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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st Edition edition (Sept. 20 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439167176
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439167175
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.3 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #172,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“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

About the Author

Ken Jennings grew up in Seoul, South Korea, where he became a daily devotee of the quiz show Jeopardy! In 2004, he successfully auditioned for a spot on the show and went on an unprecedented seventy-four game victory streak worth $2.52 million. Jennings’s book Brainiac, about his Jeopardy! adventures, was a critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, as were his follow-up books Maphead and Because I Said So! Jennings lives outside Seattle with his wife, Mindy, his son, Dylan, his daughter, Caitlin, and a small, excitable dog named Chance.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 20 2012
Format: Hardcover
Whether you call yourself a geonerd, geogeek or geowonk, you're probably a "maphead." Yet you really don't need to be a lover of maps to truly appreciate how well crafted and written this book is on people's love of maps. Ken Jennings (yes, THAT Ken Jennings of winning mega bucks on the TV quiz game show "Jeopardy") has put together a book that reveals a lot about who we are and why humankind is obsessed with mapping things.

The book veers off into wonderful tangents with quirky facts (dare I say "trivia") that pop up during the course of the discussions. For instance, we learn in the chapter where Jennings visits the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress why the map room is located underground (HINT: their maps fill two entire football fields and would break the floorboards with their weight if stored on an aboveground floor).

I'll admit I have a geography background so this book is right in my wheelhouse. Even so how learning of people who like to visit the highest elevation in every state of the U.S. (yes, Iowa's highest point is in some cornfield) or the love of geocaching (Google it...but don't Google Earth it as there's a whole other chapter just on Google Earth and the rise of GPS technology).

Plus, who knew Ken Jennings could give this Echo & the Bunnymen (if you have no idea of who they are--download the Heaven Up Here album and thank me later) fan new insight into why they toured the Outer Hebrides in the '80s or why the route chosen for their cycling tour of their hometown of Liverpool formed the shape it did on a map of the city.

Mindblowingly fun book that everyone on planet Google Earth really should read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Arjun Basu on Nov. 16 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well, I am. A map geek. Perhaps not on the level of Jennings but geeky enough. And the book is kind of a fever dream of maphead geekiness. But it's also funny, full of great insight into the meaning not just of maps but of geography, and also, perhaps, ultimately, about our sense of place. Meaning I've just told you a deep part of Jennings's own thesis: maps are incredibly human. And makes us even more human. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By G. Holden on Jan. 17 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bought this as a gift for my travel-crazy husband and he loved it. He's always been fascinated by maps so this was the perfect book for him. All kinds of trivia and he could pick it up and put it down. The perfect travel companion.
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By kenben on Dec 29 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I loved this book. I learned a lot and I laughed a lot. One disappointment: three-quarters of the way through the book was over. I was looking forward to more but that last quarter was appendixes. Still, a great read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 130 reviews
86 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Map Geeks, Ahoy! And the rest of us will have fun, too Sept. 23 2011
By Blair Dee Hodges - Published on
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.
65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
I don't even like geography Sept. 20 2011
By Lilly Nelson - Published on
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!
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Well-researched and well-written Sept. 20 2011
By T. Rex - Published on
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.
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Ken Jennings You Just Lost the Game on Page 3 Sept. 23 2011
By Eric Selby - Published on
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..."
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.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Geography Is Everything! Nov. 30 2011
By L. King - Published on
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.

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.