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Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs PDF, ePub eBook

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Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs PDF, ePub eBook One day back in 2003, Ken Jennings and his college buddy Earl did what hundreds of thousands of people had done before: they auditioned for Jeopardy! Two years, 75 games, 2,642 correct answers, and over $2.5 million in winnings later, Ken Jennings emerged as trivia’s undisputed king. Brainiac traces his rise from anonymous computer programmer to nerd folk icon. But along t One day back in 2003, Ken Jennings and his college buddy Earl did what hundreds of thousands of people had done before: they auditioned for Jeopardy! Two years, 75 games, 2,642 correct answers, and over $2.5 million in winnings later, Ken Jennings emerged as trivia’s undisputed king. Brainiac traces his rise from anonymous computer programmer to nerd folk icon. But along the way, it also explores his newly conquered kingdom: the world of trivia itself. Jennings had always been minutiae-mad, poring over almanacs and TV Guide listings at an age when most kids are still watching Elmo and putting beans up their nose. But trivia, he has found, is centuries older than his childhood obsession with it. Whisking us from the coffeehouses of seventeenth-century London to the Internet age, Jennings chronicles the ups and downs of the trivia fad: the quiz book explosion of the Jazz Age; the rise, fall, and rise again of TV quiz shows; the nostalgic campus trivia of the 1960s; and the 1980s, when Trivial Pursuit® again made it fashionable to be a know-it-all. Jennings also investigates the shadowy demimonde of today’s trivia subculture, guiding us on a tour of trivia hotspots across America. He goes head-to-head with the blowhards and diehards of the college quiz-bowl circuit, the slightly soused faithful of the Boston pub trivia scene, and the raucous participants in the annual Q&A marathon in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, “The World’s Largest Trivia Contest.” And, of course, he takes us behind the scenes of his improbable 75-game run on Jeopardy! But above all, Brainiac is a love letter to the useless fact. What marsupial has fingerprints that are indistinguishable from human ones?* What planet has a crater on it named after Laura Ingalls Wilder?** What comedian had the misfortune to be born with the name “Albert Einstein”?*** Jennings also ponders questions that are a little more philosophical: What separates trivia from meaningless facts? Is being good at trivia a mark of intelligence? And is trivia just a waste of time, or does it serve some not-so-trivial purpose after all? Uproarious, silly, engaging, and erudite, this book is an irresistible celebration of nostalgia, curiosity, and nerdy obsession–in a word, trivia. * The koala ** Venus *** Albert Brooks From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brendon Schrodinger

    Cross-posted from my blog The Periodic Table of Elephants Ken Jennings stamped himself onto my psyche with 'Maphead', a book about geography and geo geeks, which I read last year. I adored this book for many reasons and I connected with Ken's sentiments about learning, obsession and being a nerd. I've now gone back to a previous book of his, 'Brainiac' which deals with the history and obsession of trivia and the events that made Ken a household name in the U.S. For those of you not from the U.S. o Cross-posted from my blog The Periodic Table of Elephants Ken Jennings stamped himself onto my psyche with 'Maphead', a book about geography and geo geeks, which I read last year. I adored this book for many reasons and I connected with Ken's sentiments about learning, obsession and being a nerd. I've now gone back to a previous book of his, 'Brainiac' which deals with the history and obsession of trivia and the events that made Ken a household name in the U.S. For those of you not from the U.S. or who like 'Jeopardy!', Ken shot to fame by being a carry over champion on the game show a record 74 times. But that is not like being a champion on 'Wheel of Fortune', this is 'Jeapordy!', an intense and highly difficult quiz show where you answer with a question. So you may be thinking "Why the hell would I want to read a book about this guy bragging about his conquest?". I can assure you that this is not what this book is about and Ken wouldn't do that type of thing anyway. Ken does take us through his tale of 'Jeapordy!', but it is interspersed with his lifelong relationship with trivia and mainly the worldwide history of trivia. Like 'Maphead', Ken finds all different types of trivia nerds and connects with them and tells their stories also. We meet a U.S. town that goes trivia crazy once every year for 70 or so hours non-stop. We also meet a trivia writer fallen on hard times after a bad court case with the makers of the 'Trivial Pursuits' games. What also makes Ken's books great is his voice. He is funny and self-deprecating, while being knowledgeable and insightful. He is everything I and every other geek aspires to be like. I still can't believe he is a Mormon. He doesn't seem to have that glazed-over, I-married-my-cousin-at-the-age-of-nineteen-just-so-I-could-have-sex, we-all-float-down-here thing going on. And I totally agree with Ken when he says: "It was nice to have someone on TV for a few months who was openly religious and yet wasn't (hopefully) the usual stereotypical mouth-breather or nut job." You said it Ken. It is encouraging to find a religious voice that seems to be part of this reality and I can connect with. And I want to quote Ken once more. Here a summary on geek: "After all, we're currently living in a Bizarro society where teenagers are technology-obsessed, where the biggest sellers in every bookstores are fantasy novels about a boy wizard, and the blockbuster hit movies are all full of hobbits and elves or 1960s spandex superheroes. You don't have to go to a Star Trek convention to find geeks anymore. Today, almost everyone is an obsessive, well-informed aficionado of something. Pick your cult: there are food geeks and fashion geeks and Desperate Housewives geeks and David Mamet geeks and fantasy sports geeks. The list is endless. And since everyone today is some kind of trivia geek or other, there's not even a stigma anymore. Trivia is mainstream. "Nerd" is the new "cool.”"

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    I’ve had on and off love affair of the mind with Jeopardy for ages. I always enjoy it, but don’t always watch it for practical uninteresting reasons, although this year I’ve watched every episode thus far. I play along on Jeopardy.com and once a year completely mess up the Jeopardy test due to inexplicable inability to perform under strict time limit. The pinnacle of this decades long passion has certainly been Ken Jennings, the player extraordinaire with his uncontested 75 appearances back in 2 I’ve had on and off love affair of the mind with Jeopardy for ages. I always enjoy it, but don’t always watch it for practical uninteresting reasons, although this year I’ve watched every episode thus far. I play along on Jeopardy.com and once a year completely mess up the Jeopardy test due to inexplicable inability to perform under strict time limit. The pinnacle of this decades long passion has certainly been Ken Jennings, the player extraordinaire with his uncontested 75 appearances back in 2004 (wow, it’s been that long, scary how time moves) and 74 wins. Defeated in the final game by Nancy Zerg and a Final Jeopardy question so easy, I figured it out right away. But then again no one’s heard of Zerg (or me for that matter) and Ken Jennings remain a legend. At least among the trivia lovers who are the subject of and the target audience for this book, Jennings’ recollection of his time on Jeopardy and his travels in the land of random knowledge geeks, something of a memoir, something of a love letter, entertaining, informative and laden with fun facts readers can try to puzzle out. Jeopardy’s been around for a long time, it’s a veritable institution and with tv getting progressively dumber, it has always been the shining light of major broadcasting. Trivia isn’t as popular in the US as it is in UK or some other countries, then again this is the land that actually sees stupidity as a sort of folksy virtue and among all the rampant anti intellectualism, it’s always such a pleasure to tune in and see a few bravely smart souls and test your knowledge against them. I mean, it’s one thing to suspect you’re kinda smart and entirely another to have it be confirmed by national television and the national treasure that is Alex Trebek. Sure, trivia doesn’t precisely equate with intelligence, but as Jennings puts it, they certainly live in the same neighborhood. I’m decent at trivia, Jennings has made himself a millionaire through it, a feat positively magical in its improbability. That’s genuinely awesome as in awe inspiring. Of course, I’d wanna read a book he wrote. In fact did in the past, the one about maps, a very good one. No idea what took me so long with Brainiac. The guy can actually write pretty well, he’s erudite and funny and pleasantly self effacing, not just a witty face, forgive the terrible attempt at a pun. Plus it was fascinating to peek behind the proverbial curtain at one of my all time favorite shows, check out how the it all works (warning…it’s a pretty disappointing experience, far from a romanticized version one might have in mind). But still…so interesting. And Jennings went on to have a fun life, it seems like, and a decent career as an author. Wish he’d write more books for adults, though. Surely kids’ ones are easier, quicker and financially lucrative, but selfishly I would just love to read more of his books. There’s something very enjoyable about the way he writes, probably because his passion for his subjects and general geekiness comes through so plainly. If you don’t care about Jeopardy or trivia, this isn’t for you. But for those who get the thrill of knowledge for the sheer sake of knowledge and excitement of storing and producing at the opportune times random facts about random things this is a must. Very enjoyable read and a great way to spend a rainy Sunday.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    I found Ken Jennings a positively delightful author (despite the fact that I was predisposed to love him with the loyalty of someone who watched nearly all of his JEOPARDY! appearances). This work is far more than the 15 minutes of fame bargain book dead weight it could have easily been. Instead, Jennings has carefully penned a masterful (yes masterful) overview of Trivia in American pop-culture and interspersed the narrative of his JEOPARDY! experiences in a clever and un-assuming way. Plus, th I found Ken Jennings a positively delightful author (despite the fact that I was predisposed to love him with the loyalty of someone who watched nearly all of his JEOPARDY! appearances). This work is far more than the 15 minutes of fame bargain book dead weight it could have easily been. Instead, Jennings has carefully penned a masterful (yes masterful) overview of Trivia in American pop-culture and interspersed the narrative of his JEOPARDY! experiences in a clever and un-assuming way. Plus, there are trivia questions throughout every chapter answered in the endnotes: interactive fun for those of us who grew up with dads that alternately challenged us to yell out more correct answers than they could and vocally abused Mr. Trebek in ways too obscene to repeat here.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    If you're any kind of a Jeopardy geek, this is required reading, as uberwinner Ken Jennings tells the tale of how he came to be on the show and win his historic 74 games. But beyond that, Brainiac is a thoroughly entertaining history of trivia - or, of the universally-addictive pastime of asking and answering obscure general knowledge questions. Jennings did great research, and writes with a densely-packed brevity and wicked sense of humor. And best of all, there are great trivia questions sprinkl If you're any kind of a Jeopardy geek, this is required reading, as uberwinner Ken Jennings tells the tale of how he came to be on the show and win his historic 74 games. But beyond that, Brainiac is a thoroughly entertaining history of trivia - or, of the universally-addictive pastime of asking and answering obscure general knowledge questions. Jennings did great research, and writes with a densely-packed brevity and wicked sense of humor. And best of all, there are great trivia questions sprinkled throughout the narrative, so you can test your knowledge.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eh?Eh!

    Learn about Ken Jennings and the subject of trivia! Jennings' gentle, nerdy, self-deprecating humor is a soothing balm for an overexposure to Chicago snarkiness (present Chicago buds excluded, of course :o). He reads like I fear I sound, although I don't have close to the knowledge base he draws upon. Good grief, I hope I'm not as know-it-all as that. Entertaining look into the history of trivia, it's current forms and festivals, and a behind-the-scenes viewpoint of Jeopardy!. Enjoyable read and Learn about Ken Jennings and the subject of trivia! Jennings' gentle, nerdy, self-deprecating humor is a soothing balm for an overexposure to Chicago snarkiness (present Chicago buds excluded, of course :o). He reads like I fear I sound, although I don't have close to the knowledge base he draws upon. Good grief, I hope I'm not as know-it-all as that. Entertaining look into the history of trivia, it's current forms and festivals, and a behind-the-scenes viewpoint of Jeopardy!. Enjoyable read and endorsed by Will Shortz.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Beth Cato

    I've watched Jeopardy throughout my life and Ken Jennings's spectacular run fascinated me in 2004 and still does so today. I always enjoy seeing him return for new bouts. I found Brainiac to be an overall interesting read. There was less behind-the-scenes info on Jeopardy than I expected, though I understand why there isn't more. His long run blurred together for the most part. Much of the book is about the nature of trivia itself--how it became a thing, how the fad has ebbed and flowed over the I've watched Jeopardy throughout my life and Ken Jennings's spectacular run fascinated me in 2004 and still does so today. I always enjoy seeing him return for new bouts. I found Brainiac to be an overall interesting read. There was less behind-the-scenes info on Jeopardy than I expected, though I understand why there isn't more. His long run blurred together for the most part. Much of the book is about the nature of trivia itself--how it became a thing, how the fad has ebbed and flowed over the decades, and how it is celebrated in various forms today. I found the early portions on the history of trivia to read as slow--but perhaps that was also my impatience to find out more about Jeopardy--but I really enjoyed the insights at the end about Stevens Point Wisconsin's massive trivia weekend and how bar trivia developed in recent years.

  7. 5 out of 5

    M.liss

    Yes, it’s about Jeopardy! and Ken Jennings’s experience on the show and how it affected his life, but it’s not going to teach you how to study in the way that Bob Harris’s book does. Jennings touches on his study habits (study broadly, use a makeshift buzzer, create mnemonics), and gives some tips for auditioning (know the game and its rules, present yourself as affable and funny), but what makes Brainiac stand out is that it’s really about trivia in a broader sense. Jennings traces the history Yes, it’s about Jeopardy! and Ken Jennings’s experience on the show and how it affected his life, but it’s not going to teach you how to study in the way that Bob Harris’s book does. Jennings touches on his study habits (study broadly, use a makeshift buzzer, create mnemonics), and gives some tips for auditioning (know the game and its rules, present yourself as affable and funny), but what makes Brainiac stand out is that it’s really about trivia in a broader sense. Jennings traces the history of trivia from its fact-book beginnings, following the development of newspaper trivia columns like “Answers to Questions,” huge radio trivia contests like the one at Stevens Point, and the ebb and flow of TV trivia game show trends (and their varying levels of greasiness). He also reveals his childhood obsession with trivia: The Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, The World Almanac, and esoteric encyclopedias stacked on his boyhood bedside table. In his awkward teenage years, he confesses, as a form of social damage control, he shied away from his nerdy first love. By college, however, he gave in to his desires and represented Brigham Young University on their Quiz Bowl team. This book is full of interviews with people from all walks of trivia. Jennings helps out at a Quiz Bowl competition at Carleton College, talking with the host and coach about the history of college team trivia, the characteristics of good trivia, and how questions are constructed. (The chapter “What is Composition?” outlines how most trivia questions fit into one of several templates.) Returning to his childhood love of trivia, Jennings looks up Fred Worth, author of The Trivia Encyclopedia, and gets his take on how the makers of Trivial Pursuit ripped off his book to create questions for the game and how SCOTUS decided that trivia is outside of the bounds of copyright law. Jennings plays along with the massive Stevens Point game, joins a team for a round of pub trivia, and covers the development of those electronic quiz systems found in bars (formerly NTN, now known as Buzztime.) It is his immersion that makes this book interesting; it is a story told from the inside. He asks what distinguishes trivia from simple facts, and decides that it is not simply that the facts are little-known. To be true, capital-T Trivia, the fact must contain some glimmer of joy, something inherently interesting, unique, or surprising. So what is the point of trivia? Why bother with these esoteric details? Ken Jennings says trivia can bring people together. He laments the erosion of the commonality created by a shared set of general knowledge: “We lost something the more we specialized – it started to drain away this vast pool of information that everybody knew. Knowledge was what connected us, and now it distinguishes us (141). This shit is worthwhile! So go watch Jeopardy! with people you care about and yell answers at the TV together! Go play Quizzo!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Malin Friess

    In 2005 Ken Jennings won 75 games in a row on Jeopardy, answered 2,642 questions correctly, and won $2.5 million dollars. He is the King of Trivia. This book takes you behind the fascinating scenes of Alex Trebec and the Jeopardy subculture. 5 shows are taped all in one day. Jennings barely had time to catch his breath between shows..oh and put on a new outfit to look like it is a new day (Alex is very good at saying --"Yesterday our champion Ken won $28,000" when really it was 5 minutes ago. ) A In 2005 Ken Jennings won 75 games in a row on Jeopardy, answered 2,642 questions correctly, and won $2.5 million dollars. He is the King of Trivia. This book takes you behind the fascinating scenes of Alex Trebec and the Jeopardy subculture. 5 shows are taped all in one day. Jennings barely had time to catch his breath between shows..oh and put on a new outfit to look like it is a new day (Alex is very good at saying --"Yesterday our champion Ken won $28,000" when really it was 5 minutes ago. ) Always double check your math..it has happened in final jeopardy that someone lost because they bet the wrong amount. Jennings of course prefers when games are locked--that is when you have more than double your competitors at time of final jeopardy. Ken once had 17 locked games in a row. You are not allowed to tell anyone (except your spouse) the results of the show (often it is not on TV for another 3 months). Jennings (a computer programmer who lives in SLC and attended BYU) had to make elaborate stories for why he was missing work and flying to LAX every Wednesday. You can study for jeopardy--know your presidents, world capitals, and mixed drinks (even if you are Mormon). Halfway through Jennings run..the producers became nervous and wondered if ratings would fail if Jennings just kept winning. They changed the buzzer system. Jennings felt like returning champions have a large advantage knowing just when to "ring in"-- watch the light not the words--when it flashes wait just a moment and then hit the button like crazy. Jennings also felt that within Jeopardy there was some gender preference (Jeopardy almost always has one female playing each game) even though trivia buffs are mostly men. Jennings tried out and it took 10 months to get on the show..it usually took female competitors about one month. The book also highlights other trivia competitions..it turns out Carleton College (my father's alma mater) is known to be annual trivia champions. For fun Jennings intersperses 10 trivia questions in each chapter for fun: Papua New Guinea is the only country besides Australia with Kangaroos. The philtrum is between the mouth and nose. Barbie's full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts. 5 stars. Fun book at Jennings comes across unassuming and very likable. I started watching Jeopardy again when Austin (a quirky bartender from NYC) went on a good run. I'm not sure how I missed Jennings streak--maybe I had no TV or cable at the time. Did anyone else watch Jenning's run..it would have been captivating. I wonder if it will ever happen again.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    I'm no Jeopardy fan though I did watch every minute of several shows when IBM's Watson took down former all-time champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. However, then I was more interested in the computer's prowess than in acquainting myself with the game. What's more, my trivia knowledge is mixed; in Trivial Pursuit I used to move around the board fairly comfortably only to grind to a permanent standstill on "Geography" or "Entertainment." So why did I enjoy Brainiac so much? That's because Brai I'm no Jeopardy fan though I did watch every minute of several shows when IBM's Watson took down former all-time champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. However, then I was more interested in the computer's prowess than in acquainting myself with the game. What's more, my trivia knowledge is mixed; in Trivial Pursuit I used to move around the board fairly comfortably only to grind to a permanent standstill on "Geography" or "Entertainment." So why did I enjoy Brainiac so much? That's because Brainiac is an interesting story, well presented. The content is the story of Jennings's audition for Jeopardy, his narrow victory in the first game, his long successful run, and his ultimate loss. Along the way, Jennings provides some backstory--his interest in trivia since childhood, his participation in college contests, and his maniacal preparation for the show. He also throws in history of trivia, references to other famous game shows of the early TV era, some local trivia competitions in bars and schools, the Trivial Pursuit craze, and meetings with some idiosyncratic trivia fanatics. There's a lot more content to chew on than you might expect. And the entire story is very well told. Jennings has an easy going, conversational style with some humor, self deprecation, and odd trivia tossed in. Somehow, although the outcome is generally well known, he is able to create a sense of drama without overdoing the game-by-game analysis. Throughout, I felt Jennings was having a casual chat with me, not just about trivia, but also about the nature of knowledge, the excitement of competition, and the pressures of fame. So if "Enjoyable Reads" is the category and Alex says, "This 2006 book is an interesting story, written in a very approachable style by a computer programmer," I'd press the buzzer and say, "What's Brainiac?"

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    "Brainiac" by Ken Jennings has been at the top of my list for over a year and I was on the waiting list at the library for almost as long. Why? Because I idolize the man. Only Ken Jennings would understand my need for a daily fix of trivia. I wasn't disappointed by the book, although I did find myself skipping large portions about the history of trivia and college quiz bowl formats, etc. I was delighted to find that my Ken jennings was every bit as intelligent as I imagined, and an incredibly en "Brainiac" by Ken Jennings has been at the top of my list for over a year and I was on the waiting list at the library for almost as long. Why? Because I idolize the man. Only Ken Jennings would understand my need for a daily fix of trivia. I wasn't disappointed by the book, although I did find myself skipping large portions about the history of trivia and college quiz bowl formats, etc. I was delighted to find that my Ken jennings was every bit as intelligent as I imagined, and an incredibly entertaining writer. Several times, I found myself laughing out loud as he poked fun at himself and his self proclaimed geekiness. That being said, I also discovered that he is just an average guy, and Mormon to boot! I also loved to read about Jeopardy!: the audition and tsting process, and the way the show is run. I was surprised to see the level of non-comraderie that exsisted between Jennings and Trebek. I always thought that they were so buddy buddy. I loved the book, though for some reason it took me quite a while to finish. It was so fun to answer the questions that were scattered throughout the book. For example, did you know that Descartes had a fetish for cross-eyed women? Did you know that opossums have 13 nipples? Did you know that Benjamin Franklin invented the flexible urine catheter? Did you know that the carrot was bred by Dutch growers to honor their royal family, the House of Orange? Did you know that California, not Utah consumes more Jell-O than any other state? It was also quite exhilarating to find that I knew the Final Jeopardy answer that finally caused Jennings's elimination after more than six months on the show. (You'll have to read the book to find out what it was.) Anyway, the book is great and I think all you geeks out there should give it a try. Enjoy!!!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marlene

    I must admit that I never would have bought this book. It was given to me to read. I got so sick of seeing Ken Jennings on Jeopardy that I never wanted to hear from or see him again. That is not to blame Ken Jennings, but it is like watching the New York Yankees win the world series every year. I want to say, "Just give them the trophy and let the other teams compete!" So with Ken Jennings. Jeopardy became the Ken Jennings show. I rued the day that Jeopardy decided to take the 5-game limit away. I must admit that I never would have bought this book. It was given to me to read. I got so sick of seeing Ken Jennings on Jeopardy that I never wanted to hear from or see him again. That is not to blame Ken Jennings, but it is like watching the New York Yankees win the world series every year. I want to say, "Just give them the trophy and let the other teams compete!" So with Ken Jennings. Jeopardy became the Ken Jennings show. I rued the day that Jeopardy decided to take the 5-game limit away. I like to see close games, a real contest, not a one-man show. I thought this book would be about his stint on Jeopardy so, as I was reading it, I kept thinking that there was a lot of fill in this book. To be fair, the book was about Trivia, and, dispersed throughout, was about his stint on Jeopardy. Still, there was a lot of fill. In each chapter, there were questions to which the answers were at the end of the chapter. He did a very good job with the answers so you did not have to go back and find the question to know what it was. Thank you, Ken. My feelings for Ken Jennings (I always thought of him as a bit smug) and for the book went back and forth as I read. There were some very interesting parts. Trivia buffs are a breed unto themselves. It is interesting to read and realize the life of a trivia buff.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    I received this as a birthday gift from my mom, which says that she that she probably thinks of me as a "trivia buff" of some sort. That's flattering, particularly since she hardly ever buys me stuff because she's so uncertain of what I'll like. I liked this book a lot, because it's not just about Ken Jennings experience as a Jeopardy champ. It's really a historical and cultural study of trivia. (The books includes a "trivia timeline" and the end, even indentifying the first use of the word "triv I received this as a birthday gift from my mom, which says that she that she probably thinks of me as a "trivia buff" of some sort. That's flattering, particularly since she hardly ever buys me stuff because she's so uncertain of what I'll like. I liked this book a lot, because it's not just about Ken Jennings experience as a Jeopardy champ. It's really a historical and cultural study of trivia. (The books includes a "trivia timeline" and the end, even indentifying the first use of the word "trivia" to refer to esoteric but interesting facts.) I found in Jennings own experience an echo of my own propensity to collect bits of information, not because I want to win on a game show, but because such things might come in handy some day (and also because I just can't help myself). I had a colleague of mine in the English department accuse me of just making stuff up (am I the Cliff Clavin of the English Department?) but honestly I'm not. I just have a lot of what Dave Barry calls "brain sludge." This book is well written, which I'm pleased to see, since Ken Jennings is a graduate of BYU's English Department. (We are still waiting for those big donations to our writing program.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Del

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is a memoir from Ken Jennings- the guy who won Jeopardy! a record 74 times in a row. He won over $3 million total. (10% went to the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints) "Brainiac" is the very well written and entertaining chronicle of his amazing achievement. Throughout the book he switches between recounting his Jeopardy! experiences and delving into the history and appeal of trivia. He discusses the process of writing trivia questions and the quest to separate the clever stumper fr This is a memoir from Ken Jennings- the guy who won Jeopardy! a record 74 times in a row. He won over $3 million total. (10% went to the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints) "Brainiac" is the very well written and entertaining chronicle of his amazing achievement. Throughout the book he switches between recounting his Jeopardy! experiences and delving into the history and appeal of trivia. He discusses the process of writing trivia questions and the quest to separate the clever stumper from the useless fact. He also inserts trivia questions into the story, using them as a writing device and providing the answer in end note format following each chapter. I learned that Koala bears and humans have indistinguishable fingerprints. I am a huge trivia geek, so naturally I loved this book, but given Jennings' writing style,and the fact that it is kind of an ode to a nerdy obsession, I would recommend this to geeks of all types.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cevin

    Remember Ken Jennings, the guy who won 75 consecutive games on Jopardy!and over $2.5 million dollars in the process? Well, this is his story. But it's more than just the story of how he got onto the show and won; its a history of trivia. From the quiz books of the Jazz Age to the college bowls of the 1960s to Trivial Pursuit in the 1980s, it's all here. And guess what? Ken is a funny guy! This was actually enjoyable to read. An added bonus are the trivia questions interjected into each chapter. Remember Ken Jennings, the guy who won 75 consecutive games on Jopardy!and over $2.5 million dollars in the process? Well, this is his story. But it's more than just the story of how he got onto the show and won; its a history of trivia. From the quiz books of the Jazz Age to the college bowls of the 1960s to Trivial Pursuit in the 1980s, it's all here. And guess what? Ken is a funny guy! This was actually enjoyable to read. An added bonus are the trivia questions interjected into each chapter. Finally, the book asks the reader to consider some broader philosophical questions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. Are there really such things as useless facts? Does trivia serve some purpose? Maybe it's just because I'm a nerd, but I really enjoyed this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Billy

    Interesting, quick read by Ken Jennings describing his historic run on Jeopardy! as well as presenting a general chronology of trivia and its continued popularity. May contain a little less about the how-to a would be Jeopardy! contestant would want (see Bob Harris's Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!), but there's a feeling that the commonality of curiosity makes us more alike than different. The conversational tone belies the amount of information presented. The chapters are general Interesting, quick read by Ken Jennings describing his historic run on Jeopardy! as well as presenting a general chronology of trivia and its continued popularity. May contain a little less about the how-to a would be Jeopardy! contestant would want (see Bob Harris's Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!), but there's a feeling that the commonality of curiosity makes us more alike than different. The conversational tone belies the amount of information presented. The chapters are generally short and contain a number of trivia questions throughout with answers following the chapter. I enjoyed it quite a bit and would re-read if the call from Culver City comes.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Denise Spicer

    This fun book and quick read is written by a trivia expert and record setting Jeopardy! winner. The chapters are organized cleverly, using Jeopardy!-style answers – What is Ambition, What is Audition, Competition Recognition, Redefinition, etc. outline the author’s experiences in achieving his life-time goal of appearing on the popular game show. He includes massive amounts of trivia history and features lots trivia celebrities and farms. The book ends with a trivia timeline for readers who migh This fun book and quick read is written by a trivia expert and record setting Jeopardy! winner. The chapters are organized cleverly, using Jeopardy!-style answers – What is Ambition, What is Audition, Competition Recognition, Redefinition, etc. outline the author’s experiences in achieving his life-time goal of appearing on the popular game show. He includes massive amounts of trivia history and features lots trivia celebrities and farms. The book ends with a trivia timeline for readers who might enjoy this tidy reference list. Worth the read, not only for followers of the Jeopardy! TV show but for everyone who loves learning.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Read most of this on a trip for work, and it was great airplane reading, very chill. I'm a huge fan of trivia and play pub quiz regularly, so I liked Jennings' history and investigation into trivia in America; it really is great to read it coming from a guy who loves trivia and is respectful of all the other kinds of folks who do, too. Jennings's story of playing Jeopardy! is also a fun, interesting frame. He's a quippy, fun writer, and his casual style was great to read. As a trivia hound, I app Read most of this on a trip for work, and it was great airplane reading, very chill. I'm a huge fan of trivia and play pub quiz regularly, so I liked Jennings' history and investigation into trivia in America; it really is great to read it coming from a guy who loves trivia and is respectful of all the other kinds of folks who do, too. Jennings's story of playing Jeopardy! is also a fun, interesting frame. He's a quippy, fun writer, and his casual style was great to read. As a trivia hound, I appreciated that Jennings peppered the whole thing with trivia, and included the answers at the end of each chapter.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Vince Snow

    Really loved it. Some of the parts about trivia groups around the US got a little dry, but a lot of them were fascinating. I found the parts comparing trivia knowledge to intelligence very interesting. Kind of in the same vein as Moonwalking with Einstein comparing memory to intelligence. Not the same thing, but they live in the same neighborhood. Of course I really loved all of the sections on Jeopardy, giving a better context on background of the game, and why Ken has been the only one to have Really loved it. Some of the parts about trivia groups around the US got a little dry, but a lot of them were fascinating. I found the parts comparing trivia knowledge to intelligence very interesting. Kind of in the same vein as Moonwalking with Einstein comparing memory to intelligence. Not the same thing, but they live in the same neighborhood. Of course I really loved all of the sections on Jeopardy, giving a better context on background of the game, and why Ken has been the only one to have such a long streak.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joy Schultz

    Jennings is amusing and informative about the history of trivia production and consumption (a history that grows ever less familiar under the shadow of Google). I'm particularly fascinated by the idea that the boom-and-bust cycle of trivia fads reflects economic cycles - and, having had family and friends involved in NAQT contests and Jeopardy!, I was interested to hear Ken's perspective on question varieties, what constitutes the quintessence of trivia, and what it's like to play Jeopardy! for Jennings is amusing and informative about the history of trivia production and consumption (a history that grows ever less familiar under the shadow of Google). I'm particularly fascinated by the idea that the boom-and-bust cycle of trivia fads reflects economic cycles - and, having had family and friends involved in NAQT contests and Jeopardy!, I was interested to hear Ken's perspective on question varieties, what constitutes the quintessence of trivia, and what it's like to play Jeopardy! for so long.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cami

    As one of those who obsessively watched Ken Jennings meteoric rise to nerd-envied fame on Jeopardy, I thought I'd give this book a shot. It was really great and entertaining. He tells the tale of his Jeopardy experience, obsession with trivia, the history of trivia and trivia and more trivia and it's a really fun ride. There are parts to skim more quickly than others certainly, but overall, I really enjoyed. 3.5 stars

  21. 5 out of 5

    C

    He talks about trivia a lot. I guess that makes sense, it wasn't really a memoir. Maybe I thought it'd be more memoir. Some of the trivia sections are good, some are way too clearly bought and paid for by Trivial Pursuit. My editor usually asks "Are they paying you?" when somebody uses a corporations name in their work. Ken Jennings was definitely getting paid. Kinda a funny dude though.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    While the trivia of trivia was interesting at first, I grew tired of it and found myself wanting to fast forward to the "Ken Jennings story" parts. Ok, I admit it. I actually did skip some of the trivia blah blah blah! All that said, Jennings is a surprisingly good and humorous writer.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    my high school academic bowl team gets mentioned! a must-read for all academic bowl fiends.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I liked learning about Ken Jennings' trivia journey specifically, as well as the world of trivia in general.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bridgette Redman

    Who knew? Amongst Ken Jennings' mastery of trivia and all things Jeopardy!, the man can also write—and is as skilled at that as he is at buzzing in on answers. This month saw the release of the 74-game Jeopardy! champion's book, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, a look at his Jeopardy! experience and at the subculture of trivia. It's a fascinating book that clues us into just why we're so taken with trivia—whether it's in the form of game shows, Who knew? Amongst Ken Jennings' mastery of trivia and all things Jeopardy!, the man can also write—and is as skilled at that as he is at buzzing in on answers. This month saw the release of the 74-game Jeopardy! champion's book, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, a look at his Jeopardy! experience and at the subculture of trivia. It's a fascinating book that clues us into just why we're so taken with trivia—whether it's in the form of game shows, Trivial Pursuit board games, quiz bowl, or pub trivia. Ken Jennings is the man who took Jeopardy! by storm soon after the show lifted its 5-game win limit. He had a hot streak that lasted until game 75, when he lost on a question about H&R Block after racking up winnings of $2.5 million. Brainiac opens with a bit of trivia that sets the stage for the drive that he and his college buddy, Earl Cahill, are making through the rock country of southern Utah to audition for Jeopardy! Jennings is setting up a deal that he’s certain he'll be the beneficiary of: He and Earl will split the costs of the trip unless one of them makes it onto the show. Then that person will have to pick up all trip costs. He's fairly certain that Earl is more likely to make it on the show than he is. Throughout the rest of the book, he intersperses tales of his Jeopardy! experience as a way of introducing his journey into the culture and subcultures of trivia. He tells us of a childhood fascination with pieces of knowledge and the rapid absorption of a child who collects information the way another child might collect marbles. But one of the reasons Brainiac is such an interesting, fascinating book is because it isn't one man's story of himself. Yes, he tells us about his life and his experience, but he does so with a self-effacing mannerism that always seems eager to launch into the love other people have for trivia. He uses himself as an introduction to his topic, telling his story with a humility and intense sense of gratitude. This is the type of book annoys those around you when you're reading as it sparks you to constantly laugh out loud and then insist that any innocent bystander listen to you as you read one particularly funny or unusual passage or the other. Of course, the book becomes even more read-out-loud by the fact that Jennings also intersperses trivia questions throughout the book with answers given at the end of the chapter. (My favorite: Who coined the word nerd?) Reading this book, it's hard to understand why Ken Jennings inspired such dislike from some during his Jeopardy! run. Perhaps it is the competitive nature of trivia, which this book explores in depth. Jennings certainly comes across as a genuinely nice, everyday guy with a wicked sense of humor. And mind, with the wealth of knowledge this man has, his satire can get pretty wicked. He has a gift for snark that stops far short of being mean. While he encourages people who don't know him personally to skip over the acknowledgments because there's nothing to see, it is worth reading if only for the end where he talks to his young son. Even here he displays his humility, closing an extremely well-written and entertaining book with a note to his son promising him that he won't suffer in adolescence for the stories his father told about him because, "I’ve cleverly made sure this book is so lightweight and mediocre that it'll be long out of print by the time you’re of school age." Each of the 16 chapters is titled with a question in the form of a Jeopardy! response (e.g., What is ERUDITION? or What is Tradition?). Jennings starts out by giving us the history of Jeopardy! and the history and etymology of trivia itself. He even explores types of trivia questions and what the attractions are to the different types. It is then that the true research begins, research that extends far beyond an evening with Google or an afternoon in the library. Jennings travels to trivia events around the country. He visits icons and authors who changed the way people looked at and experienced trivia. He shares with us the stories of these people and lets us peek into their collections. He introduces us to high school and college quiz bowl and the lofty levels of knowledge obtained by those who excel in it. He visits a Disneyland Millionaire game attraction before his first taping of Jeopardy! He goes to an annual 52-hour trivia radio contest and participates in NTN trivia contests in restaurants. He doesn't merely present a chronology of facts (though he does include a timeline of trivia in the appendix). He narrates an entertaining, engaging story, appealing even to people who aren’t fans of trivia. Why does the book have such appeal? For me, part of the answer was found on p. 141 of the book. Jennings has already admitted that there are some insufferable know-it-alls in the world of trivia. In fact, it is because of people’s reactions to know-it-alls that Jennings himself hid in a trivia closet for many years, denying the passion he had for the pastime. He had no desire to be boorish. But trivia, he says on page 141 can serve a greater purpose: "The thing that always worried me most about trivia expertise was that it seemed like something that divided people, the swaggering know-it-alls from the proud know-nothings. Sure, there are always going to be people who see trivia as a dueling sword, a means to intellectual show-offery or one-upmanship. But trivia can bring people together too. It sounds Coke-jingle naïve, but maybe if we shared more of the same general knowledge, the way we used to, then we wouldn’t have so many of the communication breakdowns we see today—between individuals, between nations, between races or religious. If more of us enjoyed “trivia”—that is, knowing a little bit about everything—we would know more about one another, and therefore might all get along better." It is this idealistic statement tucked away in the middle of the book that shines out as a thesis for the entire book. It’s trivia as a way for us to connect with each other and to understand each other a little better.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aldrin

    Answer: This computer programmer from Utah holds the record for the longest winning streak in Jeopardy!. Question: Who is Ken Jennings? Since its inception, contestants on the popular television game show, Jeopardy!, were limited to only five consecutive appearances, that is, a player, win or lose, was to leave the show and return home after playing five episodes. But on September 2003, this rule was scrapped, finally allowing contestants to continue playing and increasing their pot money until de Answer: This computer programmer from Utah holds the record for the longest winning streak in Jeopardy!. Question: Who is Ken Jennings? Since its inception, contestants on the popular television game show, Jeopardy!, were limited to only five consecutive appearances, that is, a player, win or lose, was to leave the show and return home after playing five episodes. But on September 2003, this rule was scrapped, finally allowing contestants to continue playing and increasing their pot money until defeated. Shortly after the rule was implemented, a contestant named Tom Walsh went on to appear on the show three times more than the maximum number of allowed appearances prior to the rule change: Walsh won seven consecutive games and lost on his eighth. Then, five months later, on June 2, 2004, Ken Jennings, a devout Mormon and a humble software engineer from Salt Lake City, Utah, appeared on Jeopardy!. It was the first of his seventy-five consecutive appearances on the show. Two years after his success on Jeopardy!, Jennings published a book called Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. I had the serendipity of coming across a copy of the book several weeks ago, and for a self-described trivia fiend, finding it was not unlike discovering a new, profoundly interesting trivia item. The moment warranted the utterance of at least one wow and a couple of whoas. Given his legendary exploits on the Merv Griffin-created quiz show, buzzing in with his answers, er, questions episode after episode as millions of viewers tuned in to witness history in the making, Jennings is now considered a cultural icon, an "Opie-looking" leader of the nerd herd, a geek god highly regarded in the pantheon of modern trivia. Jennings's Brainiac chronicles his journey from anonymity to celebrity; it tells of his improbable rise from being a computer programmer for a small company to being an icon, a leader, and a god. Told with a mixture of self-deprecating humor and nerdy charm, it's an irresistible story about an unlikely hero who, armed with thirty years' worth of encyclopedic knowledge and a copy of How to Get on Jeopardy!... and Win!, auditions for Jeopardy!, gets called back eight months later, and plays for a record-breaking six months to earn more than two million dollars as well as host Alex Trebek's utmost admiration and a spot as one of Barbara Walters's Ten Most Fascinating People of 2004 ("It must have been a slow year," Jennings says of his inclusion in the broadcast journalist's list). As hinted on by the book's polysyllabic subtitle, Brainiac, aside from telling Jennings's rags-to-riches story, deals with another story that is slightly more interesting: that of trivia itself. As he shares his personal experiences before, during, and immediately after his stint as a quiz show contestant, Jennings discusses the past and present state of trivia as well as of the subculture that surrounds it. And while he's at it, Jennings peppers the book with phrases, all within context, that read like trivia questions or Jeopardy! clues, each marked with a superscript number that corresponds to an answer at the end of the chapter where the phrase appears. This novel approach makes Brainiac even more entertaining as it seeks to counter what Jennings notes is the same problem that a book about trivia shares with rock criticism or a sex manual: it's never as much fun as the real thing. With a half-page dedicated to the etymology of trivia, numerous paragraphs specifying the origins of various "trivial" pursuits, and entire chapters recounting his visits and interviews with some of his fellow trivia aficionados, Jennings presents a verbal delineation of trivia that is mostly exciting and informative. To be sure, Brainiac's coverage of its ancillary subject can be a drag at times, but it is so exhaustive that I wouldn't be surprised if I stumble upon a factoid somewhere saying that the book, in a nod to one of Jennings's probable heroes, was once alternatively titled, A Brief History of Trivia. I also wouldn't be surprised if Gary Hustwit, director of Helvetica and Objectified, decides to adapt the book into a documentary film about the wonderful, El Ten Eleven music-worthy world of trivia. Answer: Half-memoir, half-lengthy-encyclopedia-entry for the term trivia, this book by former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings is a winner. Question: What is Brainiac? -- Cross-posted on The Polysyllabic Spree.

  27. 5 out of 5

    YoSafBridg

    don't you wanna be a brainiac too? I'm not so sure that i do, at least not if you're defining "brainiac" by the terms of the trivia-buffs encountered in Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs by Ken Jennings the greatest champion in Jeopardy! history (so far). Jennings, as you may or may not remember, spent six months in a 75-game winning streak on the game show Jeopardy!. Brainiac isn't so much a behind the scenes account of his Jeopardy! experience don't you wanna be a brainiac too? I'm not so sure that i do, at least not if you're defining "brainiac" by the terms of the trivia-buffs encountered in Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs by Ken Jennings the greatest champion in Jeopardy! history (so far). Jennings, as you may or may not remember, spent six months in a 75-game winning streak on the game show Jeopardy!. Brainiac isn't so much a behind the scenes account of his Jeopardy! experience(s) (although there is a bit of that in here) as it is an exploration of the world of trivia. Although i found the material somewhat interesting i found the author just the teensiest annoying and the book did drag somewhat toward the end. Jennings humor seemed to often miss his mark (though i'm not sure he knew it) and some of his objects were a bit too near to my heart, for instance: when the Brooklyn public library system announced in 1946 that it would no longer help patrons answer radio quizzes (due to the success of such programs as Ask Me Another! and Break the Bank) "In some cases, [quiz questions] have resulted in actual impairment of morale," the head librarian sniffed." "He then returned to his various important card-catalog-related duties.*" "Salt Lake City's bar scene not being exactly what you would call "hopping."* "Maybe now I can stop being Ken Jennings, nerd folk icon, and just be Ken Jennings, nerd, like I was before. I have finally, as they say in drama classes and twelve-step programs, achieved closure."* *These are the direct Jennings quotes that for some reason or other hit a particular nerve with me, i'm not sure why, perhaps if he were funnier, perhaps if her were a little more familiar with his subject (for instance: we librarians do much more than card-cataloging~we do much in the service of trivia information~very little of which was mentioned here~ahem; i have lived in Salt Lake City and have spent a good deal of time in its bar/club scene as well as many other cities Mr. Mormon Boy, and though it may not be QUITE as hopping as some, it is not all that bad and since you self-confessedly have little experience in such areas i think you really should not base your opinion on the going urban legend; though i'm sure they speak of closure in twelve-step programs they never spoke of it in ANY of the MANY drama classes I attended (nor were any of my drama experiences similar to anything you describe~NOT that i'm taking anything in this book personally~REALLY. ☺ (boy that was a bit of a rant wasn't it?) ANYWAY... Sometimes i watch the trivia shows like Jeorpardy!, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, 1 vs. 100 and such, and think, oh i could totally do that (i totally need the money, i am so in debt, and that seems SO VERY APPEALING). After reading this book i realized i am really not a trivia buff, for the most part i do not enjoy reading lists of various facts and figures and memorizing them (although i do like leafing through the new Guinness Book of World Records when it comes in~i no longer read the whole thing obsessively like i did when i was a kid, and i also enjoy books of lists and the like) most of the reason that i can answer many of those questions (and certainly not all of them) comes from my actual READING background (why imagine that). Jennings had mentioned that many players of college quiz challenges would sometimes develop an interest in classical music or literature because of the facts they were memorizing about those subjects. I tend to remember the little factoids because of my wide and eclectic reading interests and having been blessed with the ability to retain minute details easily (especially now that i'm making myself blog about each book i read.) Jennings is quick to point out that there are many different kinds and levels of intelligence and that the ability to memorize trivia is not ALWAYS a good gauge of either of those, but that it can exercise those brain muscles. Brainiac is an interesting read, and Jennings does have his moments (regardless of how i may sound here~i must admit he IS humble~and he even has his moments of witticism). The rest is just stuff and nonsense.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Spike Gomes

    Ken Jennings book is a brief foray into the history and current world of trivia and the people that compile and compete at it, as told through the narrative framing device of his yet to be broken record of 75 consecutive Jeopardy games. In it he comes across as a self-deprecating nerd with a gentle sense of humor and a somewhat rosy view of the world and it's inhabitants. Each chapter contains about 10-20 trivia questions scattered throughout the text, which makes for a rather fun game. I origina Ken Jennings book is a brief foray into the history and current world of trivia and the people that compile and compete at it, as told through the narrative framing device of his yet to be broken record of 75 consecutive Jeopardy games. In it he comes across as a self-deprecating nerd with a gentle sense of humor and a somewhat rosy view of the world and it's inhabitants. Each chapter contains about 10-20 trivia questions scattered throughout the text, which makes for a rather fun game. I originally got this book to see if it contained any information on how to get on Jeopardy and succeed at playing it, as I'm quite the fan, even though I haven't owned a TV in years (I watch it at my grandfather's and father's place when I visit). It's not much help in that respect, and I get the feeling that some aspects of how they run the game have changed since he was on it, as it is quite rare for anyone to break over ten games, much less 75. Getting on Jeopardy pretty much consists of acing the very difficult entrance test, and then having the insane amount of luck to get a call-back and pass the audition. Oh well... Even if the book really didn't give me what I got it for, what I received instead was pretty entertaining and enlightening. I've always thought of someone like Ken Jennings being a couple of tiers above me when it comes to being a trivia buff (I have no delusions of having a long run on the show, given my sports and pop culture lacuna of knowledge), but via the book, I get the feeling that Ken Jennings doesn't see himself as anywhere near the apex of trivia skills, and I have to agree with his assessment after the chapter on college Quiz Bowl teams. The best teams of that are *hardcore* in ways I could never hope to be. Why don't we see more of those guys, or the folks who obsessively compile trivia on Jeopardy? Well, Jeopardy also picks for personality, and is probably the most generalist quiz tournament out there. People who've memorized the periodic table or the alma maters of all the presidents might struggle at remembering the names of the three Teletubbies. Some people might be rubbed the wrong way by the author's style. He is relentlessly chipper and wholesome, and his sense of humor has all the edge of a soft foam ball. Even if he never mentioned it once, you'd probably figure out the guy was Mormon. That whole bright-eyed gee-whiz cornball attitude is something those of us who've lived around them know very well, though Jennings seems to not be playacting at it like some of them do. He really does seem as nice and well-meaning at the core as he comes across, which might actually make some of the people he covers come across as a bit more pleasant and balanced than they probably are (a few of the people covered don't seem to have much success at anything in life other than trivia, and others seem to be unpleasantly competitive or have an unwarranted sense of self-importance, but from the way Ken Jennings talks about them, they seem just swell nice people to hang around with). He's not the best of writers stylistically, but he pretty much admits that, and to tell the truth, he's probably not as bad as he thinks someone without much practice in writing is. He conveys information in a memorable well organized manner, and has a decent sense of journalistic reporting, far better than some people who are actual long-form journalists. It's just... well... he's just so nerdy and nice it obfuscates things sometimes.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex Daniel

    Are you a trivia buff? A trivia nut? Someone who just likes to play trivia at pubs in the company of friends? Ken Jennings (the current record holder for most Jeopardy! wins of all time) has written a book that almost defies description. BRAINIAC is a memoir of sorts that covers Jennings' trip to try out on Jeoparady! and his subsequent record-setting run. But BRAINIAC is also a commentary and exploration on the world of trivia itself, from the pub-playing host of friends, to the elite college st Are you a trivia buff? A trivia nut? Someone who just likes to play trivia at pubs in the company of friends? Ken Jennings (the current record holder for most Jeopardy! wins of all time) has written a book that almost defies description. BRAINIAC is a memoir of sorts that covers Jennings' trip to try out on Jeoparady! and his subsequent record-setting run. But BRAINIAC is also a commentary and exploration on the world of trivia itself, from the pub-playing host of friends, to the elite college students' Quiz Bowl. The book is both of these things, and even though the narrative is pretty brief, Jennings makes every transition work. While it seems weird to wrap a memoir in the survey of the very hobby that the memoir centers on, the author makes it work. His style and voice are very approachable, and at times, downright fun. Aside from the humor, each chapter has a set of trivia questions embedded in the body of the text, with answers complete at the end of each chapter. BRAINIAC has two halves. One half of the book focuses on Jennings' misadventures on Jeoparady! The first chapter covers tryouts with long-time friend Earl Cahill and memories of watching gameshows compulsively as a kid (calling up grandparents to ask if they also caught the day's gameshow highlights). By the final chapter, we enter Jennings' head as he falters on his 75th game of Jeoparady! and the relief that follows. I've seen some reviews state that there's just not enough of the behind-the-scenes Jeoparady! present here: is Alex Trebek a jerk? How did you not answer XXX question right? It's true: not even half of this book is dedicated to this narrative, but I wasn't left wanting. Jennings' comes across as a humble, self-deprecating guy, and he attributes most of his wins to his familiarity with buzzer-timing. The other half of BRAINIAC is a survey of the goofy world of trivia. From the obscure beginnings in Europe to the casual (but competitive) world of pub-trivia, Jennings covers a ton of ground. While some of this may come off as a history lesson, it's written in a playful way. Anyone with a cursory interest in trivia will probably love some of these passages (what's more trivial than trivia about the world and history of trivia?). The author also covers some more meditative areas: why is trivia enjoyable? Why is Jeoparady! the top-rated quiz show in America? What makes a good trivia question? Jennings doesn't give an authoritative answers, but he does give his thoughts on the subject, mixed with interviews from a host of quirky individuals. Interviews with trivia-authors, quiz-bowlers, pub-crawlers, gameshow-fanatics, and walking encyclopedias paint a scene that is about as quirky as anything else out there. As someone who enjoys trivia a bit more than the average American, I absolutely loved this book. BRAINIAC has been one of the more fun reads I've gone through, and surely one of the funniest non-fiction books. You'll laugh a ton, and you'll learn just as much. If you're not interested in trivia, I'd still give this book a shot -- Jennings might convince you to care with his super accessible prose and charm.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nitya Sivasubramanian

    In the acknowledgments, Ken Jennings calls his book, Brainiac, "lightweight and mediocre". Yet, I forged through, hoping that he was simply hiding behind a veneer of self-deprecation that is called for when writing a book about your experience as a record-breaking 74-game winning Jeopardy! contestant. In fact, throughout the book, Jennings comes off as quietly intelligent, charmingly nerdy and just a touch obsessive about collecting trivia. Interspersed with the tale of his experience on Jeopard In the acknowledgments, Ken Jennings calls his book, Brainiac, "lightweight and mediocre". Yet, I forged through, hoping that he was simply hiding behind a veneer of self-deprecation that is called for when writing a book about your experience as a record-breaking 74-game winning Jeopardy! contestant. In fact, throughout the book, Jennings comes off as quietly intelligent, charmingly nerdy and just a touch obsessive about collecting trivia. Interspersed with the tale of his experience on Jeopardy are stories about Jennings' travels around the country to learn the history of trivia and the way it has shaped modern American culture. I've always been a trivia buff myself. On long road trips, the husband and I would carry along a box of Trivial Pursuit questions to ask each other as we criss-crossed the country. Although it wasn't the competitive, compulsive collection of knowledge that is displayed when Jennings meets A.J. Jacobs (author of The Know-It-All), most questions led to long discussions of how we learned, remembered, or deciphered the answer and its place in the big picture of life. So what is it about trivia that draws us in? Jennings suggests that "they remind us that truth is stranger than fiction, that the universe really is a brilliant and mysterious place. In the midst of our humdrum daily routine, trivia can be a bolt out of the blue, reminding us how weirdly wonderful life really is." He's right. There is something mystical about learning that the only reason we remember the famous call, "The Giants win the pennant!" today is because the game was taped by a Dodgers fan. Although it may not be a fact that I will ever use in a day-to-day conversation, it does remind me that through the lens of history, jersey colors may be blurred, but not human achievements. That's what saves this light and admittedly mediocre book from being completely forgettable. Most chapters are filled with barely interesting details about different peoples' obsessions with trivia, which is an obsession, I find, as with most sports, is far more fun to participate in than to read about. But every once in a while, Jennings pops his head up from a wave of minutia to utter something that rings so true that I could not help but admit, "it was ok". Read this book only if your interest is in trivia buffs, not trivia. But as for me, I'll return to screaming answers at Jeopardy! because much like the senior citizens Jennings believes make up a large part of the show's audience, I'm "nostalgic for a time when everyone listened to Toscanini on the radio, tired of having to watch people on TV win money for bungee jumping and eating goat rectums," which of course makes Jeopardy! "sweetly cerebral relief piped straight in from the Eisenhower era, a time capsule from an age before American dumbed down."

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