Book Review: Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson

Posted November 17, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 5 Comments

Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson
Published by Harper Collins on Nov. 11, 2014
Pages: 272
Genres: Science/Social Science
Source: Publisher
Buy on The Book Depository

If you spent your childhood scanning the forest floor for arrowheads and trawling the beach for fossils, hoping to discover traces of long-lost civilizations and extinct animals, you’re going to want to pick up a copy of Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble post-haste. Marilyn Johnson’s latest book delves into the world of archaeology and the everyday lives of the people who call it their profession.

Although Indiana Jones makes archaeology seem sexy, with glamour, danger, and mind-blowing discoveries around every corner, the reality of life as an archaeologist is somewhat different. It is incredibly difficult to find even low-paying jobs, and most archaeologists learn to live on shoe-string budgets. So why do they do it? Why do they compete so fiercely to toil under brutal conditions in remote corners of the globe when they can barely earn enough money to feed themselves? It’s simple. Archaeologists do what they do because they love it. Because nothing compares to preserving history or making discoveries that contribute even tiny details to our understanding of the past. Lives in Ruins explores what exactly it is that archaeologists do, why they do it, and the unique challenges they face.

Johnson follows multiple archaeologists around the world, trailing them to archaeological sites as far-flung as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and even Machu Picchu. She isn’t afraid to jump right into the thick of things, attending field school at an archaeological dig to get first-hand experience of the field she is writing about, traveling to sites around the world, and chatting up archaeologists at international conferences.

Lives in Ruins is a must-read for anyone who ever harbored a secret desire of becoming an archaeologist when she grew up. Johnson’s enthusiasm for her subject sparkles, and it is fascinating to learn what life is really like for archaeologists as they are trained in their craft, struggle to find employment, work in the field, and develop expertise on topics as oddly specific as analyzing beverage residue found in ancient pottery. This book covers a wide range of topics, including archaeology in pop culture, craft beers inspired by archaeology, the challenges archaeologists face (both personally and professionally), surprising ways archaeological training can help the military preserve cultural sites, what working on a dig is like, and much more.

This is a great book for anyone interested in learning about the realities of archaeology, and I would also recommend it to fans of Mary Roach’s books. Johnson doesn’t stretch as far to make jokes as Roach does, but she takes a similar hands-on investigative approach to her topic. This book is full of interesting facts, and Johnson writes with a compelling, engaging voice. Lives in Ruins is a captivating portrait of an important profession that rarely takes the spotlight.

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through the link above, I will make a tiny commission.

  • I’m just starting this today, so I’m glad to see it was a good read for you! I’m really looking for something with a good, compelling voice, too!

  • Words for Worms

    I need to pick this up. I have more than a passing fancy for archaeology. Old stuff rules.

  • This sounds interesting! I used to think as a child I really could dig a hole to the other side of the world if I just dug far enough! lol