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Ken Jennings’ book for more than just the ‘Brainiacs’

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When Dr. Seuss first coined the word "nerd" in 1950, he probably never anticipated the rise to fame that a self-proclaimed "trivia nerd" would experience after appearing on "Jeopardy."

Actually, no one in America could have predicted an anonymous software engineer from Salt Lake City would emerge as a national icon. Yet somehow, through some anomaly in a part of the space-time continuum that usually separates eggheads from popularity and money, Ken Jennings found both fame and fortune.

He did this not by dancing in an end zone or lip-syncing on a stage, but by answering thousands of trivia questions behind a podium swallowed in neon blue lights.

In his new book, "Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs," Jennings not only chronicles his journeys as a "Jeopardy" champion but uncovers the hidden subculture of trivia in the United States. Through his engaging style and clever storytelling, he cracks open the minds of trivia buffs and explores the significance of trivia in their lives.

One would think that after compiling 74 consecutive victories and amassing more than $2.5 million, any man in Jennings' shoes would proclaim his kingdom and bask in the glory of his accomplishments. Instead, Jennings humbly presents trivia as something more than a collection of insignificant facts. It is a lifestyle, a gift and an obsession for many.

"Brainiac" succeeds as a remarkable first book, because instead of merely acknowledging trivia as the means by which he gained his fame and fortune, Jennings investigates its identity and purpose in the context of human life and interaction. Jennings weaves stories of his childhood as a game-show fanatic to the people he met during and after his life as a game-show champion.

In the same way, he laces the entire book with "Jeopardy"-like trivia questions not only to keep readers thinking, but to help them understand the impact that knowledge can have on a person.

The only fault in his book lies in the length of some of the stories and explanations that Jennings uncovers; however it is only a minimal problem in a book that answers a vast multitude of them. It also works as proof that the mind of a trivia buff is one that values detail and memory, no matter how big or small.

Jennings will appear in Milwaukee for a talk and book signing on Oct. 5 at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, 10976 N. Port Washington Road. For additional information, call (262) 241-6220.

The Verdict: ***

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