Salvaging the past is a tough way to live, but archaeologists wouldn't have it any other way.
Are librarians obsolete in the Google era? They couldn't be more important
A former obituary writer celebrates the cult and culture of obituaries
Why were people so shattered when this rogue princess died?
After an early life controlled by her mother and her Hollywood studio, nobody would tell her how to live.
A salute to the great actress from Life Book's Katharine Hepburn: 1907-2003
He was talented and careless and pain followed him wherever he hid.
An avid reader’s wry take on books, past and present

A "gem of hands-on reportage" --Nature

New from Harper

View the book trailer by Mary Murphy.
View the book trailer by HarperCollins.


"Johnson has a knack for enlivening a potentially dry subject with vivid sketches, punchy quotes and lively scene-setting....This is good fun, but it would be ephemeral fun if Johnson didn’t also possess the journalist’s ability to pinpoint essential information for general readers."
-- Washington Post

"As archaeologists collect potsherds and spearpoints, Marilyn Johnson became a collector of archaeologists, tracking them to Machu Picchu and to Fishkill, N.Y., to a Caribbean slave plantation and a Philadelphia beer tasting. In Lives in Ruins, she sifts and sorts them, unearthing a treasury of rare characters."
-- Dallas Morning News

"Johnson’s wonderful and engaging work peels back the super­ficial glamour surrounding archaeology and archaeologists, offering an account that is a step above the typical book on the subject. Johnson’s contribution to this genre is unmatched. ­Without glitz, the author has created a very enjoyable work that will be appreciated by experts in the field and casual readers alike."
--Library Journal starred review

--Laura Miller, Salon, Book of the Week

“The great pleasure with which I read this book took me back to when I was eight years old and wanted to be an archaeologist. Marilyn Johnson does a wonderful job uncovering the delight in this tough, important, and exhilarating profession.”
Ian Frazier, author of Great Plains, Travels in Siberia, and Humor Me: An Anthology of Funny Contemporary Writing

"Marilyn Johnson is dangerously good at what she does. By dangerously, I mean drop-what-you're-doing-start-a-new-career-path good...[Lives in Ruins] holds a surprising amount of weight for such a fun, quick read. It's not the zany characters that make the book so's their inspiring passion for their work, which Johnson chips away at with each archaeologist she follows, that makes this book profound."
--PW Best Books 2014

"Johnson’s book is simultaneously a crash course in basic archaeology and a sociological study of the various quirky subcultures of professional archaeologists. Both types of material prove fascinating, and she is a funny and garrulous guide to the terrain. Johnson skillfully captures the vivid and quirky characters drawn to archaeology.
--Boston Globe

"World travel, drinking, lust in the dust—our lives are all in ruins, indeed, and Johnson reveals why we wouldn't want it any other way."
-- Sarah Parcak, National Geographic Society Fellow and author of Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology

“Many archeologists credit Indiana Jones with sparking their passion. In this lively love letter [to their profession] Johnson may well inspire a new generation to take up the calling.”
--Publishers Weekly starred review

"The author, who makes a habit of looking into atypical subjects and then writing about them with brio and dash, takes on the discipline of archaeology, which is on a bit of a hot streak. Much like Mary Roach, another sharp writer who often tackles a single topic, Johnson casts her net widely [but] she's also mesmerized by the smaller-scale elements: gorgeous blue beads from the wreck of an old galleon, and the pure, magical allure of the lost: 'significant sites that are so humble in appearance, or buried, or otherwise hidden.' An engrossing examination of how archaeologists re-create much of human history, piece by painstaking piece."
--Kirkus starred review

"In the process of carving out her own archaeological experience, Johnson digs deep and comes up with a sparkling gem."
--Book Reporter

"You should read Lives in Ruins, if you are a practicing archaeologist, dreaming of a career in archaeology, have a child who is, or have retired from the field and spend your days recalling the conviviality at the end of a hard day's work digging holes far from home."
--K. Kris Hirst, Archaeology Expert,

"In this gem of hands-on reportage, Marilyn Johnson delves into the lives of the pros behind the finds."

"Johnson is merrily self-deprecating and funny in her anecdotes of the personalities she encounters, but also absolutely serious about the importance of their work. We are all the richer for Johnson's eloquent ode to this dirty job."
--Shelf Awareness

"As she did in her best-selling 'The Dead Beat,' Johnson writes in a charming and thoughtful manner, weaving in her personal observations, insightful quotes from her subjects and a wide-eyed fascination."
--Seattle Times

"A worthy read for your holiday wish list...Johnson climbs into field trenches around the world, sweating and shoveling beside these unsung heroes. Through her, we come to appreciate their tenacity and drive, as well as how much we need them."

"As she did in her previous books about librarians and obituary writers, Johnson finds that the line between inspirationally nutty and actually crazy is measured in the joy of the work."
--Entertainment Weekly


What does it take to dedicate yourself to the hidden past, and why does it matter? I’ve been following archaeology professionals around the world for a new book titled Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and Seductive Lure of Human Rubble, and here are a few things I've noticed:

*Archaeologists have a high tolerance for grossness. They're used to working in graves and garbage pits.
*Beer is the international beverage of archaeology.
*Archaeologists love Indiana Jones. They talk about him as if he's their daredevil older brother.
*The world is mutating faster than archaeologists can keep up.

To read more about Lives in Ruins, follow the link in the top left column.