Book Review: Lives in Ruins – Marilyn Johnson

lives in ruins coverTitle: Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
Author: Marilyn Johnson
ISBN: 9780062127181
Pages: 288
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5


In Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble, Marilyn Johnson discusses important digs, talking about why archaeologists’ work matters, and removes any romantic notions of what an archaeologist does.

Snapshot Review:

In this eye-opening look at the difficult realities of modern-day archaeology, Marilyn Johnson takes the reader through various projects and digs, bringing the personalities behind them to life and emphasizing the important work that archaeologists do today.

Full Review:

Marilyn Johnson is an author who, like so many of the rest of us, is fascinated by archaeologists: the exciting lives they lead and the important work they do. But when she starts investigating archaeologists to discuss their projects and write about the importance of their work, she discovered that the reality of an archaeologist’s life and career is much more bleak and staid than Indiana Jones, for example, would have us expect.

The archaeologists that Johnson writes about in Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble are absolutely devoted to their work. They have to be; it’s incredibly difficult for them to find jobs, and when they do, they’re grossly underpaid. Johnson doesn’t hesitate to depict just how hard it is to be a modern-day archaeologist; their work is more important than ever, yet budgets are being slashed left and right. It’s interesting to see the different people that Johnson highlights and how dedicated they are to preserving the past and learning more about it; it’s inspiring.

Johnson takes the reader through a few different projects in Lives in Ruins, and they’re all fascinating. Unless you are current on what’s happening in archaeology (I am not), then you never really hear about the ongoing digs and small discoveries being made. It’s so interesting to read about what new things are being discovered every day, but it’s also eye-opening to understand the politics and bureaucracy that many of these digs are facing. It’s not something you necessarily think about, and Johnson does a great job bringing it to the lay reader.

The structure of Lives in Ruins really works for it and makes it easy to read. Each chapter discusses a different subject or a different dig; that means you can easily put the book down chapter by chapter and pick it up again later; it works just as well as a series of linked essays than one larger book. I enjoyed that because I never felt as though Johnson went on for too long about one subject (though there are interesting threads—such as the sheer difficulty of securing a job and making a living as a modern day archaeologist—that run through the narrative). All in all, if you’re interested in history or archaeology, Lives in Ruins is a well-written and engaging book that you should absolutely consider.

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  1. I REALLY enjoyed this book. Great review!

  2. I would love the information in the book, but I want to keep my romantic view of archaeology!! I may pick it up anyway as this is just such an interesting topic.

  3. I once worked for a summer at the intersection of art history and archaeology. It was so exciting being on a site. The area we were working in had been unearthed for years, but there was still so much to discover and figure out. I can’t wait to read this.

  4. This sounds so interesting. Usually non-fiction is a tough sell for me but this sounds too good to pass up.

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