on September 23, 2011
Although I expected a trivia book--perhaps even a trivial book--Ken Jennings manages to seamlessly weave fun factoids into compelling narratives about geography lovers. Jennings spends time with kids at the National Geography Bee (which is where Alex Trebek dissed American knowledge of geography!). He talks to road geeks who notice differing fonts on various interstate road signs ("Look for the curved tail on the lowercase `l'!"). He touches on about border disputes, gender, brain science, pop culture, politics, history, and religion. In the course of researching for the book he even became addicted to geocaching, a treasure hunting game played by GPS owners all over the world--a pastime which Jennings sees as a human attempt to re-infuse the world with treasure and mystery. "Cartophilia" is alive and well, and Jennings hopes to spread the love: "If you never open a map until you're lost," he insists, "you're missing out on all the fun" (120). His book is a lot of fun.
on September 20, 2011
I'm notoriously bad at geography, but this book is nonetheless interesting and easy to read. I love Ken's style of mixing hardcore nerdy knowledge with enough personal and/or humorous detail that you don't feel you are just wading through a bunch of facts. It makes geography sound so sexy and cool that I just want to go buy an atlas.
I'm reading on Kindle and the format seems great, other than the afore-mentioned duplicated first illustration. The book was delivered to my Kindle at 12:02 am this morning, so I couldn't ask for better service there!
on September 20, 2011
I was expecting that this would have more maps and visuals, which is why I bought a paper edition instead of Kindle or iBooks. Now that I have it I think it would work fine on Kindle, though I can't speak to that edition.
As for the content, I'm a loyal reader of Ken's blog, which should give you a feel for whether you like his style or not. If you do, the subject matter won't matter. But even if you don't, you'll probably appreciate this book if you're a geography buff.
on September 23, 2011
I cannot believe that I have found Ken Jennings making a factual error. And he did so immediately on page 3 of this wonderful read. "Look how Ardmore, Alabama, is only a hundred feet away from its neighbor Ardmore, Louisiana..."
I am no Ken Jennings, not even close, although I watched every one of his appearances of "Jeopardy!" and recall the day he wasn't able to recall H&R Block. Love this guy.
But, Ken, even I know that there is a state between Alabama and Louisiana--Mississippi. So I did a Google search. Seems there is no Ardmore, Louisiana, but the Ardmore in Alabama is in the north central. And I thought, maybe Tennessee. And sure enough, there it is, Ken, in Tennessee.
So that set me on a search for more factual errors in the book. But alas, alack, I just got so sucked up in the book I forgot what my task was.
This is just a delightful read. And, no, you do not need to be a geography nerd. Or a map nerd. I'm not although I do find myself Googling maps a lot. And when Ken Jennings writes about slutty place names as well as unusual geographic circumstances, I am brought back to my early life when I grew up in Derby Line, Vermont, the "line" there to indicate that the Quebec border is there. The local library, the Haskell Free, is half in the U.S. and half in Cananda. And above is the opera house where the state is in Quebec and the audience--or most of it--sits in the United States. Back then we thought nothing of this, but today it is not the case. Ken Jennings missed telling this tale, so I thought I would.
It is filled with great stories including one I particularly like which occurred decades ago with a University of Miami geography professor--back when universities actually had geography professors--who gave a little quiz to find out what his students knew about where places were located in the world. Seems London wasn't happy about how few students knew where the city was located. And that turned into a huge media event that cost the professor his job. But the story doesn't end there. Ken keeps bringing it back to us.
This is not a book that is filled with bunches of unrelated facts. Instead it is a journey into all types of things including Ken's views about the quality of our educational system in this country. We are better than Mexico! And that isn't exactly the standard No Child Left Behind was trying to achieve! I'm a teacher and I agree with Ken. Disaster!
Did you know that pirates never made treasure maps? Did you know there is no place for Santa Claus to actually live in the North Pole? These are pieces of information we need to keep secret from young children, of course.
Did you know that the Library of Congress has zillions of maps from all over the world? And right there in the words of Columbus contemporary, Vespucci, in letters sent back to Europe is just how hot and slutty Caribbean women were.
I have read the other Ken Jennings books. And liked them.
The chapter dealing with National Geographics' national geography bee is worth the price of the book alone. It is just so wonderful as he follows these brainy kids. It is also interesting to me that Alex Trebek is the person who asks the questions in the finals held in Washington, D. C. I recall thinking that Alex Trebek had become just a little annoyed with Ken Jennings during that long "Jeopardy!" stretch that I and millions of others so much enjoyed. And the way Mr. Jennings writes about Alex Trebek, I sense that the feelings are mutual, respectful but...
But this is the best yet. Don't hesitate to order it. I see one reader wasn't that enchanted. I doubt there will be many others who feel that way.
on November 30, 2011
One of my children's geography teachers had a saying that "Geography is Everything!" - by knowing where things were we could understand history and why people act the way they do. I'm a maphead like Ken Jennings. Sort of. Like him I grew up with a puzzle map and a cardboard globe and an ablum of stamps from far off places applied cautiously with little sticky semi-transparent hinges with a spot for a unobtainable penny farthing just in case. And put me in a far off city and I can figure out how to get around in under a day and get from A to B because I've presearched it through maps, though these days I'm more likely to have used MapQuest or Google Earth. So I agree.
Jennings book does a good job of popularizing people's enthusiasm for maps. Beginning with the concern that Americans know less than they should about geography he relates the story of University of Miami associate professor David Helgren, who in 1983 received undue noteriety when his story of how poorly students in his first year class were able to locate items in a list of 30 place names including the cities of Miami and Chicago. Speculatively there are number of reasons to consider, including the rise in protective parents who were afraid to let their children bike and explore their neighbourhoods alone and the high % of students who are driven to and from school.
There's lots of interesting map lore, and interesting segments on private map collectors, map thieves and the huge archive of maps available for perusing in public facilities such as libraries and the Smithsonian. It is humbling to realize that the 1st national survey of modern times started by Geovani Cassini in 1670 was only finished 100 years later by his grandson.
Maps of unknown territories are looked at, including the earliest known map (dated 1507) of North America for which the Library of Congress Paid $10 million dollars. Cartographers would label unknown regions as "terra nullis" but still fancifully add rivers and mountains just in case. Novelists situated their adventures in "darkest Africa", hidden valleys of Shangi-La or deserted islands just off the known shipping lanes - where anything could happen precisely because it was not mapped out. As geographic science filled the map, fiction moved off world and into alternate realities. What would "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings be without the map of "Middle Earth", or EarthSea without the Kirgad Lands and the far Reaches or Harry Potter without the Marauder's map showing the location of friends, enemies and the shifting location of the Room of Necessity, though some might complain that make believe worlds such as found in online games such as Halo or Second Life don`t count because they aren't real..
It's an enjoyable read with lots of fun facts, yet IMV spends too much time on naval gazing on at popular American culture. I liked reading about the high pressure National Geographic Bee hosted by Jeopardy's Alex Trebek, geography's counterpart to the Scripps Spelling Bee - it probably should get further exposure. and I can only dream of joining the Century Club who's members have been to over 100 different nations. But off the top of my head I'd say that he should have spent a chapter on mathematics and maps, ie: the 4-color problem and the fractal nature of borders leading to different measurements of national contours, depending on how precisely they are measured. And while he touches on national sensitivities such as in the naming of the Persian/Arabian Gulf and unusual names such as Sexmoan or Dildo, there was a lot he could have contributed on how controversial the drawing of borders and naming of places (Istanbul/Constantinople or Taiwan/Formosa) can be, including the notion of where international waters begin. Nor is the landscape permanent - in our lifetime we may see the disappearance of several island nations due to rising sea levels and we'll also face the question of who owns the Northwest Passage should the sea lanes remain open for most of the year.
Nonetheless it was quite entertaining.
Ken Jennings joins the ranks of authors like Mark Kurlansky (Salt, Cod) and Bill Bryson (At Home, Mother Tongue) who take a subject that appears commonplace or mundane on its surface and infuse it with interest by teasing tidbits, personalities and historic anecdotes from the story to create books that can be wonderfully entertaining as well as educational.
Jennings falls a bit short of the other above authors in generating a consistent level of interest in his story. Not that I didn't enjoy parts of it. The book, however never really gelled for me. Jennings's injections of his own musings as well as frequent use of parenthetical witty observations means this book never flows smoothly like a Bryson tome (Bryson does the same but executes very well).
The author explores maps and uses his life-long fascination with them (hence, "Maphead") as the centerpiece for his work. This book is rather more focused on people who share his enthusiasm than maps themselves, though of course specific cartographic renderings and the history related to some do make appearances. His chapter on map collectors takes the reader from a London convention to San Francisco and the homes of some private individuals who have assembled fantastically large collections. His time with Alex Trebek (who he met when Jennings became a Jeopardy game show champ) at the National Geographic Bee offers some interesting portraits of young people - try seventh grade - whose map fascination has allowed them to assemble astounding amounts of geographic information about our world. No less interesting is seeing these youngsters -- almost all of whom have been the smartest people they have ever encountered -- react to the pressure of competing with fifty other people who are just as talented as they.
His final two chapters were the best of the book, and worth the effort to get there. He does an interesting job of discussing the rise of geocaching and exploring the world of geochachers (which really makes one appreciate what a lucky people we are that some of us have so much time to find so many geocaches). I particulalry liked his discussion on the development and issues surround Google Earth and on-line mapping.
Less interesting for me was a chapter devoted to people who make fantasy maps and spend lifetimes creating back stories, languages and in some cases laws for these places whose latitudes and longitudes exist only in their minds. My overall impression of the book, which is divided into a dozen or so chapters, was that some sections worked well and told interesting stories while others just never had a subject or focus that lent itself to a gripping account.
Overall this book is an easy read and does provide some interesting information on map history amid a lot of exploration of the people who populate "Mapworld." While I would have personally liked more on the history of maps, an immersion into famous maps and perhaps the influence of a map or maps on significant events, some may like this focus on people whose primary passions lay in two-dimensional representations of the world we inhabit.
on November 17, 2011
A delightful book about maps and the people who love them. Jennings, well-known from "Jeopardy", was himself a map freak even as a child, and his author photo shows him at age 5 or so, beaming as he looks through his favorite atlas.
Topics range from an overview of map types (how about one made of sticks to guide Pacific islanders via ocean currents?), to the deplorable lack of map knowledge in an age of GPS, to the myriad ways maps are being used today: for example, geocaching (treasure-hunting based on map clues, for which there is now a scout merit badge). There are lots of fascinating examples of geographical oddities mixed in, and many times I picked up my iPad to read up on things such as the world's largest triple island (an island on a lake on an island on a lake on an island on a lake - I think that's the right number of each....)
There's even a discussion of the different ways in which men and women use and perceive maps. Let me ask you: if you're a woman, do you use your GPS with the car symbol always heading in one direction (up, for me) and the map moving to accommodate it? Or, if a man, would you rather have the map always with north on the top and the car symbol swiveling to make that possible?
Jennings writes with humor and intelligence, and I have a hard time imagining how this book could have been more entertaining or informative for a general audience.
I had very much enjoyed Ken Jennings' Brainiac so I figured I would be just as entertained by Maphead - and I was. Jennings has a light, breezy style that helps you form a connection to even the geekiest aspects of those who love maps and everything around them. It's his conversations with others: map collectors, virtual road rally contestants, geocachers and more, that really bring things to life.
I read a couple of reviews that took issue with some of the language Jennings uses, complaining that the book wasn't suitable for children. Well, I'd say the book wasn't aimed at children regardless, but if the occasional epithet disturbs you, and with Jennings it isn't commonplace, then by all means skip this book. Most everyone else will enjoy the journey.
A note for Kindle readers - you may be surprised to find that you've come to the end of the book when the Kindle's display shows you're only 70% done. The rest is index, citations for the quotes and footnotes.
on May 15, 2012
Ken Jennings, the mega-winner on the TV show "Jeopardy," is a guy who loves maps and wants you to love them, too!
Great quote: "There are plenty of possible ways you could express to others the geographical information in your mental map: a written description, gestures, song lyrics, puppet theater. But maps turn out to be an enormously intuitive, compact, and compelling way to communicate that information." Page 25
It's no secret that Americans as a whole are not very map-savvy. Geography isn't a school subject anymore and map-illiteracy is now society's norm. It's into this world that Ken Jennings brings us an entire book about maps and geography.
Ken Jennings won over 1 million dollars on Jeopardy, the game show for really smart people that stars really really smart people.
Turns out he didn't cram all that amazing knowledge into his head overnight.
Ken Jennings is a self-professed Maphead.
From a very early age, Jennings loved maps and all things geography. As some kids take to sports or dancing lessons, Jennings was intent on collecting information and trivia. The book, Maphead, is Jennings account of his time on Jeopardy, but more than that it is an earnest plea to create some fellow mapheads who will share his genuine love of information.
The book is surprisingly entertaining to read. Jennings is very witty at times and the book is organized into several interesting chapters. To be sure, Jennings is a trivia geek who chronicles "exciting" trips to places such as the Library of Congress maproom and the National Geography Bee competition. It's not the sort of topic that everyone enjoys, but Jennings' genuine love of maps is infectious. After reading this book you may never look at a map the same way again!
Evidently Ken Jennings is not just very, very good at game shows, but also a very good writer! I enjoyed this book immensely. It's full of moments where I realized that I'm not alone in some of my obsessions, and moments where I recognized traits in others I knew. For example, there's a chapter on people who created imaginary worlds and map them---something my older son did starting at about 3. I had never realized what he was doing was part of a primal urge for many. I recently started a project to trying to visit every town and city in Massachusetts, again, not realizing that this kind of checklist traveling was an obsession of many people. I haven't gotten into geocaching, but reading about it was extremely interesting, as was pretty much everything in this book.
I love Jennings' writing, also. He writes with what I can only describe as a friendly tone. He doesn't place himself above the reader---you get the feeling that despite his accomplishments, he's a pretty down-to-earth guy, still surprised he's become a household name. I loved hearing about his wife and children, and how they view his love of maps.
When I finished the book just now, I was thinking "well, I love maps, but I don't think I'm a maphead". Then I realized that my bedroom wall has 4 big maps up---close up ones of the small peninsula I grew up on, an old highway map of Maine, etc---all types of maps mentioned in the book. I think a lot of us are mapheads, and I would guess almost anyone that has any interest at all in maps will love this book.