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Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs Hardcover – September 12, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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.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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Villard (September 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064457
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064458
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Loved this book way past expectations. Ken Jennings is slyly hilarious, as he takes us on the bizarre roller coaster that was his experience on Jeopardy!. Okay, trivial question: should I have put that period after that Jeopardy!-specific exclamation point? Because it looks funny to me. Ken Jennings would probably know. In this terrific, breezy book, he pulls together tons of intense, detailed trivia about trivia itself - and makes it cool. He's obviously writing about stuff he loves, and makes us see his world and imagine living in it - even for those of us lacking clue one about college quiz bowls, game show history or the difficult art of board game question writing. This is a smart, smart guy who comes across as nearly egoless as possible for someone this interesting, funny and insightful. It was entertaining to get Ken's (usually irreverent) take on his fellow brainiacs, Jeopardy!, Trebek, pop culture and, heck, life as we know it. I laughed aloud too many times to count. Don't be a dork, my nerdy friend - buy the book, settle in and prepare to snort milk out your nose. Enjoy.
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Format: Hardcover
First off, this book isn't the fluffy memoir that might be expected of a pop culture 15-minuter. It's not an extensive autobiography or a ghostwritten rehash of the exact experience Ken went through in front of a national audience.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
I had seen this books literally dozens of times in the "Games" section of my local book store, yet had never given it a look, despite being a former (mediocre) college bowl contestant and (small-time) Jeopardy winner. I assumed it was another boring autobiography from someone trying to capitalize on his newfound fame. I got an email from a fellow trivia fan who told me to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised.

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Being a big trivia fan myself, I have always pondered the difference between useful intelligence and ability during trivia contests. Moreover, ellucidating sources of information that provide information before Jeopardy episodes air are of particular interest. While this book is entertaining -- Jennings is a great writer - it doesn't fully answer where all of his knowledge originates. For example, I have picked up answers to Jeopardy from reading the economist and specific IQ tests. Jennings delves a little into this but not in great depth.

One important piece of information that comes from the book is that specific study before Jeopardy is relevant. For example, Jennings is Mormon and doesn't drink alcohol. Knowing that alcohol drinks is a subject that has appeared on Jeopardy, his studies (apparently only on paper) the ingredients of well-known drinks. This is in contrast to some other Jeopardy champions who have suggested they studied a range of material before for the show but it wasn't helpful.
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