& Now in Paperback
A "gem of hands-on reportage" --Nature
“Johnson is an absolutely delightful writer. She follows the story of archaeologists working in different parts of the world and asks: What would drive people to do this? What guides people to travel to godforsaken places all over the world and spend all this time preparing to go into the field when the risk is so great and the payoff is often not much. All of us are driven by our passion. She does a beautiful job of explaining why we do what we do.”
--Sarah Parcak, winner of the 2016 TED Prize
"Johnson weaves a serious tale of learning about archaeologists and their craft with humor and insight. The wild cast of characters is the stuff of Hollywood... This book is a delight for all of us amateurs who someday want to become serious archaeologists."
"Hillary Huber engagingly narrates this fascinating glimpse into the life of the modern-day archaeologist... Huber's classy narration gives credence to Johnson's assertion that archaeology is vastly more valuable than digging up bones and pottery. It's a science that allows us to better understand our own humanity."
"This is a very funny read that covers various archaeological careers... Perfect for those looking to see behind the red curtain of Indiana Jones to see what real archaeologists do, and why it matters."
[A] lively survey of archaeology and the people who practice it... Johnson writes entertainingly, employing many quirky tidbits gleaned from the likably eccentric intellects she meets... 'Lives in Ruins' leaves you with a tantalizing notion: The past is everywhere around us, and the forgotten is always underfoot."
--The New York Times
"A witty, edifying guide to the professionals who, 'armed with not much more than a trowel and a sense of humor,' help fill in the blanks of history. Johnson obviously delights in her subjects — their stubbornness and vision — and trowels out surprises. [She] wears her heart on her shovel and makes us care."
"In the first chapter of her informative book on archaeology, 'Lives in Ruins,' Marilyn Johnson asks, 'What sort of people choose to read bones and dirt for a living?' In succeeding chapters, she answers that question, in spades. Johnson writes with clarity (she describes 'a gray tarantula the size of a baby’s fist') and humor ('That Neanderthal profile, stocky and hirsute, is quintessential male archaeologist'), and limns wonderful portraits."
"Through a combination of perception and wit, Johnson discovers how archaeologists are invaluable witnesses 'to the loss of our cultural memories.'"
[Lives in Ruins] is "essentially a series of profiles of archeologists and their obsessions [that] successfully demystifies the profession and documents the unexpectedly wide variety of skills and activities that fall within its parameters."
-- The New Yorker
"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 enticing...it'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.
"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."
"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, About.com
"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."
"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."
"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."