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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 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 students are (endlessly) discovered to be bad at it, these hardy souls somehow thrive. Some crisscross the map working an endless geographic checklist: visiting all 3,143 U.S. counties, for example, or all 936 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some pore over million-dollar collections of the rarest maps of the past; others embrace the future by hunting real-world cartographic treasures like "geocaches" or "degree confluences" with GPS device in hand. Some even draw thousands of their own imaginary maps, lovingly detailing worlds that never were. Ken Jennings was a map nerd from a young age himself, you will not be surprised to learn, even sleeping with a bulky Hammond atlas at the side of his pillow, in lieu of the traditional Teddy bear. As he travels the nation meeting others of his tribe--map librarians, publishers, "roadgeeks," pint-sized National Geographic Bee prodigies, the computer geniuses behind Google Maps and other geo-technologies--he comes to admire these geographic obsessives. Now that technology and geographic illiteracy are increasingly insulating us from the lay of the land around us, we are going to be needing these people more than ever. Mapheads are the ones who always know exactly where they are--and where everything else is as well.


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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 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 students are (endlessly) discovered to be bad at it, these hardy souls somehow thrive. Some crisscross the map working an endless geographic checklist: visiting all 3,143 U.S. counties, for example, or all 936 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some pore over million-dollar collections of the rarest maps of the past; others embrace the future by hunting real-world cartographic treasures like "geocaches" or "degree confluences" with GPS device in hand. Some even draw thousands of their own imaginary maps, lovingly detailing worlds that never were. Ken Jennings was a map nerd from a young age himself, you will not be surprised to learn, even sleeping with a bulky Hammond atlas at the side of his pillow, in lieu of the traditional Teddy bear. As he travels the nation meeting others of his tribe--map librarians, publishers, "roadgeeks," pint-sized National Geographic Bee prodigies, the computer geniuses behind Google Maps and other geo-technologies--he comes to admire these geographic obsessives. Now that technology and geographic illiteracy are increasingly insulating us from the lay of the land around us, we are going to be needing these people more than ever. Mapheads are the ones who always know exactly where they are--and where everything else is as well.

30 review for Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

  1. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    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 map...you 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 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 map...you 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 doesn't tell us why, it does fill a niche of knowledge about the passion we share. Some may wonder if it's really possible to have an entire book "about" maps. YES it is...thank goodness.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    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 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 still remind him of this quite frequently!) I went on to the Connecticut bee, with ninety-nine of the other top scorers, but I was eliminated before reaching the finals. It's true what they say -- you always remember the question that you didn't know the answer to. (In case it ever comes up for you: the South American desert known for being the driest in the world is the Atacama. You're welcome.) You don't get to the state geography bee without being a map nerd -- so I don't need to tell you that I practically jumped up and down with excitement when I first heard about this book. A book about my people! Jennings, known for his 74-game winning streak on Jeopardy!, hooked me right in the very first chapter, with his tales of his childhood atlas (for me, it was a huge collection, courtesy of my grandfather, of National Geographic maps, plus a box set of "Close-Up USA" maps), wooden map puzzles, and realization that, for those of us who were in our peak geography-nerd phases before the end of the Cold War, our knowledge of world capitals and European country names is stuck in 1987. Jennings goes on to trace the weird world of the "maphead" in chapters dealing the history of maps, map collecting, maps of fictional places, geocaching, and more. He shares my feeling that a book which includes maps must be good (bonus points if there's also an appendix!) and discusses the role that maps play in adult geek culture, noting that "Hogwarts and the starship Enterprise have been mapped in more detail than much of Africa." And, of course, there is a chapter on the National Geographic Bee which, as a former participant myself, I took special interest in. (And having read more about it, both here and elsewhere, I can look back and say, unequivocally, that despite my performance on the written test that qualified me for the state finals there is NO way I was prepared for that, nevermind the national finals. These kids are HARDCORE.) As you would expect from a book written by a trivia champion and, dare I say, professional geek, the book is full of interesting facts and, yes, trivial sidenotes. Jennings has clearly done his homework; I'm nerdy enough to be totally jealous of the research he got to do for the book, especially visiting the map room at the Library of Congress. Jennings is a gifted, humorous writer, and the book is fast-paced and lighthearted -- if one were hoping for a serious academic treatment of maps and mapheads, this isn't the right book. (The book also boasts the rarest of all literary beasts, a funny appendix. The entries for "Jennings, Ken" and his wife made me giggle.) All in all, Maphead is a fun read, and perfect for those who like a solid dose of chuckles with their facts. (And if descriptions of maps are going to make you go dig out your favorites so you can relive them all over again, then this is DEFINITELY for you.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sanjiv Sarwate

    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. 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    It at least got me to look up some stuff on some maps that I am embarrassed to admit I had no clue about.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    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 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 somewhere, Chapter 6 'Legend' with a definition of 'an explanatory list of the symbols on a map' and the C.S. Lewis quote 'Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country, but for most of us it is only an imaginary country.' I did a double-take when I read on p. 113 that Brandon Sanderson and Ken Jennings were college roommates. I heartily agree with Brandon's assertion that 'The hallmark of epic fantasy is immersion' and that's why he always includes maps in his books. Brandon goes on to relate to Ken that he 'started to look and make sure a book had a map. That was one of the measures of whether it was going to be a good book or not." When Brandon first read The Lord of the Rings he thought, 'Oho, he [Tolkien] knows what he's doing. A map and an appendix!' Ken states a few paragraphs later that 'Fantasy readers like that abrupt drop into the deep end and the learning curve it takes to keep up' further affirmed by Brandon's confirmation that 'By the end of a big epic fantasy novel, you'll have to become an expert in this world that doesn't exist. It's challenging.' I felt affirmed and validated for years of pouring over maps of fictional non-existent realms. I once thought to recreate the map of Middle Earth as a tapestry to hang proudly in my living room or library. One of the first prints I purchased from a newly favorite epic fantasy author, Janny Wurts, was a large format (40x30 inches) map of Athera, solely because I wanted to be able to trace (without squinting or resorting to a magnifying glass and the loss of the center of the map to the no man's land in the binding of the books) the routes of Arithon, Elaira, Dakar, Lysaer and other characters intrinsic to her Wars of Light and Shadow epic fantasy series. The first thing I did upon receiving the next Wheel of Time novel was to skim through for any new maps interspersed in the chapters and sections. Back in the mid80s, I purchased both the Atlas of the Land and the The Atlas of Pern by Karen Wynn Fonstad so I could pour over even more imaginary maps while waiting for the next Pern or Thomas Covenant novel to be published. But I digress, tangentially, from the book at hand. In Chapter 9 'Transit' (definition: 'a piece of surveying equipment used by mapmakers: a theodolite with a reversible telescope'), Ken sparked my interest in road rallies (something I always wanted to do when my husband was a member of the local SCCA). I always excelled at those trick-question instruction test in school, so I might just try Jim Sinclair's annual St. Valentine's Day Massacre (a contest by mail where you travel a circuitous course across American from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Statue of Liberty entirely by maps) next year. That is if I can find a way to sign up; an Internet search came up oddly sparse. Ken introduced me to 'geocaching' in Chapter 10 'Overedge' (definition: 'the portion of the map that lies outside the neatline border'), which so intrigued me that I grabbed my Nook Color and signed up at Geocaching.com, even though I don't even own a GPS unit (outside of the one in my dumbphone which doesn't have any 'free' software associated with it to assist in finding or placing geocaches). Overall, I enjoyed the few hours I spent geeking over cartography and geography with Ken Jennings as my tour guide. I learned a few things and I laughed out loud a couple of times. I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend, especially if cold November rain greets you on the other side of the door.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Dort

    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 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 four, if not five star, book, just to find those fellow oddballs who find order in the universe looking at a map. Honey, I won't ask for directions because I get to follow the map. Why would I? His arguments for the spatial development of the brain as a product of map love are interesting but not as interesting as the stories about the people who've been to the highest point in all 50 states. And that's the revelation about this book: people are still in love with finding things. The earth is their treasure hunt. And that's fun!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bandit

    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 be...it is clever, erudite, funny, e 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 be...it is clever, erudite, funny, enlightening and very entertaining. Whether he is writing about the world of antique map collectors, geography wunderkinds, obsessive travelers, geocaching or the incredible technological advances that have been made in the recent past, Ken Jennings never fails to make the narration personable and exciting. Particularly interesting were his insights into how knowledge of geography relates to real world and american education systems tend to deprioritize it leading to results either alarming or laughable, depending on your perspective. And, of course, the book is peppered with fascinating trivia bits as one would expect from a trivia champ. Excellent book on an excellent (if underappreciated) subject. Highly recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    B Schrodinger

    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 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 years. Ken is essentially saying "You're not alone. It's normal and fun. Look at this cool shit that we do!". It's not all frippery though. There is serious discussion on geographic education, the history of mapping and the future of maps in the digital age. I adored this book and recommend it for any self-confessed nerd. Chances are you grew up thumbing through an atlas also.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    5 Stars for Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks (audiobook) by Ken Jennings read by Kirby Heyborne. This was fascinating. I thought that I liked maps. But hearing about how some many people have geography such a big part of there life’s was great.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    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 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 to them. I am terrible. I will say, Ken (it's funny that I feel so familiar with Ken because I watched him on Jeopardy. He must meet people who think they know him all the time), Ken maybe fills this with just a hair too many bad jokes. Especially in early chapters, the book reads like a vaudeville routine...every footnote seems designed to cue up a rim shot. He calms down a bit as the book progresses. I loved all the little anecdotes and random trivia that he scatters through the book. He looks at pretty much every kind of map geekdom, from geocachers to geography bee champions to the kinds of people who have memorized the road atlas and know what every route used to be called and ring up the DOT to report bad highway directional signs. He also inspired me to think about more classic maps that I wish I could buy to decorate my home/cublicle, before further reminding me that these maps are really very expensive. I went out and looked in used book shops in Boston and he is right, these collectors have made all these random old maps worth hundreds of dollars. He also clued me into why the people at the Mass Historical Society always search me when I leave and give me the evil eye - they are worried I'll exacto knife a map out of an old book and slip it in my pocket. Who knew people did that? Bastards! Recommended for all map dorks. Excuse me, I want to go and look at the Imus Geographics U.S. map that I (honestly...I know) specifically requested for my birthday last year. In my defense, it is an awesome map.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    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 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, memorizing, and circumnavigating the globe. Jennings' wide-eyed perspective makes him a fun guide on the journey; I often found myself chuckling at his footnoted references and side comments on all sorts of cultural topics, from quirky Australian star Yahoo Serious to disappointment in the lack of 2010-era subacquatic biodomes to Lex Luthor's California-as-island scheme from the first Superman movie. The personal nature of the book, knowing that the topic is close to home for this geographic trivia nerd, makes it more of a pleasure to read. A minor complaint about the book is that after reading a couple of chapters, I didn't really know what I'd be getting -- a rare case of Jennings not providing enough a map for the reader? I was tempted to quit, but on a friend's strong recommendation persevered, and was glad I did. As for catching the geography bug myself? I doubt I'll join the Traveler's Century Club anytime soon, but a harmless bit of geocaching might be on the docket.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Darrenglass

    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 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 topic he discusses is quite interesting. I don't consider myself to be a 'maphead', but I do understand the appeal of maps, and of obscure trivia in general, and reading about people pursuing their passions is always very interesting. He includes chapters about topics like the map collection at the Library of Congress, geocaching as a hobby, and the ways that Google maps is changing what maps even mean, and the whole time that he explores these topics he brings the reader along with him and makes you feel like a member of his family (or at least that you wish you were!) What a fun book, and I cant wait to see what Jennings writes next.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kevidently

    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 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 - about geography, rather than trivia or Ken himself - was simply less interesting to me. I’ve never been big on the subject; as Ken so astutely puts it in the book, it stopped being taught as a discrete subject in schools before I was born. Maybe I never really had a chance to get into maps the way I got into novels and trivia and video games. The most involved my life ever got was when a huge wall map and its metal hanging structure fell on my algebra teacher’s head and we had a substitute for three weeks. But I do love my accessible, poppy books on subjects I’m not familiar with, so when I was casting around for something to get me out of the sad novels about dead girls rut I seemed to be in, I hit on Maphead. The book worked in exactly the way I wanted it to. Thesis statement about why maps are important and why they’re important to Ken. The broad history of maps and geography, mostly American-centric but taking the context of the world into much consideration. Eventually we move into the futuristic now: chapters on GPS and geocaching and there’s a complicated math/geography chapter I didn’t quite understand. A really neat discussion of Google Earth. Thoughts about whether the future of maps will eliminate paper altogether. Closing, cautiously optimistic statement about the next generation of mapheads. And fin. But that’s just the structure. It’s the structure pop writers take when writing books about difficult subjects for a mass audience. And I like the structure. It’s comforting, and only a little samey. What matters is how it’s tackled. Who’s writing it. How much of themselves they put into it. I read a history of salt earlier this year that was popular and I found it dull. Ken Jennings isn’t dull. What comes across most in Maphead is how very, very much Ken likes maps and geography. And because he’s passionate about the subject - at times, you kind of think the book should be called Mapstan - YOU become passionate about it. I’m suddenly fascinated with geocaching, and also with fixing my geography blind spots and finally knowing all the state capitals, and not just the big ones like Boston or Orlando or Los Angeles. If you have an interest in subjects you should have learned in school - or learned better - and want an in, this is that sort of book for you. Or if you just like nerds being nerds, and perhaps are a nerd. You might come away with a sudden craving for a National Geographic atlas. PS it’s on my Amazon List and Christmas is two weeks away.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Van Parys

    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 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 map from her luggage and declared "I got a map!" And we looked over it for a good hour discussing all the places she went. When I went to Universal Studios for the first time, I grabbed a map of the park in every language, just because. We call it "map porn." I haven't been this immersed in a book in a long time. I looked up so many things, learned so many things... considered buying an antique map, became interested in Geocaching (even downloaded the app and discovered a cache around the corner from my work that I'm going to visit during my afternoon walk!), searched the Library of Congress' map archive and bookmarked it, and visited the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. For those people who have loved maps their entire lives -- this is the book for us!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Phrodrick

    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 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 confession of Jennings’ fascination with cartography and of the various outlets for likeminded people. A part of my job includes some work with complicated map making software. It is a part of my job I enjoy, that is when everything works and a part that allows me to exercise whining and cursing when it does not. I am a former ship’s Navigator and because I had very good people on my team that assignment was one of the best jobs for which I ever received a paycheck. That plus I am something of a nerd so I am in the Venn diagram of the natural audience for this book. Across the several chapters of his Book Jennings preaches a little, reports on some map related games and in general relates various stories and aspects of how true map heads live out their hobbies. Early on he indulges in a little advocacy for the study of geography while tracking the Annual Geography Bee. He has a section on people so into the idea of maps as guides to the imagination that they have created complete sometimes detailed maps of places that only exist in their imagination. Readers of the classic Thomas More’s Utopia may not know that More had a map of his “No Where” Other chapters tell the stories of the various games people have invented tacking advantage of GPS tracking devices. He tracks down the founder of the online/real world game of Geocaching, whereby players seek out small cashes of trinkets hidden away in various places for the fun and saying they found them. Other games included an annual mind bending games of map reading. Started by Jim Sinclair is The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. It can be played from your desk and or in the ‘real’ world but it requires the successful player to be detail and exacting as they travel across geography solving very deliberately obtuse questions about maps geography and the highway system. Jennings not only plays investigative reporter but participates. Throughout the style is friendly a little self –deprecating and rarely serious. The result is easy to read but like map head enthusiasm, hard to understand. I mostly get it, but I am not sure who might enjoy it. There are one or two map centric people, at work who might give it a glace. Maphead might make an adjunct read for armchair travels who like reading about the real travel adventures. Maphead may qualify as a beach read or other light time passers, but … who else?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    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!)" Groan... 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!)" Groan... and then he immediately follows with a completely irrelevant comment concerning Oprah Winfrey and a waffle bar. What the HELL does this have to do with maps? It has nothing to do with them. It's just whatever random thoughts were in his mind at the time. But maybe I'm being charitable.... a more damning thought is that he actually worked to construct these godawful passages. Then there are all the lengthy footnotes. Dozens of them. (Did I mention I was only 36 pages in?) The narrative itself is a rambling mash-up of random factoids, but then Jennings is in love with the idea of putting other random factoids (often of a smirking nature) in footnotes. God knows why. They're in miniscule text. Needless to say, deciphering them is rarely worth the effort. Alas, the real subject of Mapheads is Jennings himself. I'll restrain myself here and simply say that Jennings is not that interesting. He's spent more or less a lifetime absorbing factoids then regurgitating them. With embellishments. But it's no substitute for coherent thought. There's no there there. While Jennings was clearly shooting for something along the lines of a Bill Bryson book, he came short. There are much better books on map-obsessed people out there, such as The Island of Lost Maps. I was given this book as a gift and decided to give it a go as I'd once read another book, on the life of Lola Montez, by another former Jeopardy whiz, Bruce Seymour. I greatly enjoyed it. Seymour took his winnings and used them to devote himself to researching Montez, a fascinating subject. Jennings, alas, seems more intent on cashing in on his moment of fame.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    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 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 a panorama of a fjord or Sub-Saharan desert. Ken Jennings summarized it nicely; he says that maps represent a sense of place. Each dot on a map exists; people live there, food is eaten, and the landscape may be completely alien. A map stokes my imagination, and I can play with an escapist fantasy for a couple minutes until I decide to finally write that memo that's been on my to-do list for a week. This book is full of people who share that love of maps and take it to an absurd extreme. There's a map-based "road rally" in which contestants have to navigate the USA with a paper map and oblique trivia navigation. Geocachers spend hours collecting caches because... they're there. Sixth graders answer questions about places that are seemingly fictional in the National Geography Bee final. I won my school's geography bee in seventh grade and flamed out on the state geography test because of places that, to me, still don't exist. Maphead is a reminder that there are people who take something I like and run with it until it's so specific and obsessive that it's almost inaccessible. The book is mostly fluff, but it's fun fluff.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Saquib

    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 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 as a way of global approach. The book also missed some background info where it was due. As someone who has never been to the US, I have trouble understanding entire chapters about American road signs and interstate system if I'm not eased into it. Or the crude attempts at humour: Many cases of twentieth-century American map geekdom, it seems, began the same way that many twentieth-century Americans began: conceived in the backseats of Buicks. Check it out, Europe: Caribbean women are all hawt ! And, like, total sluts. He testified that, on his wedding night, he even kept his new bride waiting in bed while he polished the covers of his beloved rare books. Perhaps she misunderstood when he warned her he was into “leather binding.”

  19. 5 out of 5

    Your Excellency

    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 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 personal experiences and general reporting, and he uses a lot of modern cultural references that make an old subject feel current and alive. I could sure relate to his topics - to the days poring over older paper maps, to the explorations with Google Earth and robotic GPS devices, to pastimes like geo-caching, and many others. About the only area I think that he could have been addressed more is the maps in video games - there are so many games out there, such as the Age of Empires or the Dawn of Discovery series or Titan Quest, that create worlds of imaginary maps that live only in pixels and our heads. I do suggest this book - easy, entertaining and engrossing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    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 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 anecdotes more than reading the book itself. In fact, that's why it took so long to finish -- I'd leave and look something up, and never return. (Though I think this says more about me than it does about the book.) I think I'm also losing my taste for a lot of "string of anecdotes around a particular topic" non-fiction... I think I need to head back toward the more research-based works I abandoned during college. This, instead, just felt like fluff.

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Corleto-Bales

    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 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 maps to chronicle it all; I did get a twinge of jealousy in the chapter on "Travel Clubs", where the prerequisite for joining is visiting 100 countries. I only got to 49. A little boring when he got to the parts about "technology", but I still love Google Earth.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Becca

    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 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 everything in simple, basic terms that almost anyone can read. (Unless that anybody is your dog. Then maybe you should get a drug test.) Just read the book. You won't regret it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    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 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, again... or to spend a few hours browsing Google earth.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    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. 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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    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. 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.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    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 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, apparently, had some sort of record winning streak on Jeopardy in the mid-aughts, which is only relevant in that he still clearly appreciates minutia--there are thousands of interesting tidbits here, often in asterixed notes, most of which I've already forgotten--and he's pretty funny and surprisingly catty when Alex Trebek appears on the scene in the (by the way excellent) National Geographic Bee chapter. Other chapters include a visit to an antiquarian map show and the aging-fast gang of eccentrics who populate that world; a look at how Google maps will or won't change everything; a concise history of map-making in general; why cartography is different than geography; maps of imagined worlds, beginning with Tolkien; the (astonishing to me) massive popularity of geocaching, still, to this day, like it didn't end with AOL; the immeasurable, mostly uncatalogued depths of the map collection at the Library of Congress, and on. Add lots of self-deprecating humor (as well as too many way-corny jokes), some nice nostalgic bits about what looking at maps felt like when you're a kid (I guess you could count me as an amateur maphead), and you've got a solid five-star-er.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    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 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 months, then move on. I think I had the potential to become a Maphead. Back in the early 1990s I had a job in the back of a bowling alley, which mostly consisted of doing nothing. (Back, meaning behind the pinsetters.) For some reason, there was a Rand McNally road atlas in the back office. On slow nights, I'd just read it in detail for lack of anything else to do. At the time, my world travels consisted of New York City, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and a few obscure points in New Jersey; the road atlas was probably the first opening of my eyes to the larger world. As one example, I traced US 30 out of Atlantic City, following it across the country (where it often merges with interstates), all the way through Boise (where, years later, I'd live) and to its terminus in Oregon. The atlas was at least part of my inspiration for taking a road trip to Florida in 1991, and I finally stepped on an airplane in 1998, and away we go. In fact by the standard of the average person I may be a Maphead; years ago I visited the western terminus of US 30, just to say I'd been at both ends, and I do maintain a large laminated map marked with where I've been.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tuck

    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 and so is winchester's map book as is sobel's new one , but still, ken jennings has written an excellent book for the right cro 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 and so is winchester's map book as is sobel's new one , but still, ken jennings has written an excellent book for the right crowd

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ralph McEwen

    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 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 cup over-flowing; good looks, extremely bright, renown for more then just winning Jeopardy!, healthy wife and children … the list goes on and on, I still like him and his sense of style. At least that's what I get from reading his book and seeing him on TV. How dare him to be this talented on top of everything else and just to top it off he even likes geocaching, one of my hobbies. I want to hate him but the bastard is just so damn likable. Oops, see he can't even be call a bastard, loving parents and all that...sum bitch.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    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 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, at the London Map Fair, the National Geographic Bee, to the treasure trove of maps hidden in the depths of the Library of Congress. And we are happy to accompany Jennings in this delightful journey chronicled here.

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