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"A gem of hands-on reportage"




         -- Laura Miller, Salon


                                    New York Times bestseller


                                    Amazon's Best 100 Books 2014 (Print)


                                    Publishers Weekly's Best Books 2014


                                    Libraryreads Top Ten Books of November 2014


                                    Flavorwire's 15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

                                             "Possibly the most pure fun on the list"



"Through a combination of perception and wit, Johnson discovers how archaeologists are invaluable witnesses 'to the loss of our cultural memories.'"

--USA Today


"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


[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."

--New York Times Book Review


 Johnson has a knack for enlivening a potentially dry subject with vivid sketches, punchy quotes and lively scene-setting. Despite her dutiful caveat that swashbuckling movie archaeologist Indiana Jones is a fantasy figure, Johnson acknowledges his mythic allure in an occupation still dominated by men: 'The guys all own fedoras and whips,' a female grad student confides. 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. In Lives in Ruins, she sifts and sorts them, unearthing a treasury of rare characters." 

--Dallas Morning News


"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."

--World Archaeology


                       Five archaeologists reviewed the book for The Page Turner

                       blog at the New Yorker. The panel commended the author for

                       her portrait of the frustrating grind of the job and the often-long wait for a 

                       payoff. One said that she would add "Lives in Ruins" to her students'

                       reading list simply for its blunt portrayal of the difficulty of the job search....     

                      The panel credited Johnson's ability to balance a big picture of the profession

                      with details about the minutiae of the work.


"Johnson is an absolutely delightful writer. She does a beautiful job of explaining why we do what we do."

--Sarah Parcak, author, Archaeology in Space, and winner of the 2016 TED Prize


"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. They come across as eccentric, obsessive, driven and fun to be around.

--Seattle Times


 [The title] "perfectly suits [this] story about the characters in the business: their passion, tenacity and sense of humour. [Johnson] fills her book with every fun fact she comes across."



"In the first chapter of her informative book, 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 clarityand humor, and limns wonderful portraits."

--Providence Journal


"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."

--American Archaeologist


"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


"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."



"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."

--Austin American-Statesman

photo of author in a jeep
Photo ©Margaret Fox

"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


"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, Great Plains and Travels in Siberia


"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 

"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." 

--Publishers Weekly, Best Books 2014



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

--Book Reporter


  "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....An engrossing examination of how archaeologists re-create much of human history, piece by painstaking piece." 

--Kirkus, starred review


"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