Published by HarperCollins on November 11th 2014
Genres: Archaeology, General, Social Science
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Jump into a battered Indiana Jones–style Jeep with the intrepid Marilyn Johnson and head down bone-rattling roads in search of those who dig up the past. Johnson, the author of two acclaimed books about quirky subcultures–The Dead Beat (about obituary writers) and This Book Is Overdue! (about librarians)–brings her irrepressible wit and curiosity to bear on yet another strange world, that of archaeologists. Who chooses to work in ruins? What's the allure of sifting through layers of dirt under a hot sun? Why do archaeologists care so passionately about what's dead and buried–and why should we?Johnson tracks archaeologists around the globe from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, from Newport, Rhode Island to Machu Picchu. She digs alongside experts on an eighteenth-century sugar plantation and in a first-century temple to Apollo. She hunts for bodies with forensics archaeologists in the vast and creepy Pine Barrens of New Jersey, drinks beer with an archaeologist of ancient beverages, and makes stone tools like a caveman. By turns amusing and profound, Lives in Ruins and its wild cast of characters find new ways to consider what is worth salvaging from our past.Archaeologists are driven by the love of history and the race to secure its evidence ahead of floods and bombs, looters and thieves, and before the bulldozers move in. Why spend your life in ruins? To uncover our hidden stories before they disappear.
Reading this book in my unemployment made me feel a little bit better about the legal job market. Lives in Ruins is an entertaining, laymen’s look behind what it is archeologists actually do, how they live, and why.
The market is scarce and it seems that even the most talented and respected archeologists of our times are forced to live on a mere pittance and the passion for what they do. I particularly enjoyed the variety of sites and scholars that Johnson chose for this book, it gave a broad overview of the field. She states at the beginning of the book that she takes liberties with the jargon of archeologists and as a lay reader I supremely appreciated it. I feel that this probably made for a more compact and readable book, though, Lives in Ruins should not be mistaken for a scholarly analysis of archeology.
I found Johnson’s stories to be exciting and with my own wanderlust it made me wish I could afford (personally and monetarily) to sign up for a little field school and get out on a dig. Though anyone that knows me could attest to the fact I’d be completely miserable. (I dislike the outdoors, heavy lifting, and general physical discomfort – perhaps I’ll stick to my tours.) So while Johnson does a service in de-romanticizing archeology down from the level of Indiana Jones, there is still an element of romance in her storytelling, or perhaps it could be the passion of the people whose stories that she tells which shine through the pages.
Overall a very enjoyable read. Recommended to Indiana Jones fans, those with a general interest in archeology (but little knowledge of it), and people with a love of history and travel.
What about you, Reader? How do you like your non-fiction? Is it okay for it to be a bit casual if it makes it more readable without sacrificing facts or truth? Do you think that you’d dig this book? (Hahahaha, get it?)