Rogak (Rachel Maddow) doesn’t impress in her latest celebrity biography, a superficial look at game show host Alex Trebek that adds little to what’s been written before. Trebek was born in 1940 in Sudbury, Ontario, and had an unremarkable childhood as a bookworm with an insatiable curiosity. While he dreamed of a career as a pilot, doctor, or politician as a child, he never pursued those paths. After college, he became a part-time radio announcer for the CBC, which led to his career in entertainment. He spent over 13 years at the CBC, then headed to L.A. in in 1972, where he hosted a variety of TV game shows before getting his big break with Jeopardy!, a position that led to him becoming a cultural icon, and to polling as one of the most trusted people in America. Rogak carries the story through to early 2020, when a diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer threatened to end his career. The book is hampered by trite prose (“Between books and maps, he knew there was a big world out there, and he wanted to learn all about it”) and never manages to get deeper than surface level. Jeopardy!’s many fans would do well to wait for Trebek’s forthcoming autobiography. (July)
From the Publisher
"Entertaining...a genial look at a beloved figure." Kirkus Reviews
"Sprightly...Rogak’s heartfelt portrait acknowledges Trebek’s numerous contributions to the game show genre and masterfully illustrates how and why he remains a treasured entertainment icon." Booklist
It's difficult to separate Alex Trebek from the iconic quiz show he's hosted for 35 years, but Rogak (Rachel Maddow) does so ably, covering his early career as Canadian TV's go-to game show host before his move to California, where he hosted American programs that failed to find traction. We also see Alex off-screen as a man of diverse interests: family, philanthropy, fine wines, and a brief stint as baseball player Pete Rose's landlord. However, Jeopardy! soon takes center stage and Rogak follows Alex as he shoots five episodes back to back, prepping for each one and swapping suits in between. The author also documents the show's evolution, with format tweaks leading to the rise of powerhouse players such as Ken Jennings and the modernization of content (What is twerking?)—all of which have kept the program relevant. A copious researcher, Rogak draws on decades' worth of sources, pulling in quotes from published interviews to create a cohesive narrative. VERDICT With Trebek's public battle with pancreatic cancer, it's hard not to ascribe a eulogistic tone to this work. Nevertheless, Rogak's work is a well-crafted biography that will especially appeal to Jeopardy! fans.—Terry Bosky, Madison, WI
An entertaining if superficial biography of the host of America's best-known quiz show.
As in previous biographies of Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and Rachel Maddow, among others, Rogak relies almost entirely on secondary sources to piece together the story of Trebek’s steady rise through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the game show circuit, and, eventually, in 1984, Jeopardy! The author has combed through the likes of People and TV Guide, along with articles from multiple daily newspapers, for pithy quotations and amusing anecdotes. Trebek fans will enjoy stories about his one-month stint at a Trappist monastery (“I'm not one to keep my big mouth shut,” he noted), a brief early marriage to a former Playboy Bunny, and his surprising fondness for musk oxen. Hints about a more complicated family history—e.g., a half brother who was conceived and secretly given up for adoption after Trebek's parents divorced—will leave readers wanting more. Although the Trebek that emerges in these pages has a few flaws, including a hot temper, a colorful vocabulary, and a tendency to overspend at Home Depot, he generally comes across as the bright, steadfast father figure generations of Jeopardy! fans have come to depend upon. Rogak forgoes any hint of scandal to dutifully show her subject as a loving husband and father and generous philanthropist. Followers of the show will appreciate the details of the production; the conception, based on an idea by producer Merv Griffin's wife; the incremental changes over the decades; and the examination of the impact on the show of big winners Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer. Rogak also touches on—but does not dwell on—Trebek's ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer, which he announced to the public in 2019.
A genial look at a beloved figure.