Lives in Ruins

Lives in Ruins

Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
Rate this:

Finding Life in Ruins

Jump into a battered Indiana Jones-style Jeep with the intrepid Marilyn Johnson and head down bone-rattling roads in search of those who dig up the past. Johnson, the author of two acclaimed books about quirky subcultures - The Dead Beat (about obituary writers) and This Book Is Overdue! (about librarians) - brings her irrepressible wit and curiosity to bear on yet another strange world, that of archaeologists. Who chooses to work in ruins? What's the allure of sifting through layers of dirt under a hot sun? Why do archaeologists care so passionately about what's dead and buried-and why should we?

Johnson tracks archaeologists around the globe from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, from Newport, Rhode Island to Machu Picchu. She digs alongside experts on an eighteenth-century sugar plantation and in a first-century temple to Apollo.

She hunts for bodies with forensics archaeologists in the vast and creepy Pine Barrens of New Jersey, drinks beer with an archaeologist of ancient beverages, and makes stone tools like a caveman. By turns amusing and profound, Lives in Ruins and its wild cast of characters find new ways to consider what is worth salvaging from our past.

Archaeologists are driven by the love of history and the race to secure its evidence ahead of floods and bombs, looters and thieves, and before the bulldozers move in. Why spend your life in ruins? To uncover our hidden stories before they disappear.

Publisher: New York :, Harper,an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers,, [2014]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780062127181
Branch Call Number: 930.1 JOH
Characteristics: x, 274 pages ; 24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

SkokieStaff_Steven Feb 06, 2018

True confession: when I was a child, my earliest career ambition was to become an archaeologist. I can’t remember what I believed the job entailed, but I imagine I envisioned myself uncovering lost cities, pharaohs’ tombs, and perhaps the odd dinosaur or two. Having read Marilyn Johnson’s “Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble,” I can see I dodged a bullet by not following through on this ambition. Johnson makes it clear that archaeologist love their work. They need to, because it is arduous, uncertain, frequently tedious, often unappreciated, and woefully under-funded. Johnson travels the world and spends time with archaeologists in the field and their places of employment, thus following in the great tradition of science writers like Mary Roach. In fact, if you listen to the audio version of the book as I did, you can close your eyes and pretend you’re listening to Roach herself. (I wouldn’t recommend this if you listen while driving.) Johnson isn’t quite as amusing as Roach, but she shares her love of interesting people, stories, and facts.

Jun 28, 2017

I'm mostly through with this book and really like it. It's not in-depth enough for people that want to know the specifics of Archeology but it does shine light on the problems that archeologists, and archeology as a whole, are facing. I would recommend it.

May 22, 2017

As a collector of facts, I found this book really interesting. A treasure trove of behind the scenes stories about archeologists and their digs.

Jan 28, 2015

There is very little archeology beyond a beginning level here. The book was well written, just not what I expected. It would be a good read for a high school or college student interested in becoming an archeologist as it shows what their work is like.

Sep 28, 2014

Many a librarian knows Marilyn from her book on our profession, THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE. As in that title, Marilyn takes us into many different aspects of a profession, this time archaeology, with the same skill, curiosity, and respect. Her skill at sharing her adventures and the adventures of her subjects is fantastic: engaging, readable, and leaving the reader hunting for more information. This is not meant to be an overview of anything and everything to do with the field of archaeology, but rather a look at some of the people and work that make this profession a labor of love and the object of fascination.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at RPL

To Top