Friday, July 15, 2011

Gods, Graves and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology, by C.W. Ceram


An excellent and informative book. Ceram's unquenchable passion and unflagging enthusiasm for his field are quite contagious. Presumably all archaeologists chose their field because they care deeply about it; however, this excitement does not always translate in their dry and often lifeless writing.

Furthermore, Ceram is no snobby academic--he is most delighted by significant contributions from non-traditional and amateur archaeologists. Not that these amateurs are poorly educated--he reiterates time and again their brilliance and dedication to learning about the cultures they studied. But in many cases, these impressive educations were self-wrought. Ceram tells of doctors and lawyers and businessmen who taught themselves a variety of foreign and ancient texts and otherwise equipped themselves to pursue lost cultures that fascinated them. It is, in fact, rather surprising that Ceram is a German, as he clearly relishes the self-made man/underdog stories that are so strongly identified with the American dream.

It is not surprising, however, that Ceram was employed as a journalist--he does not write in an esoteric style, but with all the joie de vivre of a man who loves his job and wants others to share in his enjoyment. And the stories themselves are far from boring--before archaeology was a precise, toothbrush-wielding science, it was any man's game, and an impassioned amateur was just as likely to stumble across an incredible find as anyone else. In light of Ceram's artfully told tales, the exploits of Indiana Jones seem much less improbable.

The book is admittedly rather long, but worth the time and energy. Plus it totally counts as educational reading, and makes an impressive addition to any library.

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