Sunday, June 22, 2008

Review - Brainiac

Ken Jennings is the fellow who won 74 consecutive episodes of the TV game show Jeopardy!, and, soon thereafter, he wrote a book called Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs (2006). The book blends Jennings's experience on and around Jeopardy! with an exploration of various manifestations of trivia (from bars to college quiz bowls to Stevens Point, Wisconsin; oddly, he omits cruise ships, so has no idea how enjoyable it can be to win caps and water bottles). There are also 170 trivia questions woven into the text, and a look at the history of trivia.

This is a nice book, charmingly self-deprecating in tone - Jennings does his best to dispel the notion that he is the smartest man in the world. He regards trivia as something of a childhood obsession that conicided with good fortune to earn him $2.5 million in 74 days.

There isn't a lot of deeper meaning in Brainiac, but it's a pleasant 269 pages. I'm a big fan of trivia myself, would love to be on Jeopardy! sometime, so the backstage look at the show was interesting. If you don't like trivia, this book probably won't be your cup of tea, unless you want a look at the life of a self-admitted mediocre programmer who beat the odds and made money (and gained fame) out of an activity that does not normally lead to anything like that (the aforementioned cap and water bottle are pretty much the only things I've ever received from trivia, and it's a pretty perverse kind of fame to walk into a ship's lounge and have people say, "Oh, great, we're not going to win").

Capsule review: a real niche book, but well worth reading if you have any interest in trivia contests or Jeopardy! in particular.

1 comment:

Greg said...

The Mrs. and I enjoyed Ken Jennings thoroughly during his run on Jeopardy. After the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, it took me a few years to be able to enjoy Jeopardy again.

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