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Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! Hardcover – September 5, 2006

72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this eccentric, energetic and engaging memoir of his long run on America's favorite television quiz show, Harris, a former standup comedian and current comedy writer, gives readers the lowdown on life as "one of the show's big winners—and big losers." He promises to tell all, and he does, from the show's beginning in 1963 to his own blow-by-blow experiences as a contestant. He discusses his growing obsession with winning, how it cost him a girlfriend and how he luckily found another. For those who would follow in his footsteps, he is generous with tips on strategy: buzzer skills, how to predict topics (keep holidays in mind), how to suss out a Daily Double, which clues to tackle first, how to one-up your competition (though one of the gems of this often charming book is the account of the quite sincere friendships that grew among the top competitors). Like many a standup routine, his narrative zigs and zags back and forth in time and topic, but like the best of routines, it is sharply timed, pulling out many swerves and surprises to keep the reader alert. And what is Alex Trebek really like? "I dunno," says Harris, but the Trebek we meet is highly professional and unfailingly courteous. "Just like on TV." (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Although reality shows and other mindless drivel seem to dominate the TV landscape, it's reassuring that Jeopardy! still remains as a last vestige of academic pursuit in a sea of pop culture. This book provides a behind-the-scenes look at this holy grail of trivia contests. Harris, who won five games in a row (the limit in 1998), was invited back several more times to participate in Tournament of Champions competitions. Far from being a scholar, Harris recounts how he used whimsical mnemonics and his Eightfold Path of Enlightened Jeopardy to win over seemingly superior competition. Harris' account is a personal story and manages to cram in enough fun facts to keep any trivia nut happy. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307339564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307339560
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By dondo on September 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an odd, moving, funny, troubling, and hugely ambitious book.

Yes, it is true that it describes some subtleties of how to succeed on Jeopardy; yes, presumably that makes it required reading for anyone who plans to compete on that show.

But to call it a "how-to" book ignores how much you have to learn to succeed on that particular show. So I'd even go further. This book teaches truly useful memory techniques which should be useful to anyone who needs to memorize -- uh -- well, pretty much anything. The works of E. M. Forrester, for example, permanently seared into your brain by a visual image that concludes with the Taj Mahal in a somewhat unusual location. This would be a good book for students, particularly high-school students, say, inflicted with a history teacher who demands rote memorization of history without inspiring a desire to learn it.

But to call this an educational how-to book is to cheapen it greatly. This is a very amusing book, playful and witty. Actually, at times it is laugh-out-loud funny. Mr. Harris has a dry, self-deprecating wit punctuated with occasional flashes of buttocks.

But to call this an educational how-to comedy is to shortchange it. This is an exciting book. Mr. Harris somehow manages to make Jeopardy games matter. He gives them the adrenal pulse of a real competition; he makes us suffer as he falls behind and rejoice when he takes the lead. It shows us the fierce preparation required to succeed, an almost compulsive focus on study and practice worthy of a professional athlete. Ok, so Jeopardy will never supplant football on the world stage, but after reading this book you'll understand why it's been on the air for forty years.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When he initially tried the audition test to become a panelist on the quiz show _Jeopardy!_, Bob Harris flunked out. He subsequently flunked it four more times. It would seem that something inside him knew that becoming a champion player was his destiny, because he kept on trying until he qualified. Eventually getting accepted into the game, and winning, and losing, has made him what he is today, which includes being the author of the funny and surprisingly touching memoir _Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!_ (Crown Publishers). It may seem that a life largely spent working hard to be good at a television game show would necessarily be superficial or inconsequential, but despite all the jokes in this account, Harris learned some wisdom worthy of the sages, and much of it was on a higher plane than "What is the capital of Thailand?" Readers might pick up some trivia, and will certainly have some laughs, but more importantly, will absorb an account by someone who learned some truly important life lessons.

The worst advice he got after his failures to qualify for an initial show was the reassurance from the people administering the tests he flunked: "After all, they would always insist, it's _impossible_ to study for _Jeopardy!_" Much of the initial part of Harris's book is spent showing just how untrue this is. All the other champions he met had their own training regimens, too. It would seem that an account of training for such an event might make boring reading, but not only are the techniques Harris used interesting in themselves, but they have surprisingly larger meanings, not the least of which is that any ordinary person can absorb as much arcane information as time and energy allow.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Bill O'Donnell on September 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a former "Jeopardy!" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" contestant, I was expecting Prisoner of Trebekistan to be a funny book about the whole Jeopardy! experience. It's not.

It's funny alright, and it will be of great help if you are preparing for one of these shows, or want to vicariously live the life of a game show contestant, or improve your memory, but that's not what this book is about. It's about life, the joy of living every day and the great joy that the pursuit of knowledge can add to every moment, every experience.

Even if you think game shows are inane and a waste of time, you'll still enjoy this book as it takes a much meandering route through the life of a stand-up comic, humor writer, internet blogger, radio personality turned 13 time Jeopardy player, who has a surprisingly down to earth and just plain nice philosophy of life.

So - it's a philosophy book that gets to profound universal truths via giant buttocks and pudus running up logs. And a darn good one at that, don't miss it.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Richard E. Moore on September 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I am yet another fan of Bob Harris' blog, and the humor and insight that he shows there were really the only reasons I purchased this book. Just officially finished it tonight, and I gotta tell ya: I am impressed. Insightful, moving (there were real tears, on more than one occasion, for happiness, sadness, and more), overall delightful and enlightening book. It was wonderful to take a trek through Trebekistan with him, and I hope there will be more in the future. Maybe he should try his hand at fiction (hint, hint)?

Anyway, this is a really great read (only took me three days, I couldn't put it down), and that coming from someone who hasn't watched Jeopardy! since I was a kid, and have no interest in the show.

Heck, I didn't even know that he had been on the show more than once when I bought the book. So that oughta tell you something.
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