Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!
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Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  511 ratings  ·  112 reviews
"In Prisoner of Trebekistan, Bob Harris chronicles his transformation from a struggling stand-up comic who repeatedly fails the Jeopardy! audition test into an elite player competing against the show's most powerful brains. To get there, he embarks on a series of intense study sessions, using his sense of humor to transform conventional memory skills into a refreshingly pl...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 5th 2006 by Crown (first published January 1st 2006)
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Kelly
There are Jeopardy! nerds --those who watch the show every night and play along-- and then there are Jeopardy! nerds. Those who shout out the answers in the form of a question to be better prepared for the show, take the qualifying tests and know the names of past favorite players (Ken Jennings doesn't count).

I'm unashamedly one of the latter, and picked up Bob Harris' book partly for insight into game play should I ever be selected. It's a light, quick read, suitable for a couple of nights' b...more
Brad
This is a great introduction to how Jeopardy! works, its fandom, but also the life of Bob Harris. I'm a huge Jeopardy fan (I DVR it whenever baseball isn't on), but I learned a lot about the show's history that you don't pick up on just by watching. Bob Harris does a good job explaining the show's origin, its most famous players, and its strategy. (He does his best to make Chuck Forest and Frank Spangenberg household names, just like Ken Jennings.)
I most enjoyed, as you might guess, Harris' de...more
Alison
May 18, 2007 Alison rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: triviates
What did I learn from this book? I have a LOT of studying to do before I finally go on Jeopardy! I also need to practice the buzzer and start dressing in the clothes I will wear on the program, as well as arising at the same time every day and only eat foods that can be found in the green room at Sony Pictures studios. This book is insight into the mind of Bob Harris, a five-game winner who also participated in a Tournament of Champions, a Jeopardy Masters Tournament, and the Ultimate Tournament...more
Grace
Jun 10, 2007 Grace rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to learn
One of my top three books last year. Bob has learned something that I've been learning as I go along as well. He just says it much better. I would've loved this book even if I weren't in it...
Sara
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I remember Newberry's five and dime stores from my childhood, and I grew up in a small town (the South, not the Midwest) so could relate to much of what Harris writes about his parents and his upbringing. I would have been in seventh heaven if my dad had quoted Jabberwocky to me. Yes, his dad would have loved Shakespeare...as Bob discovers when he falls in love with the Bard in the course of learning facts about him.
This book is as much about Bob...more
Ken
"This book is hard to get into. Harris has a tendency to ramble about irrelevant details. For example he spends way too much time on the the makeup that got stuck in his nose during show prep. He thinks anecdotes such as this are far funnier than they are ... and there are lots of these. The writing style is awkward and amaturish. Harris is constantly striving to be witty, trying too hard to be a comedian. I struggled to get through the first few chapeter, thinking Harris is like a companion who...more
Robin
Such a fun, entertaining, smart, surprisingly touching book. I remember Bob's winning streak (back in the day when they cut you off at 5... wow, I'm old), and I remembered him being quite funny and likeable. So when I heard he had written a book (with involvement by no less than Jane Espenson!) I had to run out and find me a copy.

I actually spent 15 minutes reading the index. Yes, the index of this book is hilarious.

Examples:
Adams, Abigail, combustibility of, 174
Chickasaw Indians, link to Elvis...more
Nicole
Finally finished this. I blew through 9/10ths of it and then came to a dead-bored stop when the author started talking about Jeopardy and its benefits to his real life and his relationship. Partly because, hey, that's a lot more boring than Jeopardy games, and partly because he insisted on being coyly funny and nonlinear about the descriptions. Also, after the first huge comeback tournament, there's not that much drama in the games anymore. Friendly competition, but much less at stake.

Still, mos...more
Tammy
I absolutely loved this book and read through it in less than a 24-hour period (which is pretty quick for me -- I get distracted easily). Bob Harris is a former comedian and Jeopardy! champion who shares his insights into memory, takes you through stream-of-consciousness in-game responding, reveals the behind-the-scenes of Jeopardy! and shares his own life story.

This story of life-long learning and self-discovery made me laugh and tear up, and ultimately made me want to watch some old episodes o...more
Phayvanh
Nov 17, 2007 Phayvanh rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one, really
Bob Harris isn't a writer, which is too bad. You'd think someone with his Jeopardy! trackrecord could pull off a book. But from what I gather here, he failed many times to qualify, and upon qualifying, he studied very, very hard to win what he did. Not that I ever thought that getting to play (much less winning,) was a cakewalk.

It's scattershot and should focus just on Jeopardy! But he rambles on, makes bad jokes and writes too much about his uninteresting lovelife. Blech. I couldn't finish it....more
Megargee
As a long time Jeopardy! viewer, I checked out this book to learn more about how the show works. Fourteen time Jeopardy! contestant Bob Harris humorously writes about the game from a participant's perspective. The narrative follows a roughly chronological arc from his early attempts to qualify for the show, through his first week of participation (back when champions were given a car and retired after five wins), through various tournaments and challenges. In the course of this, we learn a lot...more
reed
For you Buffy fans, this book was written by Jane Espenson's partner, and he tells some cute stories about her and their relationship. This guys is also one of the top 40 Jeopardy players ever and he structures this memoir around stories of his Jeopardy experiences, with lots and lots of digressions. I found his writing style a little flowery and cheesy at times. I skimmed quite a bit, but I enjoyed it anyway.
MyACPL Athens County Public Libraries
from Luke:

Written by former Jeopardy! champ Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan is part memoir, part game show, and part memory exercise. The conversational tone of the book not only makes it simple to read, but makes it immediately relevant to every day life. Harris does not consider himself a genius like Ken Jennings or Brad Rutter, but he shares the memory retention tools he used to become successful at the game. Covering everything from intellectual combat and inner peace to personal loss an...more
Ed Petersen
A highly enjoyable romp through one man's "Jeopardy!" experience. It's a nice combination of memoir and game-show recap/hint book. The personal details get to be a little much sometimes but overall they advance the storyline and are referred back to in clever ways to keep you interested.

It goes without saying that you have to be a fan of "Jeopardy!" to understand much of what goes on in this well-written and humorous book. I remember watching Harris when he was on, and his wry, self-deprecating...more
Julia
Aug 24, 2008 Julia rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: pretty much anyone
Recommended to Julia by: Erin McKean (see above)
Erin McKean recommended this book to me. I don't know Erin, but I read her blog every few days. It is ostensibly about dresses, but it helps put that information in context if you know that Erin has made dresses featuring gray Darth Vader helmets on black fabric and circle skirts in wide stripes of rainbow colors, and likes to do her fabric shopping in Japan when she can. Which she can, sometimes, because she is Chief Consulting Editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, has an...more
Ryan Mishap
Trebekistan is a place where learning is like air, where to recognize it is like a fish realizing that they are in the water—how wonderful and amazing! It’s a place where everything connects to everything throughout time and across distance. It’s also a place where you can win fabulous prizes.
Bob Harris has created a unique memoir here, showing us by example that apparently disparate things connect in often profound ways (well, mostly humorous ways), and that the Forrest Bounce works just as we...more
Kristin
Jan 13, 2010 Kristin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Jeopardy fans, trivia geeks
Recommended to Kristin by: Giant Food Stores, its own jacket
Bottom line, I'm a Jeopardy geek and probably saw all of Bob Harris' appearances on the show. Was definitely a familiar face on the cover when I saw it at the grocery store, so I knew I would enjoy the book.
This was the first book I've read by someone who was on the show, though from it, I have leads on a few others that might be interesting. Anyhow, I enjoyed Harris' first person account of what actually goes on for contestants of the show. The fact that he appeared on the 2 biggest tournaments...more
John
At around the 2/3 mark, I would've given the book four stars, but having finished listening last night, I can't quite muster that much enthusiasm, although I do recommend the book. Here's the scoop for those who feel they might be interested in Bob's story ...

The first half consists of Bob's own background, as well as the run up to his selection for his (first) appearance on the show. That he went to prep school, on a scholarship, from a working-class family was interesting; although, I could've...more
Kyle Wendy
I"m not sure if I should even give this one star, just for discussing how things work backstage at Jeopardy. On further thought---

I won't--because there are other books that do it also, and this book doesn't deserve any stars. I'm not sure what I disliked more; his awful attempt at humor every few sentences (for example, Harris is giving a hint on what type of categories to expect on the 4th of July--he mentions "Betsy Ross", "Fort McHenry" and "Things That Look Cool Blowing Up". Ugh), the fact...more
Meg
I loved this! Exclamation point because when I started it, Harris seemed like an annoying loser who wasn't as funny as he thought he was. Maybe he was, but as his Jeopardy experience went on (and on and on over the years), he grew and/or grew on me. A fun insider view of a depth of Jeopardy experience few Jeopardy contestants will get, and I appreciated his play-by-play of some of the games. One of the best parts unrelated to Jeopardy is figuring out the identity of his beloved J.
Gphatty
Not quite a life-story, but enough of Bob Harris shines through this book that I've come to think of him as a friend, albeit only potentially. (It doesn't hurt that we share the same last name.) My take: this is the story of a man who becomes obsessed with minutae and trivia, for the somewhat more acceptable goal of winning on Jeopardy. He treats his studies very serious -- he includes tips and tricks for remembering arcane things -- but his view of the world as an enchanting, humorous place, wh...more
Jason
Feb 12, 2008 Jason rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested by quiz shows
Shelves: nonfiction
A surprisingly touching and human tale about personal experiences through the full jeopardy gamut, from failing entrance exams to multiple tournaments of champions. In the process he gives may interesting insights into the inner workings of Jeopardy (like how the timing of the buzzers works in to play).

Harris is a comedian and keeps the pace flowing with occasional jokes that sometimes ramble on humorlessly. Single-phrase jokes about his competitor's resemblance to Clark Kent are funny, but many...more
Cecily
I'm on a serious Jeopardy! binge. Reading all the books! This is a great one to read along with Brainiac. While Ken Jennings was on the show forever, Bob Harris was on for some amazing tournaments and had the chance to make life-long friends with folks he competed against time after time.

This book is full of great tips on how to study and remember trivia as well as really hilarious stories about the author's time on the show and his life in general. I really enjoyed the stories about his parent...more
Peyton
Overall, a book I enjoyed. Harris is funny--there were many points where I just had to read it aloud to whomever would listen--somehow the random meanderings from topic to topic worked for me, and I enjoyed finding out a lot of random trivia. (I'm obviously a Jeopardy! fan, so there's a shock.)

I did feel like he tried to pull the tugging-the-readers-heartstrings melodrama a bit too often and too hard. The foreshadowing was way too heavy handed at times (when it's that obvious to everyone, includ...more
Crystal
I spent the first half of the book debating whether I wanted to abandon it. Harris' style of writing is a stream of consciousness tangential narrative.

I really didn't enjoy the discussion of how to study and the lessons in how memory works, which was the most frequent reason I considered abandoning it. I also was frequently frustrated by his allusion to a person or event only to say "but we'll get to that later."

Having said that, Harris does have an interesting story to tell. He seems like a de...more
Matthew
This is a wonderful true life love story. It describes how Harris meets and falls for "Jane" (Espenson, writer for Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among others.) It's also a sort of coming of middle-age story about all of the long-term friends Harris makes while playing Jeopardy. There's certainly a lot of behind the scenes information about the show, and it's very interesting, but it takes a backseat to Bob's descriptions of the people and friends he makes during the game. An...more
RØB
Oct 07, 2009 RØB rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Absolutely Everyone.
Recommended to RØB by: Amazon.com's Search Function
A simply amazing book. I met Bob Harris for about ten seconds while I was leaving the JEOPARDY! studios the other week (he was there to watch a friend of his play on the show), and I wish I'd had the book for him to sign. He seemed very nice for those ten seconds, and now that I've actually finished the book, I wish I had had more time to talk to him. I loved the combination of neurotic JEOPARDY! memoir, study guide, zen-path-revelator, tragic medical biography, life story, and humorous play-by-...more
Ensiform
The author, a columnist and TV writer, details his successes and failures on the quiz show. He was a five-time champion and was invited back again and again for tournaments of champions, ultimate tournaments, and so on. (In fact, at one point I honestly had no clue why he was back on the show again, since the ones who beat him weren’t invited.) Harris’ laborious explanations of his (actually quite naïve) discovery of the power of mnemonics (had he never studied anything before?) grow tiresome ea...more
Shane
This book wasn't terrible, but it just didn't really work for me.
Harris did give several insights into the inner-workings of Jeopardy, which, since I've got an audition for the show in 3 weeks, could be very helpful. There also was some solid humor.
However, metafictionally reflecting the "Forrest Bounce" that he describes in detail, Harris's narrative was way too scatter-brained. He frequently jumped around in topic, awkwardly cobbling together descriptions of his Jeopardy games with stories abo...more
L. Fabry
I'll take Books I Never Thought I'd Like for $1,000, Alex.

Don't care for "Jeopardy?" Neither do I. Read the book anyway. Love it a mere ten pages in. Thank me later.

I've read everything from educated biographies to "tell all" autobiographies, and none of them have the talent of putting you into their shoes as Bob does. You'll inadvertently snort make-up up your nose, have a fight with your girlfriend over his and hers cars, snap along to make believe Broadway music, fall in love with another, a...more
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“In high school, we barely brushed against Ogden Nash, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, or any of the other so-unserious writers who delight everyone they touch. This was, after all, a very expensive and important school. Instead, I was force-fed a few of Shakespeare's Greatest Hits, although the English needed translation, the broad comedy and wrenching drama were lost, and none of the magnificently dirty jokes were ever explained. (Incidentally, Romeo and Juliet, fully appreciated, might be banned in some U.S. states.) This was the Concordance again, and little more. So we'd read all the lines aloud, resign ourselves to a ponderous struggle, and soon give up the plot completely.” 2 likes
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