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Death by Theory: A Tale of Mystery and Archaeological Theory Paperback – January 16, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The author's droll humor helps incorporate theory within many other aspects of archaeology—CRM, field methods, the public, even issues of professionalism. Having taught archaeological theory for many years, I appreciate the revised edition, which is nicely updated to include more illustrations, concepts such as 'agency,' and new references and websites. (Nancy White, author of Archaeology for Dummies)

About the Author

Adrian Praetzellis is professor of anthropology and director of the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 198 pages
  • Publisher: AltaMira Press; Revised Edition edition (January 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0759119589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0759119581
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I bought this book for two reasons; I was curious to see if it would be worth using with an Intro to Archaeology class, and I have a terrible head for theory myself, so am always curious to see how other people approach it.
"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.
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Format: Paperback
This book is both a good narrative and an introduction to archaeological theory. It is *very* well written, *highly* competent and insightful (but without any jargon), *beautifully* illustrated, and *extremely* funny -- for archaeologists anyway. What more do you want? I wish there were more books like this that challenged the conventions of archaeological writing and argument in such sophisticated ways. Congratulations to Altamira Press for taking the risk that is necessarily involved in printing such a book *and* selling it at such a good price. These are the kind of publishers that actually move the discipline of Archaeology forward...
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Format: Paperback
Death by Theory is a novel, but one with a purpose. The author teaches the reader all the concepts of archaeological theory while solving an archaeological mystery. I highly recommend this book for all beginning archaeology students, and anyone interested in the subject. I also got a kick out of the illustrations.
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Format: Paperback
The author does an excellent job of easing the reader into such arcane topics as diffusionism and the post-modern non-method along with standard archaeological history and current cultural/ethical issues. And he does it with a funny and engaging storyline. I definitely recommend this book for enthusiasts and old pros alike. Can't wait to read the next one.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A number of people recommended this book to me, since I am primarily an historian, and I really needed something that could explain archaeological theory to me in a way that made sense to my non-analytical brain. This book does exactly that, in the form of a tongue-in-cheek mystery set at a dig on an island in the Pacific NW.

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.
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Format: Paperback
I must preface this review with the statement that Dr. Pratzellis is one of my instructors, although not for theory. (I have him for methods and he refuses to use his own texts as he considers it hubris to assign one's own writing for a course) He is an excellent instructor.

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)
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Format: Paperback
There are very few archaeological textbooks for which the phrase "cute and fluffy" is applicable, but this is the exception. A mutant hybrid of fiction and theoretical discourse (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), 'Death by Theory' is a fun and enlightening adventure into the world of archaeological theory that can be comfortably read in one sitting.

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.
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