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

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  1,420 ratings  ·  266 reviews
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 t...more
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Published September 12th 2006 by Villard (first published 2006)
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Brendon Schrodinger
Cross-posted from my blog The Periodic Table of Elephants

Ken Jennings stamped himself onto my psyche with 'Maphead', a book about geography and geo geeks, which I read last year. I adored this book for many reasons and I connected with Ken's sentiments about learning, obsession and being a nerd. I've now gone back to a previous book of his, 'Brainiac' which deals with the history and obsession of trivia and the events that made Ken a household name in the U.S.

For those of you not from the U.S. o...more
Jess
I found Ken Jennings a positively delightful author (despite the fact that I was predisposed to love him with the loyalty of someone who watched nearly all of his JEOPARDY! appearances). This work is far more than the 15 minutes of fame bargain book dead weight it could have easily been. Instead, Jennings has carefully penned a masterful (yes masterful) overview of Trivia in American pop-culture and interspersed the narrative of his JEOPARDY! experiences in a clever and un-assuming way. Plus, th...more
Eh?Eh!
Learn about Ken Jennings and the subject of trivia! Jennings' gentle, nerdy, self-deprecating humor is a soothing balm for an overexposure to Chicago snarkiness (present Chicago buds excluded, of course :o). He reads like I fear I sound, although I don't have close to the knowledge base he draws upon. Good grief, I hope I'm not as know-it-all as that. Entertaining look into the history of trivia, it's current forms and festivals, and a behind-the-scenes viewpoint of Jeopardy!. Enjoyable read and...more
Kristen
Jun 18, 2008 Kristen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Adam
"Brainiac" by Ken Jennings has been at the top of my list for over a year and I was on the waiting list at the library for almost as long. Why? Because I idolize the man. Only Ken Jennings would understand my need for a daily fix of trivia. I wasn't disappointed by the book, although I did find myself skipping large portions about the history of trivia and college quiz bowl formats, etc. I was delighted to find that my Ken jennings was every bit as intelligent as I imagined, and an incredibly en...more
Gary
I received this as a birthday gift from my mom, which says that she that she probably thinks of me as a "trivia buff" of some sort. That's flattering, particularly since she hardly ever buys me stuff because she's so uncertain of what I'll like.

I liked this book a lot, because it's not just about Ken Jennings experience as a Jeopardy champ. It's really a historical and cultural study of trivia. (The books includes a "trivia timeline" and the end, even indentifying the first use of the word "triv...more
Marlene
I must admit that I never would have bought this book. It was given to me to read. I got so sick of seeing Ken Jennings on Jeopardy that I never wanted to hear from or see him again. That is not to blame Ken Jennings, but it is like watching the New York Yankees win the world series every year. I want to say, "Just give them the trophy and let the other teams compete!" So with Ken Jennings. Jeopardy became the Ken Jennings show. I rued the day that Jeopardy decided to take the 5-game limit away....more
Del
Jan 09, 2008 Del rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Trivia nerds and game show freaks
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cevin
Remember Ken Jennings, the guy who won 75 consecutive games on Jopardy!and over $2.5 million dollars in the process? Well, this is his story. But it's more than just the story of how he got onto the show and won; its a history of trivia. From the quiz books of the Jazz Age to the college bowls of the 1960s to Trivial Pursuit in the 1980s, it's all here. And guess what? Ken is a funny guy! This was actually enjoyable to read. An added bonus are the trivia questions interjected into each chapter....more
Amanda
Read most of this on a trip for work, and it was great airplane reading, very chill. I'm a huge fan of trivia and play pub quiz regularly, so I liked Jennings' history and investigation into trivia in America; it really is great to read it coming from a guy who loves trivia and is respectful of all the other kinds of folks who do, too. Jennings's story of playing Jeopardy! is also a fun, interesting frame. He's a quippy, fun writer, and his casual style was great to read.

As a trivia hound, I app...more
Diane
If you're any kind of a Jeopardy geek, this is required reading, as uberwinner Ken Jennings tells the tale of how he came to be on the show and win his historic 74 games.

But beyond that, Brainiac is a thoroughly entertaining history of trivia - or, of the universally-addictive pastime of asking and answering obscure general knowledge questions. Jennings did great research, and writes with a densely-packed brevity and wicked sense of humor.

And best of all, there are great trivia questions sprinkl...more
Cheryl in CC NV
Totally delivers on its promise. I do recommend this fun read to fans of Jennings, Jeopardy, trivia, and probably nerds & geeks in general. It compares favorably to Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players, but could be described as a bit lighter.
Cami
May 08, 2008 Cami rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: trivia buffs, Jeopardy fans
Recommended to Cami by: the library
Shelves: trivia
As one of those who obsessively watched Ken Jennings meteoric rise to nerd-envied fame on Jeopardy, I thought I'd give this book a shot.
It was really great and entertaining. He tells the tale of his Jeopardy experience, obsession with trivia, the history of trivia and trivia and more trivia and it's a really fun ride. There are parts to skim more quickly than others certainly, but overall, I really enjoyed. 3.5 stars
C
He talks about trivia a lot. I guess that makes sense, it wasn't really a memoir. Maybe I thought it'd be more memoir. Some of the trivia sections are good, some are way too clearly bought and paid for by Trivial Pursuit. My editor usually asks "Are they paying you?" when somebody uses a corporations name in their work. Ken Jennings was definitely getting paid.

Kinda a funny dude though.
Alison
I would have been happy if this was just a memoir of his run on Jeopardy, and there's that. (Alex, do you like me? Yes No Check One), but it's also a whole book about Trivia. Which you might not even think is possible. And you would be so wrong.

Also really funny.
Sarah
Jun 07, 2010 Sarah rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Molly
Shelves: trivia, jeopardy
I liked learning about Ken Jennings' trivia journey specifically, as well as the world of trivia in general.
Vy
I had heard of Ken Jennings before, but I had completely missed his original appearance on Jeopardy!. I really am more of a big-picture person than a trivia person, and I was not a regular viewer of the show. This past February, though, I watched the 3 shows with Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter against Watson, the computer. When I read a transcript of Jennings's live chat about it at The Washington Post, I thought (with admittedly some surprise), "Hey! This guy is funny!" He was also smart and plug...more
Katherine
Dec 24, 2009 Katherine rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: trivia nerds!
It's surprisingly good.

Well, perhaps it's not all that surprising. No one knows how to push my trivia buttons like Ken Jennings, after all. He's like the giant green head at the end of the Wizard of Oz. He's a demi-god. But, who knew that he was a demi-god who can actually write?

Even after reading it a few times over, Brainiac is still as entertaining as it was when I first picked it up. It's not something that you'd necessarily expect from a Jeopardy! champ. It's not like Bob Harris's three-hu...more
Will
It was fun to hear Ken Jennings describe his experience on Jeopardy from his own point of view. He is a witty and funny writer and he made a great case for the value of general knowledge in this book.

I came away from reading convinced that learning facts for the sake of knowing them is valuable and fun. I feel inspired to try harder to remember names, places, dates, and other tidbits of knowledge. It is amazing how much some people store in their brains, and we all could probably store more if w...more
Anmiryam
I really enjoyed this trivial look at the trivia universe. I'm a trivia nerd myself, but it's good to know that there are others out there that are both more obsessed and better at it than I am. My only quibble with this book has more to do with the editing that either the subject matter or Jennings's writing. Whoever counseled that the entire book should unfold in the present tense, despite the fact that it's obvious that the interviews and travel that provided most of the material about the tr...more
Paul
This book was enjoyable enough, though ultimately, I found the pursuit of the history and meaning of trivia dragged on. Jennings' own story serves as a framework on which he hangs his various adventures looking at different trivia contests, talking to trivia writers, and so on. It works, though I didn't love it. Overall, it was an enjoyable enough read, though nothing I'd highly recommend.

The ebook, however, suffered badly from laziness. Each chapter has a number of trivia questions, with answer...more
Sara
Uuuuuuhhhhhhhhh...the story of how Ken Jennings, a kid who always liked to Know Weird Stuff, but who went underground for a good part of his life, re-emerged to win for 6 straight months on Jeopardy and in the process, come to terms with his inner trivia geek. This part is kind of fun to read about.
But an awful lot of the book is devoted to the history of trivia in the USA. While this is interesting to a point, it's also fairly trivial, so my interest flagged after a while and I began skimming....more
Kathryn
My Six or Seven Loyal Readers know that I love watching Jeopardy! on TV (I was a fan of the earlier incarnation of the show, the one with Art Fleming); and a few of them might also know that in the spring of 2001, I passed the Jeopardy! Contestant Audition in New Orleans, and made the short list to be on the show. (Alas, they never called me; probably just as well, as the fall of 2001 was when I had my Colon Cancer Surgery, which would have distracted my game-playing abilities.) I also have a li...more
Mazola1
Ken Jennings is a trivia superstar. He won 74 straight games on Jeopardy! most of them in the bag by the time Final Jeopardy rolled around. Moreover, he is everyone's idea of what a trivia master should be -- kind of geeky, a computer programmer, and basically a nice guy. His book is part memoir, and part a history of trivia. It's crammed with odd details about trivia, and includes trivia questions and facts. These are well selected, quirky and oddly interesting. The history part of the book pro...more
Rach
Something about trivia really fascinates me. I know probably as much trivia as the person next to me, and I don't particularly have a talent for remembering it, but I still keep wanting to learn more. My mom has always loved Jeopardy, so I grew up watching the show, and to this day, whenever I am at home at 7:30, we have Jeopardy on the TV, and I yell out the answers when I know them, whether I am watching by myself or not.

It's not like I didn't know who Ken Jennings was. I watched quite a few o...more
Aldrin
Answer: This computer programmer from Utah holds the record for the longest winning streak in Jeopardy!.
Question: Who is Ken Jennings?

Since its inception, contestants on the popular television game show, Jeopardy!, were limited to only five consecutive appearances, that is, a player, win or lose, was to leave the show and return home after playing five episodes. But on September 2003, this rule was scrapped, finally allowing contestants to continue playing and increasing their pot money until de...more
Alex Daniel
Are you a trivia buff? A trivia nut? Someone who just likes to play trivia at pubs in the company of friends? Ken Jennings (the current record holder for most Jeopardy! wins of all time) has written a book that almost defies description.

BRAINIAC is a memoir of sorts that covers Jennings' trip to try out on Jeoparady! and his subsequent record-setting run. But BRAINIAC is also a commentary and exploration on the world of trivia itself, from the pub-playing host of friends, to the elite college st...more
Christina Tang-Bernas
It usually takes me FOREVER to finish non-fiction books (as evidenced by the fact that most of my "currently reading" list is non-fiction and the books on it have been lingering for years. I love Jeopardy, that feeling of yelling answers (mostly incorrect) at the TV screen and that glow of happiness when you get one correct, so of course, I knew of Ken Jennings, one of Jeopardy's most famous stars. When my husband checked this book out of the library and recommended that I read it, I was hesitan...more
Chris "Stu"
I wish there was a three and a half star option, because that's really what this is. Ken Jennings is likeable, and this is a decent overview of the history of Trivia as a passtime, along with a couple of notes on what it takes to write a good Trivia question that could really have been written by any of the better Trivia hosts at my local bar Trivia (I count myself as one of their number). Thankfully, this isn't a blow by blow of Jennings 75 game run in Jeopardy! No one really likes to hear peop...more
Eric
Ken Jennings, the winner of 74 Jeopardy! games and over 2.5 million dollars, tells the story of ... well ... how he won 74 games of Jeopardy and over 2.5 million dollars. But that is only the backdrop for the actual topic of the book, which is the history of the rise and fall, and rise and fall again, and again, and again, of the trivia/quiz bowl/game show phenomenon.

Jennings’ writing is witty, funny and self-deprecating. It is fun to see him poke fun at himself as he tells the story of trivia t...more
Nitya Sivasubramanian
In the acknowledgments, Ken Jennings calls his book, Brainiac, "lightweight and mediocre". Yet, I forged through, hoping that he was simply hiding behind a veneer of self-deprecation that is called for when writing a book about your experience as a record-breaking 74-game winning Jeopardy! contestant.

In fact, throughout the book, Jennings comes off as quietly intelligent, charmingly nerdy and just a touch obsessive about collecting trivia. Interspersed with the tale of his experience on Jeopard...more
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45003
Kenneth Wayne Jennings III (born May 23, 1974) holds the record for the longest winning streak on the U.S. syndicated game show Jeopardy! Jennings won 74 games before he was defeated by challenger Nancy Zerg on his 75th appearance. His total earnings on Jeopardy! are US$3,022,700 ($2,520,700 in winnings, a $2,000 consolation prize on his 75th appearance, and $500,000 in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tour...more
More about Ken Jennings...
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks Because I Said So! : The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac: 8,888 Questions in 365 Days Greek Mythology (Junior Genius Guides, #1) Maps and Geography (Junior Genius Guides, #2)

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“After all, we're currently living in a Bizarro society where teenagers are technology-obsessed, where the biggest sellers in every bookstores are fantasy novels about a boy wizard, and the blockbuster hit movies are all full of hobbits and elves or 1960s spandex superheroes. You don't have to go to a Star Trek convention to find geeks anymore. Today, almost everyone is an obsessive, well-informed aficionado of something. Pick your cult: there are food geeks and fashion geeks and Desperate Housewives geeks and David Mamet geeks and fantasy sports geeks. The list is endless. And since everyone today is some kind of trivia geek or other, there's not even a stigma anymore. Trivia is mainstream. "Nerd" is the new "cool.” 24 likes
“What are those bulb things you're slicing?"
"You've never seen fennel? It looks like celery and tastes like licorice.”
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