By Kyle Anderson
Updated December 31, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

As Johnson points out at the beginning of Lives in Ruins, the chronicle of her adventures in the world of archaeology, there are no dinosaurs here — that is the purview of paleontologists. Instead she concentrates on the people sifting through the sand for clay pots and exploring shipwrecks for treasure. Her excavation experiences are relatively mundane, so she smartly keeps the focus on the characters, who get fiercely emotional talking about the possibility of reconstructing the Chinatown in Deadwood or preserving the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers. 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. B+

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