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Death by Theory: A Tale of Mystery and Archaeological Theory Paperback – January 16, 2011
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"Death by Theory" is not great literature, and not really that great of a mystery, but that's ok because it does one important thing very very well. It presents archaeological and anthropological theory in a totally non-threatening way, and in a way that a beginning (or forgetful) student is likely to remember. It's not going to tell the serious archaeology student everything he or she needs to know, but it's a great jumping off point for further discussion, as well as a good, basic reference that students will likely return to.
The illustrations are amusing and insightful, and there's enough humor and plot to keep the reader turning the pages. If I ever have the opportunity, I would definitely use this book with an intro class, and I am quite happy to add this book to my own reference library.
While I was glad for the lessons in theory, this book also held a few disappointments. The prose style is mediocre, for one. Mr Praetzellis writes like he's got a synonym dictionary open in front of him, and he's damned if he'll use the same word twice, or use a person's name when he can describe them in some other way. I found this and the constant shifts in perspective really irritating. I also did not find any of his characters interesting or engaging, and most were downright annoying. However, I will admit that I have met incarnations of most of these people in the field, so I guess I can't fault him that much. So far as the story goes, considering it was meant to be a mystery, there were few surprises. The clues are laid on pretty heavily, and I'd worked out what was going on by about halfway through. I had hoped that the theory would be more cleverly worked into the story, rather than just having the characters explaining it to one another, but you can't have everything.
All that being said, I will probably hang onto it and read it again from time to time, just to make sure the slippery theories are firmly wedged into my brain.
I picked up this book as an adjunct to the assigned main theory books, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences and Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History, and found it a lighthearted (at times) and enjoyable read that, as others have already mentioned, lets your mind absorb the theories while letting you read a rather far-fetched mystery tale. I found it helped clarify some slipperier points of certain theories and gave me some insight into the possible practical applications of theory in practice. The drawings alone are worth seeing!
While this is not "great literature" and Adrian at the outset makes absolutely no pretense that it is, it is worth reading. It is also a prequel to the methods novel Dug to Death: A Tale of Archaeological Method and Mayhem (another amusing read)
One could perhaps criticize a rather clumsy and obvious approach to the fictional narrative, but this stylistic approach serves to highlight the fact that many of the characters are archetypal representatives of various theoretical perspectives: intentional caricatures handled with both a certain amount of humor and a lot of affection.
This book is a wonderful supplement to the more orthodox texts on the subject, and could be read hand-in-hand with more lengthy (but equally engaging) works such as Archaeological Theory by Matthew Johnson.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good archaeological information. It was just kind of hard to keep up with the story because I feel there were just too many characters that kept getting introduced throughout the... Read morePublished on November 17, 2013 by PJ
This book is bad. The style of writing is very, very forced, and chunks of information are awkwardly laced throughout dialogue. Read morePublished on April 20, 2012 by aselbea
Basic archaeology theory in a kind of illustrated novel. I enjoyed it a lot.Published on February 1, 2004
The presentation of concepts, and a light, clever plot are marred by disjointed writing. It seems as if Prof. Read morePublished on August 23, 2002