"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.'"
"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
"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."
"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."
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.