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.
Pollock has produced a rarity: a work of solid scholarship that is also an elegant page-turner. It traces the history of the Russian steam bath all the way back to the Middle Ages, exploring how its image and function have shifted over time.
... [a] dense monograph ... Pollock mines Russian and Soviet art, literature, and film for a huge number of banya references, to bolster his claim that the banya is central to Russian identity and a place of social experimentation. In accessible but detail-heavy prose, he considers the banya from numerous angles, including as potential hot spots for disease transmission. Pollock’s history of the Russian bath is fine but slow reading for specialists and the curious alike.