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Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs Paperback – October 30, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Did you know that Trivia was a Roman name for the goddess Hecate or that Jeopardy! tapes a week's worth of shows in a single afternoon? Jennings's record-setting 2004 six-month stint on the syndicated TV quiz show won him $2.5 million and instant fame as he landed on Letterman, Leno, Sesame Street and Barbara Walters's "Ten Most Fascinating People" list. Sprinkling trivia questions throughout his first book, the former computer programmer is a charmingly self-deprecating guide to the subculture of esoterica as he relates how he answered his first trivia question about the Wright brothers at four and made his chops on the ego-driven college quiz bowl circuit; confides how he mastered the "tricky" Jeopardy! buzzers; bonds with professional trivia writers; and describes being bested by the puzzler "Most of this firm's seven thousand seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year" (Jennings answered FedEx; H&R Block is correct). You don't have to be a couch potato to answer this: what's an eight-letter word for a highly entertaining, fast-paced read that demystifies "America's most popular and most difficult quiz show" while pondering how trivia is a cultural phenomenon that offers a tidy alternative to life's messiness as well as instant camaraderie between people from different walks of life? (Sept. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.Jennings, perhaps the most famous Jeopardy! winner of all, completed a record 74-game winning streak over a six-month period in 2004, shortly after the five-game limit was lifted. Steeped in the world of trivia, he offers an in-depth history of the young sport, with its roots in English pub contests, the quiz shows (and accompanying scandals) of the 1950s, and the collegiate quiz-bowl circuit, where nerds reign supreme. Jennings informs and astounds us and manages to cram in enough fun facts to keep any trivia nut happy. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
And while this is good - no matter how nice a guy Ken seems, 200+ pages about his life may not be a great page-turning experience - Brainiac seems a little light on Ken's "Jeopardy!" run, almost giving it passing mention and completely neglecting his (admittedly non-memorable) appearance in the show's Ultimate Tournament of Champions.
This is too bad, since putting a picture of Ken behind a podium on the front cover with the tagline "The greatest champion in 'Jeopardy!' history" implies more Trebek-related material.
That said, I really liked Brainiac. Ken clearly can write - at no point during the book would I have suspected it was a first attempt by a recent computer programmer. His prose is easy to read and not overly cerebral. He explores all the nooks and crannies of a subject, trivia, that is dedicated to the exploration of nooks and crannies. He spends time with a college quiz bowl team, visits a giant city-wide trivia contest, and meets with the authors of storied trivia books. Sometimes these experiences make the book move slowly, like an extended history of NTN bar trivia bookended by a visit to a pub quiz game in Massachusetts. But Brainiac is fun, unique, and well-put together.
Ken also ingeniously baked ten trivia questions into each chapter, using superscript numbers to identify the clues. A large number of these questions are substantially harder than the material on "Jeopardy!", but it's a clever concept that overall serves the book well.
There is, however, one caveat to my endorsement of this book. As the President of a major college quiz bowl team, I have a natural nerdy interest in trivia and matters trivial. My one thought throughout the book was, "I wonder who, outside the trivia circuit, could really read and enjoy this book." But, as Ken points out, almost all Americans are involved in trivia in some format, so maybe this niche book actually has a target market of everybody.
The book is less about Ken Jennings and more about trivia as a whole. Jennings focuses on its history as well as its popularity in certain pockets of today's society. Jennings takes an indepth look at an annual trivia contest which completely consumes Stevens Point, Wisconsin as well as the bar trivia scene, the quiz bowl circuit and much more. Of course, Jennings also gives a look into his amazing streak on Jeopardy and an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes.
Even though Jennings peppers his text with facts and "trivia questions", one need not be a trivia fanatic to enjoy the book. It's surprisingly well written, and even funny at times. The history of trivia and an examination of how it pervades our culture is will interest most inquisitive readers.
This is a wonderful book! Ken explores the history of trivia and all its modern-day manifestations. He also takes us to meet people who write trivia books, compete in high-stakes trivia competitions that make Jeopardy! seem simple, and in general, revel in the pursuit of the neat nugget of fact. Interspersed through the book are chapters telling the story of Ken's Jeopardy! journey. Ken also offers a lot of insight into why "trivia" isn't trivial at all.
I don't think this will be Ken's only book because he's such a good writer and has such curiosity about so many things. I'm looking forward to the next one.
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