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Lives in Ruins: Archeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  1,883 ratings  ·  330 reviews
The author of The Dead Beat and This Book is Overdue! turns her piercing eye and charming wit to the real-life avatars of Indiana Jones—the archaeologists who sort through the muck and mire of swamps, ancient landfills, volcanic islands, and other dirty places to reclaim history for us all

Pompeii, Machu Picchu, the Valley of the Kings, the Parthenon—the names of these lege
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by Harper (first published January 1st 2014)
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Marilyn Johnson Thanks, Lisa. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was younger. I used to dig and collect fossils and rocks; I also liked to conduct botany experime…moreThanks, Lisa. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was younger. I used to dig and collect fossils and rocks; I also liked to conduct botany experiments. I kept terrariums and had a chemistry set. I also outfitted cigar boxes with a glass side so I could watch seeds sprout. It was great to get back in touch with those interests while researching this book, and I was heartened to learn about all the ways that amateurs can be involved with archaeology. See, for instance, for affordable training in underwater archaeology, or for volunteer opportunities.(less)

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Start your review of Lives in Ruins: Archeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
Between the ages of about eight and 15, I was adamant that I wanted to be either an archaeologist or a paleontologist when I grew up. I can date the latter ambition to the first Jurassic Park movie, which I saw in the theater when I was in third grade; the former is a bit more challenging to trace, but may have something to do with the hours my first best friend and I spent “excavating” behind the shed in her backyard. With our hand trowels we unearthed ceramic fragments and seemingly endless oy ...more
Amy Sturgis
Marilyn Johnson has achieved the unthinkable. Given the opportunity to meet cutting-edge and trend-setting archeologists, observe and take part in their work, and journey to some of the most promising digs and stimulating gatherings in the field, she has produced a shallow, vapid, and downright annoying book. She spends next to no time on the archeologists' scientific methods or the ongoing debates which their work promises to change or enrich. Just when a chapter starts to get interesting, John ...more
Dec 09, 2016 rated it liked it
It was nice to read a book about archaeology after a long time , but while it was nice to go down memory lane , this was not a book about actual archaeology but the experiences the author has after interviewing a couple of archaeologists, while is good that an author is generating interest in the field of archaeology, I feel like this book perpetuated the myth of the adventurer archaeologist and and the same time can be depressing in its economic escape regarding the archaeologists interviewed. ...more
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Growing up, I wanted to be three things - an archaeologist, a paleontologist, and an astronaut (not necessarily in that order). In fact, when I was planning on what University to attend, I looked long and hard at those with established Classics programs, particularly the schools that credited a field 'dig' component. In the end, I chose a different career path (for a lot of different reasons), but that passion remains.

It's that passion for the nitty-gritty, dirt-under-the-fingernails approach to
Jessica Jernigan
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
If you know absolutely nothing—and I do mean absolutely nothing—about archaeology, this book might be for you. This is especially true if you are more interested in learning about Marilyn Johnson than you are in learning about archaeology. And, if you enjoy reading the phrase "Indiana Jones" over and over and over again, you will love this book.

If, however, you are looking for a lively, engaging narrative of contemporary archaeology, you might want to consider Ian Hodder's The Leopard's Tale.
Susan (aka Just My Op)
Oct 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc-edition
This work of nonfiction is terrific for someone like I am, someone who thinks archaeology sounds interesting from afar, wants to play in the dirt, but doesn't want the actual hard work and the detailed tedium that are involved. Better to just sit back and read this book than do any real work.

The author interviews, works with, and writes about several different archaeologists, and isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. This book could have been incredibly boring, but it was not. She kept it lively
Nov 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
This is a book about the lives of archeologists. The summary seemed quite promising and the reviews looked positive. But the actual book was sorely disappointing. It's more like a talk show than a collection of essays. It jumps from person to person, without in-depth discussions of anything - be it places, problems, or people. About halfway into the book, I decided it was not worth my time. I could not recall learning anything of value about the scientific methods employed by the archeologists, ...more
Nov 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Being an archaeologist for the past 25 years, I know why I got into the business. This book interested me because it discussed how others got into archaeology, while discussing how archaeologists do what they do and why its important. Good book for anybody who ever wanted to be an archaeologist as a kid.
This was really interesting. Johnson was occasionally repetitive (I get that archaeologists aren't paid much, you can stop saying that) but overall I thought this was an insightful look into a fascinating profession. The book does a good job of covering many different kinds of archaeology, though it was fairly US-centered.

At first I didn't like the audiobook reader's voice, but it grew on me. As a plus, I now know the correct pronunciation of "neanderthal."
Jaclyn Day
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
I’d heard good things about this book before picking it up and wasn’t disappointed. The title is perfect since there is so much about archeology that is seductive to the average person: we are intrigued by them, the treasures they find and seek; the places they visit. Indiana Jones remains our handsome ideal of the profession. (There’s actually a portion of the book that discusses how fondly modern archeologists view Jones/Harrison Ford.) When I was growing up, there was a Civil War battlefield ...more
Jul 26, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-life
Author Marilyn Johnson set out on a big journey to document the Life of an Archaeologist. She met many people, attended a few conventions, and she traveled the world! She learned about archaeology on the fly, so if any readers are interested in the "science" of archaeology, it is not here. This is a primer, a conversational piece. It is intended to demonstrate why Archaeology "matters" by giving a sort of celebrity status to its practitioners and advocates.

Marilyn Johnson writes chapters on the
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was so looking forward to this book. I've always had an interest in this subject and took a couple of classes in college a million years ago. Yet even with my very limited knowledge, this book did not give me anything new. Yes, the author did travel to some amazing places and take part in some phenomenal digs. There were some interesting and humorous anecdotes. It's well written and reads like fiction. It flows seamlessly. Yet the majority of the book is bemoaning the life of the archaeologist ...more
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Marilyn Johnson interviewed, and worked with, a variety of archaeologists in order to create an entertaining look at the field. Whether it was a cultural resource management firm, a group of specialists from a conference, or a DoD civilian archaeologist working to teach cultural sensitivity to soldiers deploying around the world, each had an interesting tale to tell.

In other words, Johnson takes us into the real world of archaeology, far from the flash and excitement of Indiana Jones. The hours
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: september, arc, 2014
Many a librarian knows Marilyn from her book on our profession, THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE. As in that title, Marilyn takes us into many different aspects of a profession, this time archaeology, with the same skill, curiosity, and respect. Her skill at sharing her adventures and the adventures of her subjects is fantastic: engaging, readable, and leaving the reader hunting for more information. This is not meant to be an overview of anything and everything to do with the field of archaeology, but rath ...more
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: november-2014
“Johnson takes a fascinating look at the field of archeology, profiling a number of archaeologists at work. She visits sites as diverse as an army base, Rhode Island, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Peru, but the best part of this book is learning about the archaeologists and their passions. A fun, interesting read that may cause an uptick in field school applications.”

Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: archaeology
Rather interesting look at archaelogy and the people who practice that academic discipline.

Only problem for me was too much of the book looked at areas that I have no interest in, so I couldn't get enthused about.
For better or for worse, the study of archaeology will forever evoke images of a sweaty Harrison Ford in his iconic leather jacket and fedora battling Nazis, snakes, and other bad guys for all sorts of unusual and often valuable historical artifacts. However, what Indiana Jones does in the field is practically a cakewalk compared to the daily battles modern archaeologists must fight. Lives in Ruins brings the focus away from the idea of swashbuckling archaeology and presents the field of study a ...more
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2015
This book was alright. I think I might have enjoyed it more if archaeology was still just a passing interest of mine, and not something I have a full degree in. Most of the things that Johnson covers as far as archaeology goes are pretty basic, straightforward things that are covered in undergraduate archaeology courses. And even then, she covers them in the quickest way possible, I felt like there was very little depth to anything she was really saying. It jumped from topic to topic quickly, an ...more
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
A series of essentially long magazine articles tied together by the theme of the lives and careers of "archaeologists" (interpreted in the broadest possible sense) comprise this "golly, gee whiz" treatment of a fascinating discipline and the people whose vocation it has become. The book, while profiling some interesting projects and people, is shallow and poorly written. It is also sexist in that the women profiled have their body types, clothing choices (especially shoes), and makeup techniques ...more
Aug 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook
20150913 ◊ This book was a huge disappointment. I mean come on: how could you mess up a journalistic investigation into the lives of some of the most creative, passionate, adventurous, and arguably lunatic professionals out there? Oh, I'll tell you how.

By informing the reader that you will not be burdening them with any of that nasty science-y stuff.

By talking more about yourself than your subjects.

By focusing more on footwear than fieldwork.

This book reads like an over-long expose on archaeolo
Craig Pittman
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What a fun and fascinating book this is, from its delightfully punny title to its meditative, yet offbeat ending. If you ever wondered how much the lives of real archaeologists might resemble that of Indiana Jones, here's your answer -- not much, but still filled with enough adventure to keep an audience amazed.

I read one of Marilyn Johnson's prior works, "The Dead Beat," a lively book about obituary writers, and loved it so much I gave copies to other people as gifts. I didn't know if this one
Carol Jean
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very enjoyable and informative book about the struggles and delights of an incredible variety of archeologists! I have to admit, my favorite is the one who is researching and remaking ancient alcoholic beverages. I already bought some "Midas Touch". Seriously, this is an excellent book. I had no idea the many uses to which archeological exploration can be put. ...more
J.F. Penn
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Fantastic book if you are at all interested in archaeology. The author visits a number of digs and meets with all kinds of characters. Great sense of humour as well as some fascinating tidbits of info and snippets of beautiful language. I wanted more!
Catherine Davison
DNF. I was expecting something with more substance,too much nonsense about the clothing and haircuts of the archaeologists, it seems a shame that the writer had the opportunity to travel and participate in digs with such incredible people yet only thought to observe such trivial things.
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This just confirmed everything I want to do in life, this book is amazing.
Nov 23, 2014 added it
Really enjoying this book!
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent. Entertaining and informative.
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Like many people out there, I once dreamed of becoming an archaeologist. I’m not sure what led to that wish, but I have a feeling it coalesced out of all the history and mythology books my mother was buying for me during my elementary school years. They were often lavishly illustrated affairs, featuring exquisite photographs of artefacts and the places the artefacts were found; as a child with a very active imagination, it wasn’t difficult to imagine what it would be like if I could actually hol ...more
Barbara Meyer
Apr 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: archeology
I was initially engaged by the subject matter and the author's approach, which was to introduce the archeologists themselves. Why did they choose their profession? What hardships did they face? What have they learned?

Johnson takes classes, goes to lectures, and visits the various sites for some hands-on experience and does manage to give the reader a superficial knowledge of the areas of study, but it would have been a lot more interesting if she took archeology a little more seriously. Her att
2.5 stars.

There were parts that I really enjoyed, I found the people interesting and their archaeological pathways. Sometimes though it was just a huge disconnect between paragraphs. One minute I'm interested and it's flowing, the next I realised I had no idea what she was talking about and I was counting down the pages until I was finished.

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Author of three non-fiction books about those who work to capture, preserve, provide access to, and excavate our cultural memories.

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Why not focus on some serious family drama? Not yours, of course, but a fictional family whose story you can follow through the generations of...
162 likes · 60 comments
“What was archaeology to him? It was the opposite of killing things. It was trying to will life back into stuff that had been forgotten and buried for thousands or millions of years. It was not about shards and pieces of bone or treasure; it was about kneeling down in the elements, paying very close attention, and trying to locate a spark of the human life that had once touched that spot there.” 3 likes
“You can tell the archaeologists, of course, by their photos. The tourists’ photos feature people in front of mountains, terraces, stone structures, sundials. The archaeologists wait until the people move away to take theirs: they want the terrace, the stone wall, the lintel, the human-made thing, all sans humans.” 2 likes
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