Back in 2004, Ken Jennings was an anonymous software engineer in Salt Lake City when he got the fateful call from Jeopardy! producers. Following an unprecedented seventy-four game, $3 million victory streak, Jennings became a nerd folk legend, publishing 12 books (including the critically acclaimed NYT bestseller Brainiac) and appearing as the show’s first guest host following Alex Trebek’s passing last year.

Speaking with The Seattle Times on a lifetime spent learning, Jennings shared his love of Taschen design tomes, favorite books to re-read, and go-to Jeopardy! study guide. Find his reading list below.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

“It’s kind of a multigenerational novel about Black families in London and it’s kind of this weird, all-lower-case stream of consciousness thing. So it looks very daunting, but it’s actually really readable. It’s really great.” -KJ

The History of Graphic Design by Jens Müller

“I’m a huge design nerd and it’s just gorgeous. If you want to spend hundreds of dollars on a 20-pound book, I recommend that. That’s like a Jeopardy!-winners-only choice, because those Taschen books are expensive. But they’re beautiful.” -KJ

The Animal-Lovers Book of Beastly Murder by Patricia Highsmith

“One of her very first collections is a series of these kind of dark murder mysteries all about animals, domestic animals, killing their humans. So every single story just ends with a donkey or a Chihuahua or whatever killing its owner…It’s crazy.” -KJ

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (also rec’d by Elon Musk, George R.R. Martin, Jane Goodall & Trevor Noah)

“The books I’ve read most of my life are probably the novels I would just read every year when I was a teenager — Lord of the Rings, Cat’s Cradle, by Vonnegut, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I feel like I’ve read those all either to my kids or myself in the last few years. Those all hold up.” -KJ

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

“I can tell you the best book to read for Jeopardy!: The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. It’s a hardcover desk encyclopedia thing and it’s got a one-sentence definition of everything. Here’s what the Battle of Actium was, here’s what polonium is, to here’s who Valentina Tereshkova was. It’s just for somebody at home who’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve never heard of that.’ But, accidentally, it’s a perfect Jeopardy! study guide because you need extremely broad but very shallow knowledge to ID names from those clues. And it’s, I think, kind of the go-to, standard study guide in the Jeopardy! world.” -KJ

(via The Seattle Times)

Categories: Writers