Friday, March 28, 2008


BRAINIAC by Ken Jennings

From the book jacket:

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 put 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.

I love trivia. My daughters Susan and Donna wouldn't play Trivial Pursuit with me because I would always win. I used to watch Jeopardy! faithfully and could shout out the answers with the best of them. So reading this book was a given.

BRAINIAC was a fun book to read. It was interesting to learn the "history" of trivia. Mr. Jennings introduces us to Fred L. Worth who wrote THE COMPLETE UNABRIDGED SUPER TRIVIA ENCYCLOPEDIA and maintains an immense collection of little-known facts. We are taken to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, for a 54-hour marathon of trivia that is held each April. And we visit a pub in Boston where teams of trivia experts play for fun and glory.

Throughout each chapter, trivia questions are woven into the narrative, with the answers given at the end of the chapter. These are tough questions - but I was able to guess a few of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Mr. Jennings is a funny guy with a droll sense of humor. For example, this quote from the book:

We met only minutes ago, and he's already told me that "Calcium ions are what make lobster antennae oscillate." I normally save that kind of thing for the second or third date.

Fun book!

*The koala bear, Venus, Albert Brooks


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