The first time I read Bob Harris’ “Prisoner of Trebekistan” I was 12 years old, and in a frenzy over jeopardy. 4 year, and countless books later, it is still the one i come back to time and time again, for its odd connections, and off humor. The book is one part autobiography, one part jeopardy study guide, and one part life advice, that combines in the strangest way possible to form an experience that is visceral, and exciting.
The book proper starts with a brief overview of the history of jeopardy, and how the creator, Merv Griffin came up with the idea. He then jumps into an anecdote of his experience taking the jeopardy test, and eventually succeeding to get on the show. After some humorous faltering he manages to win his first game. He is quickly consumed by his studies, so much so that he stops doing routine things like washing clothes and going outside. This world of learning where different themes and ideas converge to form an overarching narrative of the world at large, is known as Trebekistan.
The biggest draw of “Prisoner of Trebekistan”, is the author’s ability to convey his thoughts and emotions with such clarity that it impacts you on a deep level. The book is at its core, a tale of a small town boy who moves to hollywood, and gets an opportunity to take part in a game that he never imagined. When he wins, you feel every ounce of excitement that he feels. When he is sad you will be brought to the verge of tears. There is never a point in the story where you feel disconnected from him, because even though he is going through so many foreign experiences, he is a very relatable and down to earth “Character”. He makes readers root for him, and want to experience these things with him.
If you have an interest in Jeopardy, the this book was tailor made for you. The author gives insight into how a game of jeopardy works. The author does a good job of showing exactly how playing a game of Jeopardy affects your mind, as well as how your frame of mind affects your level of skill when playing. It shines light on what it takes to be a jeopardy champion, and gives information on why knowing the answers does not guarantee you a win. Most importantly it is packed full of information, that anyone who craves knowledge will embrace wholeheartedly. The things you will learn will span all subjects, and transcend time, ranging from fanciful humor, to serious medical conditions, and they are presented in the most humorous way possible.
And of course you cannot forget Harris’ self depreciating form of humor. After college he spent years as a stand up comedian, and it shows through in every joke, and wisecrack. Harris makes wild and humorous analogies to describe the functions of the human brain. Using humor, and crudeness to memorize important facts is just one of the many tips he gives to set readers on their way to becoming a Jeopardy champion.
None of this is to say that the book is without its flaws. Harris is prone to long tangents that have little to do with the topic at hand, and he has some really roundabout ways of making points. Some will argue that’s the point, making obscure connections in ways that no one would ever notice, but after a while, it begins to seem tangential. Despite being relatable, Bob can also be very unlikable. At sometimes it seems as though he is forcing his self depreciation for a joke, making the entire experience feel disingenuous. Beyond a certain point the satire can become dry, and insufferable.
The biggest weakness of the book is that it is excessively preachy. Almost from the beginning morals are shoved down your throat in a way that tries to be fun, but is ultimately hamfisted. He outlines steps to “Enlightened Jeopardy” which are for the most part very traditionally eastern beliefs, slightly modified to fit jeopardy. He claims that following the path as closely as possible will lead to happiness, yet their are times in the book where following the path his led him to his own disasters, undoing him, and his life at large. The heavy handedness and irony of his steps make parts of the book almost unbearable.In the end whether or not you will like Bob Harris’ “Prisoner of Trebekistan” comes down to complete personal preference. If you enjoy silly writing with airy characters, and learning a lot about how to learn a lot, along with lots of other things, the this is the book for you. On the other hand, if lofty morals, and overused satire are off putting, you may not want to pick this one up. You should give it a try, read some previews, and reviews, and check it out to see if it appeals to you.