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Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs [Paperback]

Ken Jennings
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 30 2007
One day back in 2003, Ken Jennings and his college buddy Earl did what hundreds of thousands of people had done before: they auditioned for Jeopardy! Two years, 75 games, 2,642 correct answers, and over $2.5 million in winnings later, Ken Jennings emerged as trivia’s undisputed king. Brainiac traces his rise from anonymous computer programmer to nerd folk icon. But along the way, it also explores his newly conquered kingdom: the world of trivia itself.

Jennings had always been minutiae-mad, poring over almanacs and TV Guide listings at an age when most kids are still watching Elmo and putting beans up their nose. But trivia, he has found, is centuries older than his childhood obsession with it. Whisking us from the coffeehouses of seventeenth-century London to the Internet age, Jennings chronicles the ups and downs of the trivia fad: the quiz book explosion of the Jazz Age; the rise, fall, and rise again of TV quiz shows; the nostalgic campus trivia of the 1960s; and the 1980s, when Trivial Pursuit® again made it fashionable to be a know-it-all.
Jennings also investigates the shadowy demimonde of today’s trivia subculture, guiding us on a tour of trivia hotspots across America. He goes head-to-head with the blowhards and diehards of the college quiz-bowl circuit, the slightly soused faithful of the Boston pub trivia scene, and the raucous participants in the annual Q&A marathon in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, “The World’s Largest Trivia Contest.” And, of course, he takes us behind the scenes of his improbable 75-game run on Jeopardy!

But above all, Brainiac is a love letter to the useless fact. What marsupial has fingerprints that are indistinguishable from human ones?* What planet has a crater on it named after Laura Ingalls Wilder?** What comedian had the misfortune to be born with the name “Albert Einstein”?*** Jennings also ponders questions that are a little more philosophical: What separates trivia from meaningless facts? Is being good at trivia a mark of intelligence? And is trivia just a waste of time, or does it serve some not-so-trivial purpose after all?

Uproarious, silly, engaging, and erudite, this book is an irresistible celebration of nostalgia, curiosity, and nerdy obsession–in a word, trivia.

* The koala
** Venus
*** Albert Brooks



From the Hardcover edition.

Frequently Bought Together

Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs + The Ultimate TRIVIAL PURSUIT® Question & Answer Book + Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac: 8,888 Questions in 365 Days
Price For All Three: CDN$ 44.00


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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.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read Sept. 1 2006
Format:Hardcover
Ken Jennings isn't just a nerd who answered 74 games' worth of Jeopardy! questions. He's an erudite, witty, conversational, easy-to-read writer.

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  74 reviews
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Freakin' Funny! Sept. 13 2006
By Shocked...Shocked! - Published on Amazon.com
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.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trivia... This is your life Sept. 20 2006
By Scott Green - Published on Amazon.com
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.

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.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read even if you don't watch Jeopardy! Sept. 14 2006
By Sciwriter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Ken Jennings isn't just a nerd who answered 74 games' worth of Jeopardy! questions. He's an erudite, witty, conversational, easy-to-read writer.

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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what you think... Oct. 24 2006
By gregory dwyer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quick and enjoyable read June 22 2010
By Steve Conslaw - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Okay, to be frank, I checked this out at the library, and I don't have it with me for reference. I enjoyed this book. I read it in a day or two. I learned a lot about the trivia subculture. I have to admit, I really like this guy. I emailed him out of the blue and asked him to congratulate my daughter's academic team on a tournament win. He sent them a warm and personal congratulations. He's A#1 in my book. Since he was so nice to the kids, I feel a little guilty for not buying it, so I might buy a copy anyway.
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