Looking for a good book this summer?

June 6, 2014

“There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.”

-Eyes and Ears, 1862
Henry Ward Beecher

Now that the summer vacation season is upon us, it is time to draw up a summer reading list for those sun-drenched days at the beach or for those random afternoon thunderstorms. Since there are so many books out there and so little time, I asked the staff, keepers, and curators of the museum for some recommendations. They did not disappoint! The following list includes both fiction and nonfiction books and all are related to the fields of archaeology and anthropology.

Naomi Miller a Consulting Scholar in the Near East Section offered a few great classics from Agatha Christie alongside some other entertaining works of fiction an non-fiction.


  • Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie, a classic roman à clef
  • They Came to Baghdad, also by Agatha Christie, which has more Middle East atmosphere than MiM
  • Come Tell Me How You Live, for Agatha Christie fans, her memoir.
    [As most archaeologists know, AC was married to Sir Max Mallowan, Near Eastern archaeologist, and she accompanied him on digs]
  • Gilgamesh, the King, by Robert Silverberg (about a guy who thinks he’s a god, but he’s not crazy)
  • Guests of the Sheikh, by Elizabeth Fernea, described by a colleague as a memoir about what goes on in a harem (that’s an oversimplification, but still…)

DM_motelStephen Lang, the Lyons Keeper of Collections in our Asian sections enthusiastically added, Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay.  From reading some reviews, this book sounds like a hilarious novel that follows an amateur archaeologist who, in 4022, finds a “sealed” hotel room from 1985 that he interprets to be a burial chamber, complete with an inner chamber (or bathroom).


Jane Hickman, editor of Expedition magazine, suggested a recent publication of the Women’s Committee. Culinary Expeditions: A Celebration of Food and Culture which used the museum’s collections as inspiration for the recipes. As a cookbook that nourishes both the mind and the belly, it delves into the ancient history of familiar dishes like hummus, succotash, spring rolls, and more!

MC_timelineJim Mathieu, who does too many things here at the museum to list, added Timeline by Michael Crichton as recommended summer reading.  In addition to being a thriller with a complex plot, Timeline plays with concepts of experimental archaeology and time-travel that allow archaeologists to “witness” the ancient events they study.


Shawn Hyla, our resident “IT guy” who just finished a degree in archaeology at Penn, reflected on all of the books he read in pursuing that degree and offered, Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and The Battle for Native American Identity. Shawn chose it because the book offers a detailed look inside the archeological process while tackling a complex and controversial topic.

Finally for my reading list! Since my background is in history, I am not well versed in the methodology of anthropology or archeology. So I’ve searched out a few “crossovers” for myself this summer. I tried to identify books that will bridge my interests in food and cultural history with anthropology and archaeology.

    • RE_dayscloseAt Day’s Close: Night In Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch.  Because a history of the Western world’s troubled past with the nocturnal hours is utterly fascinating.
    • The Comanche Empire by P. Hämäläinen. I read, actually I skimmed, this book in grad school, but was so impressed by the depth of research and methodology that it deserves a more thorough read.
    • The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century by F. Errington, T. Fukikura, and D. Gewertz.  This book is about the development of instant noodles and the cultures that created, adapted, or adopted them to satisfy their own circumstances, either as symbols of poverty, modernity, or transformation.

So if you follow our recommendations or choose your own, let us know.  Leave a comment on what you thought or what other books you are reading!

Happy summer reading to all!