspective on the history of the Russian people.

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