In MAPHEAD, Ken Jennings Asks, "Where Are We?"

This summer a friend and I took our sons and their friends--five teenaged skateboarders in all--on a zig-zagged, cross-country road trip. Our mission was to explore America’s skate parks, which we did in a giant S-shaped east-to-west route. To navigate the many miles of our overly-ambitious journey, we relied on GPS-enabled smartphones, a wi-fi hotspot, an iPad, a laptop, and Google Maps.

Maphead Across three weeks and 5,000 miles, we never got lost.

At one point, my eldest son wanted to find a concrete plaza in a housing complex in Cleveland, a so-called “skate spot” he had seen on You Tube. All he knew was the name of the complex: King Kennedy. With just those two words, he was able to search Google Maps, zoom in with the "satellite view", find the spot, then ask Google and our iPad to show us how to get there off Interstate 90. I thought it was an impressive bit of on-the-fly navigating for a 14-year-old, and in similar fashion we found off-the-interstate spots in and around Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities. Not once did we unfold a paper map. Techno-geography all the way.

I was thrilled, then, to return home and find an advance copy of the perfect post-road trip book waiting for me: Maphead, by Ken Jennings, which was chosen as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Month last month.

Jennings is the all-time Jeopardy! champ and the author of Brainiac, about the strange world of trivia. (He returned to Jeopardy! earlier this year to face IBM's Watson computer. He lost). In Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird, World of Geography Wonks--a whip-smart and entertaining book--he writes about his obsession with maps, the history of cartography, and, of particular interest to me, a fellow geography geek, the story behind Google Earth and Google Maps, which in my view has made geography cool again.

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Comments (7)

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A great read. Ill definitely be back.

Posted by: Small Business Loan | Tuesday September 27, 2011 at 6:52 AM

What a beautiful post. And I'm promptly nominating you for 'Coolest Dad Ever' for volunteering to schlep FIVE teenage boys cross-country to rock skate parks. As the child of a fearful parent who thought the safest place for a girl in the big bad world was the family couch, I grew up with a love of maps and a desire to roam as soon as I was 'all grown up.' Jennings' book is a keeper.

Posted by: Yvonne | Wednesday September 28, 2011 at 7:18 AM

Primo review - like the way you related the book to your journey. I sent an intern on a trip to southern Missouri recently and when showing her the way on a map, I realized she had no idea how to read a map because she relied solely on gps. I think she's typical of the tech dependent generation

Posted by: David Reed | Wednesday September 28, 2011 at 7:41 AM

It's like reading my mind! Seem to know much about this subject, and who wrote the book on it or something. I think you could do with some pictures to make the message a little, but other than that, excellent blog. An excellent read. Ill definitely be back.

Posted by: Testking 70-640 | Monday October 3, 2011 at 3:41 AM

Thanks for your comments, David and Yvonne.

Posted by: Neal Thompson | Monday October 3, 2011 at 9:25 AM

I also find google maps, bing maps as indispensable tools when we are in a road trip. I never got lost with those apps in tow.

Posted by: ryan homes | Tuesday November 15, 2011 at 9:43 PM

Google maps are very helpful for me as well when I'm out on a road trip. I usually rely on it more than my car's gps.

Posted by: manila real estate | Sunday January 29, 2012 at 11:23 PM

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