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Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  6,894 ratings  ·  1,008 reviews
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks is Ken's followup to his 2005 best-seller Brainiac. Much as Brainiac offered a behind-the-scenes look at the little-known demimonde of competitive trivia buffs, Maphead finally gives equal time to that other downtrodden underclass: America's map nerds.

In a world where geography only makes the headlines when college
Hardcover, 276 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Scribner (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  6,894 ratings  ·  1,008 reviews

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Dec 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Stealing a thought line from the author, Ken Jennings, Jeopardy superstar, if you the type of person who walks into a room with a map hanging on the wall and you immediately head to the must read this book. I love maps, all kinds and found this book to be utterly fascinating. So, if blue was favorite category in Trivial Pursuit and you often find yourself exploring the world via Google Earth and its maps, then you, Ken Jennings and I have something in common and this book, while it doe ...more
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
True story: my husband and I met because of a geography bee. I was the seventh grade Geography Bee champion at our middle school; he was the eighth grade champion. We went head to head for several rounds, but ultimately he bested me -- he knew that quinine was used to treat malaria, and I did not. I got my revenge, though, in a way -- he did not qualify for the state geography bee, but the following year, when I became the school champion, I DID. (And believe me -- some twenty years later, I sti ...more
Sanjiv Sarwate
Jul 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a fun, if light, book. Ken Jennings is an engaging narrator, guiding you through chapter-separated geography wonks, from the collectors of ancient maps to Geography Bee competitors to geocachers. Jennings also will explode pretty much any stereotype you might have about Mormons - the humor was surprisingly risqué for what I associated with Mormons before. This isn't a deep book, but it's still a lot of fun.
Riku Sayuj
Dec 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: r-r-rs
It at least got me to look up some stuff on some maps that I am embarrassed to admit I had no clue about.
Nov 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

A quick read, similar in format and informality to Ken's inaugural Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs book. All twelve chapter titles included a cartographic definition together with a quote. For example, the first chapter entitled 'Eccentricity' with the definition 'the deformation of an elliptical map projection' and the Pat Conroy quote 'My wound is geography.'

My favorite chapter falls in the center, halfway from nowhere to somewher
David Dort
Oct 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Ken Jennings (of Jeopardy fame) delivers a fantastic sampling of the geo-geekdom. From map lovers (where it starts) to geography bees to road geeks, to obsessive travel, to geo cachers to Google Earth's transformation of the paper to cyber world of finding where you are and devoting a great deal of energy to it. Jennings is entertaining, literate (if not annoying in his constant referrals to pop culture as well as history.) but most of all he, like me, LOVES maps. And if you LOVE maps, this is a ...more
Oct 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In 2004 Ken Jennings became my hero. An unassuming charming nerd from Utah who absolutely conquered the trivia world via his astonishing 6 month reign on Jeopardy. I picked up Maphead at the library because it was written by Jennings and not so much because I am a maphead, although I do appreciate geography and maps and have a fairly decent working knowledge of both. This book turned out just as good as I'd expect a glimpse inside such a smart (map)head would is clever, erudite, funny, e ...more
B Schrodinger
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Maphead is a wonderful work revelling in nerdery of the geography-kind. All of those like myself who spent hours as a child poring over atlases, lose afternoons on Google maps or Google Earth and own a globe that is not of the Earth should adore this book.

It celebrates a certain type of nerdery that a lot of us share but hardly ever discuss. I'm not the only one who can go on a mini holiday with a map and my imagination. I'm not the only one to dream of psuedo real places that stay with me for y
May 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I thought this was great, but I am a bit of a map nerd myself. And by "bit of," I mean I am a humongous map nerd. This is my most frequent tool of procrastination - I sit at the library when I should be doing work and I read the atlas. I've been doing it for years. When I am supposed to be doing work on the computer I am often tracing routes on google maps to local and far-flung donut shops. When I am driving places with friends I tend to read their road atlases when I probably should be talking ...more
Feb 06, 2012 rated it liked it
As someone who has participated in car rallies, did the semi-obligatory post-college backpacking trip around Europe, and finally relented to using a smartphone mainly for the GPS, I know the allure and interest of navigating the wide, weird world around us. But holy cow, do I not know it in the ways explored in this book! The mild pleasure I take in being my family's navigator is nothing compared to the delight found by collectors, quiz kids, geocachers, and travelers who truly dig on mapping, m ...more
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If a book about maps and the people who love them written by the snarky Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings sounds like the kind of book you would like, then what are you waiting for? Go get this book immediately.

If it doesn't sound like the kind of book you would like, then I would urge you to reconsider. As fans of his blog or his television appearances know, Jennings is incredibly charming as he drops witty and random asides, makes pop culture references galore, and lets his geek flag fly. And the
Dec 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve had Ken Jennings’ Maphead in my Audible library for a few years. I bought it when I was in full Jennings fever after the whole hat trick of his Jeopardy! appearance, his memoir, and his book of trivia. I was eager for more Ken Jennings, whose name - like some other authors like Ruth Reichl - need not include a surname in my house. I said Ken, and my husband understood who I was talking about. He was a celebrity to us.

Then ... I don’t know if my interest in Ken waned, or if this new book - a
Amanda Van Parys
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My sister and I have always loved maps. I have memories of us spending hours exploring our cheap K-Mart globe, our grandfather's atlas, and cheap tourist maps we got from the (rare) vacations to Daytona Beach and Disney World. You know, the ones that are displayed on the huge racks in tourist restaurants and such? We grabbed all of them! Even ones for the places we didn't go. All of them.

When my sister went on a vacation to St. Augustine as an adult with her husband, she gleefully dug a tourist
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
I do not mean to dis Ken Jennings for his easy to read Maphead; I am just not sure who might care. Many people may remember Mr. Jennings as the guy who cleaned up on Jeopardy. That was in 2004. According to Wiki he has made money from some other game show appearances and according to the front pages of my copy he is author of 2 prior books. He seems to have had a few problems with his blog upsetting people, but maybe that comes with being visible in the blogosphere.

Maphead is a semi-serious con
Jan 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
Ever read a book and decide you just can't stand another minute of exposure to it? That's how I feel about Maphead.

I got 36 pages in and was reflexively wincing every time the author made a bad pun. And Jennings makes a lot of them. Here's an example:

"I wonder: how would history be different if Bunyan or Dante had chosen to represent life not as a linear journey through a geographic territory but as something a little more holistic -- a library, say? Or a buffet? (Pilgrim's Potluck!)"

Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
I like maps. When I travel somewhere new, I open Google Maps and spend a day or two plotting museums, food, and orienting myself to the geography of the city. I've whittled away countless hours in Street View, just to get a glimpse of a spot on a map. Sometimes it's a small, Southern American 'burg. Other times it's dead-center in a Central American metropolis I never knew existed. Or if I get bored of claustrophobic concrete canyons, it's off to the farthest reaches of the map, hoping to catch ...more
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed::

How the book ties together quite a lot of trivia in a format that allows a smooth transition from one fact to the next.

Anecdotes from the writer's personal life. Also, he seemed to make the conversational tone of the book work very well.

I didn't enjoy::

The lack of globally relevant material
This was unexpected and a big disappointment. Maphead is clearly written by an American aimed at Americans, which is a shame because throughout Maphead, Jennings passionately derides US-centricity
Your Excellency
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
Ken Jennings has done a masterful job verbalizing a passion that many, including myself, share. We 'mapheads' enjoy maps in all their forms, and Mr. Jennings touches on many of them.
This book is not at all dry or boring - Mr. Jennings infuses his subject with wit and humor, and brings the various aspects of map research, creation, exploration, variation and evolution together in a very enjoyable read.
He has a breezy way of covering what could be snoozer subjects. I enjoyed the mix of his persona
Nov 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: trivia, geography
I wanted to like this book so much -- highly recommended, great subject matter, well-written, etc. The subject matter itself was great. It just skirted a little too far from its map roots for my taste.

What doomed it in the end was what it wasn't. There were few maps; none worth looking at. Instead, it was a series of vignettes about various geographic topics. I had expected this, I know, but I still found most of the book rather dull. I enjoyed doing my own research to expand upon the trivia and
David Corleto-Bales
Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
An interesting look at people obsessed with maps and geography. The author takes a trip to the largest repository of maps in the world, (The Library of Congress) and peruses its rare maps, speaks of his love of atlases, and visits various geeks, nerds and "mapheads" all over the country that do things like climb the highest mountain in every country in the world, or memorize all the interstate highway interchanges or make up their own countries. I did that when I was a kid, too, and made lots of ...more
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love geography. I love books. I love Ken Jennings. I love books about geography signed by Ken Jennings.

This book is perfect. Jennings explores what people really think of geography. He explains why Americans lag in geography. Why geography is classified as "unimportant."

Mostly, he tells us what geography really is. Think of this as the smart people equivalent of "An Idiots' Guide To Geography."

Wait! I take that back.

Even if geography leaves you feeling confuzzled, this book explains everythin
May 06, 2012 rated it liked it
I found this book great reading! Entertaining, funny, and just right for dipping into on and off. I'm sad it's over. I loved the description of geocaching, and I'm tempted to tru that myself, perhaps a few of the easier ones, since I don't get around as well as once I did. Turning the world into a place of hidden treasures is such a great idea. The book is about all different sorts of map geeks, all brilliantly nerdy and fun. Makes me want to pore over my last road atlas, bought in the 90s, agai ...more
May 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone interested in anything
Recommended to Richard by: I read a review
Who knew? There is so much to this book, it is a very dense read.

Tracing the history of maps from clay tablets to the latest in GPS, Mr. Jennings demonstrates why he was able to be on Jeopardy for 6 months and was the winner (at that time)of the most money won.

Even if you are not fascinated by maps, you can find something in this book to entertain you. If you don't like maps, you will even find out why not.
4.5 stars. I found this in a Little Free Library in my neighborhood! :) This was an extremely enjoyable look at many things map-related, from the National Geographic Bee to geocaching to Google Earth to maps in fantasy novels (Brandon Sanderson fans take note, as Sanderson and Jennings were college roommates). Jennings' writing is filled with delightful footnotes and irresistible tidbits of information and at times definitely reminded me of the writing of Bill Bryson.
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ken Jennings's richly breezy (is that possible?) Maphead is one of those great, totally geeked out single-subject surveys (here: maps) that goes down a million different, usually fascinating routes to tell the tale, educates and entertains in equal measure, PLUS offers enough personal anecdote and unabashed enthusiasm on and for the subject at hand to give it context, and make it all come alive (which is why I usually don't enjoy Mark Kurlansky's histories: all facts, no heart). Jennings, appare ...more
Mar 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I was worried that Jennings would just beat us over the head with his cleverness and genius throughout this book, and indeed the phrase "Proustian thrill" appears right on page 1 leading me to believe I was prophetic, but it turns out the beating is not too bad. Definitely worth the read if you have any interest in maps, geography, etc.

When I read about the obsessives in this book, I become a bit wistful, part of me wishes I had some overarching obsession to fuel me. I get onto topics for a few
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
fairly pleasant book about geography and maps. author has a style of intermittent full on trivia flood a la simon winchester mixed with some analysis and synthesis of why maps possibly are hardwired in human brains. that is the interpretation and understanding of maps. not enough illustrations and maps though. toby lester's is better for this sort of thing The Fourth Part of the World The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Making of History and so is winchester's map book The Map That Changed the World William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester as is sobel's new one A More Perfect Heaven How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel , but still, ken jennings has written an excellent book for the right cro ...more
Ralph McEwen
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. Ken Jennings has written this book like he is just sitting next to you and telling this most incredible story about maps, the people who love them and how they affect everyday life past, present and future. He also opens doors into himself that reflect many of the fears and thoughts in the other map lovers. The book show that there many ways that people use, love and even obsess about maps.
Even though I think Mr. Jennings has been abundantly blessed to the point of his
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Are you a maphead? Do you know the symptoms? King of the Mapheads Ken Jennings knows his fellow mapheads. He knows those of us who, in childhood, saved our allowances to purchase an enormous Hammonds world atlas. Jennings knows how we mapheads have all the states and capitals memorized. He can spot us as we longingly, lovingly spend hours pouring over enormous library globes.

Maphead-dom is a satisfying existence, we learn, as Jennings transports us to visit with enormous colonies of mapheads, a
Sep 03, 2011 marked it as to-read
I'd read a book by Ken Jennings.
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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

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