Maphead Ken Jenning Jeopardy champion

Book review: Maphead by Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy champion

by Michael on August 1, 2012

Do you love perusing maps? Can an atlas keep you occupied for hours? Do you pull the airline magazine out of the seat pocket so you can scan the route map and plan future trips? If so, then you may be a maphead. Ken Jennings, the record-setting Jeopardy champion, has written a book just for you. It’s called Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks and is an engaging book that will interest anyone who answered “yes” to the above questions.

Fortunately, mapheads are easy to spot. We met one in Bali. Theresa, husband Thomas and six-year-old daughter Alexandra have lived all over the world including stops in Dubai, Romania, Africa and Kuala Lumpur . Theresa hails from a small town in Louisiana where she had six siblings, but she is the only wanderer in the family. I asked if she was different growing up. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “I used to love reading the encyclopedia and learning about other places.” Theresa is a typical maphead.  As, we confess, are we.

Ken Jennings as a child

Ken Jennings as a child with a map coloring book.

Jennings reveals much about his childhood in South Korea, where studying atlases helped him cope with being away from America and developed his love for geography. Along the way he gets hooked on geocaching, a sort of GPS based treasure hunt. In between, he takes what could be a dry subject and makes it fun. He also reveals a much bawdier sense of humor than he displayed on Jeopardy.

He guides readers on a journey from the early history of maps right up the present day with GPS technology and Google maps. Which brings up an interesting point, with the advent of those technologies do crinkly, paper maps that are difficult to refold even have a future? Read Maphead and find out.

Purchase Maphead


Mar August 1, 2012 at 10:02 am

I am a maphead, too. When I learned where you are going next, I immediately took out my giant size atlas to look it up. I am reading a book about Malta and I looked at that map. When I read a novel that takes place in another city anywhere in the world, I check the main character’s travels through that city. It adds to the pleasure of reading.

Look at an atlas and looking at google is comparable to an analog clock or a digital clock. Google just gives you the information you need, while an atlas allows you to explore other places where the pages open up. That is the adventure.

John D August 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Is that what I am, a MapHead? On our long (Griswald) car vacations as a kid, I always had my head in the atlas and LOVED those TripTiks. GPS is great, but I am always challenging its results and go off route. When traveling – even if only to a conference, I often get the comment, “How did you find that, or You always find goofy things.” I always enjoy getting to know the lay of the land whenever I visit a new place, then take a chance a go off the normal path.

BTW, I totally appreciated that map of Paris you shared with all the public transportation overlaid on the street.

Michael August 14, 2012 at 5:16 am

We tried GPS with one car rental and didn’t care for it. Nothing like a map to tell you where you are and where you need to go.

Michael August 14, 2012 at 5:18 am

Ah the AAA Trip Tiks, those were great. I wonder if they still make those.

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