Lives in Ruins

  • by Marilyn Johnson
  • Narrated by Hillary Huber
  • 9 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Pompeii, Machu Picchu, the Valley of the Kings, the Parthenon - the names of these legendary archaeological sites conjure up romance and mystery. The news is full of archaeology: treasures found and treasures lost. Archaeological research tantalizes us with possibilities (are modern humans really part Neanderthal?). Where are the archaeologists behind these stories? What kind of work do they actually do, and why does it matter? Marilyn Johnson's Lives in Ruins is an absorbing and entertaining look at the lives of contemporary archaeologists as they sweat under the sun for clues to the puzzle of our past. Johnson digs and drinks alongside archaeologists, and chases them through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and even Machu Picchu. Her subjects share stories about slaves and Ice Age hunters, ordinary soldiers of the American Revolution, Chinese woman warriors, sunken fleets, and mummies. What drives these archaeologists is not the money (meager), the jobs (scarce), or the working conditions (dangerous) but their passion for the stories that would otherwise be buried and lost.


What the Critics Say

"Many archaeologists credit Indiana Jones with sparking their passion, and Johnson may well inspire a new generation to take up this calling." (Publishers Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Down and Dirty

This book is an interesting insight into the lives of archaeologists.

Firstly, the author feels she must inform us that archaeologists don’t dig up dinosaur bones. The people who do that are called ‘palaeontologists’, while the heroes of this book are interested in only in the remains of humans, and their artefacts. Now, if that hasn’t alienated you by insulting your intelligence, let’s proceed:

It’s a fairly light-hearted look at a selection of archaeologists working in different settings. I didn’t realise beforehand that there were so many subdivisions of this discipline: There are marine archaeologists, who look for sunken ships; classical ones who fossick about in the ruins of Greek and Roman temples and suchlike. There are those who look for cavemen and women, and all the artefacts that tell us how their hard lives were lived. Then there are forensic archaeologists who do the CSI-type work, digging into the graves of murder victims searching for evidence of who put them there.

Wait – there’s more: There are 'CRM' archaeologists – hired by firms who have bought land with the intention of erecting buildings: the law says they have to dig before they build to make sure precious archaeology isn’t going to be destroyed by the construction, so they reluctantly employ archaeologists in the hope that they won’t find anything that might scupper their building plans.

There are even military archaeologists, who advise the US army on active service in countries like Iraq and Syria to try to avoid destroying ancient sites in the course of waging war.

The author takes us on a tour of all these different genres of archaeology, and the people who have immersed their lives in the passionate quest for broken bits of antiquity. We meet dogged, eccentric people with a lifelong passion for this hard, dirty, painstaking work. Most of them are highly qualified people who would be living wealthy, comfortable lives if only they had chosen a different vocation, but archaeology doesn’t pay well. If you do it, you have to really dig it.

The book is entertaining and nicely narrated. It isn’t compelling or life-changing, but it’s a decent listen.
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- Mark "I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!"

Great introduction to archaeology for the general

As an archaeologist, it is both difficult and tiresome trying to explain to people what it is that I do (or don't do). This book has taken a holistic, informative, and entertaining approach to explaining the basics of archaeology. Although the author focused on sexier examples of the field (because let's face it, no one wants to read about artifact cataloging or surveying a a chicken processing plant no matter how curios they are about arch), she does a fantastic job at explaining the core values that make archaeologist love their job. I would highly recommend this book as a supplementary read in an intro to archaeology class. Performance compliments the story perfectly.
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- Rhiana Desiree Casias

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-19-2014
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio