I have reviewed a few books on the blog which strike interesting or unusual compromises between being academic or scholarly and being popular nonfiction. Fading Scars, for example, is part scholarly and part memoir, and cites only sources that readers can find for free. The Weight of Shadows does the balance in a more traditional, journalistic way, although it's also part memoir. Cornelius Holtorf's From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology in Popular Culture also seems to be attempting to balance the common reader with the specialist, and in this case, I’m not sure about the result.
The book’s central thesis is multipart, discussing archeology and the popular imagination in terms of the drama of excavation, changing ideas of the past, and the thrill of encountering something one believes to be authentic. Towards the beginning, Holtorf asserts that traditional archaeology ignores the general public’s needs, wants, and interpretations. While this is undoubtedly true, the book’s early pages tend to imply that the arguments in From Stonehenge to Las Vegas are new. Instead, the book pulls together many (perhaps all) of the academic voices that have spoken on what the public gets from archaeology. Some of these are not from archaeologists but sociologists, psychologists, and historians. Holtorf pulls together a lot of food for thought, and sheds some light for the non-archeologist on how our relationship with archaeology is based in facts, and how it’s based in myths. I recommend the book if you'd like a tour of a number of different perspectives on what makes historical or archaeological objects "real," "authentic," or "important."
However, after several chapters the book started to feel like a literature review, without Holtorf adding much of his own to the discussion. By the end of the book, the other main thrust became clear: Holtorf asserts that the public’s interactions with archaeology are what matters. A bold statement, certainly, but I came away wondering what he wants readers to do with that thought. Should general interest readers be pleased that their interpretations, while mostly myth, are better after all? Or should archaeologists change their ways, and if so, how?