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Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks Hardcover – September 20, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011 Ken Jennings, best known for his epic winning streak on Jeopardy! in 2004, returns to the writing world with Maphead, a charming, funny, and of course, informational book about the world of maps and the people who love them. Even if maps are not your thing, Jennings writes about them with such affection and humor that the topic becomes fascinating; the clever captions for the maps in the book alone are worth the read (the first map in the book compares shapes of places that were “separated at birth” and are therefore soul mates. Included: Lake Michigan and Sweden). From the politics of geocaching to the ups and downs of the contestants participating in the National Geographic Bee (which, according to Alex Trebek, should have its own prime-time show like the spelling bee), Jennings captures the excitement and wonder of places. --Caley Anderson

Review

“I admit—I’m a geographic klutz, constantly turned around the wrong way. But I never felt lost for a moment inside Maphead. Forget new worlds: Jennings’s charming, witty account reveals a whole other universe.” —Sam Kean, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Disappearing Spoon

“Ken Jennings offers an engaging excursion through the worlds of map making, map collecting, and map use. If you enjoy maps, don't miss it.”—Mark Monmonier, author of How to Lie with Maps

"A literary gem . . . Whether you're a casual cartography ogler or a hardcore geography geek, Maphead will whisk you away into a wonderland that exists where two of the greatest horizons of the human condition, humor and curiosity, converge."--The Atlantic
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439167176
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439167175
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #448,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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..."
Really?!!!
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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