Book Review: The Answer Is...Reflections on my Life by Alex Trebek

April 27, 2022

Details from Audible:

Publisher's Summary

A Recommended Summer Read by The New York TimesUSA TodayTime, and Newsweek

Longtime Jeopardy! host and television icon Alex Trebek reflects on his life and career.

Since debuting as the host of Jeopardy! in 1984, Alex Trebek has been something like a family member to millions of television viewers, bringing entertainment and education into their homes five nights a week. Last year, he made the stunning announcement that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. What followed was an incredible outpouring of love and kindness. Social media was flooded with messages of support, and the Jeopardy! studio received boxes of cards and letters offering guidance, encouragement, and prayers.

For over three decades, Trebek had resisted countless appeals to write a book about his life. Yet he was moved so much by all the goodwill, he felt compelled to finally share his story. "I want people to know a little more about the person they have been cheering on for the past year," he writes in The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life.

The book combines illuminating personal anecdotes with Trebek’s thoughts on a range of topics, including marriage, parenthood, education, success, spirituality, and philanthropy. Trebek also addresses the questions he gets asked most often by Jeopardy! fans, such as what prompted him to shave his signature mustache, his insights on legendary players like Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, and his opinion of Will Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live impersonation. The book uses a novel structure inspired by Jeopardy!, with each chapter title in the form of a question, and candidly captures Trebek over the years.

This wise, charming, and inspiring book is further evidence why Trebek has long been considered one of the most beloved and respected figures in entertainment.

©2020 Alex Trebek, OC. All rights reserved. (P)2020 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"[Trebek's] performance is in high style, exuding enthusiasm, charm, and that special ability to draw in most any listener. Multiple-time Jeopardy! winner and Trebek friend Ken Jennings narrates the lion's share of the memoir....this is a touching and entertaining audiobook." (AudioFile Magazine)


Initial thoughts:
I think like lots of people a part of me has always loved Jeopardy (or at least as long as I can remember, I didn’t watch it when I was 7 years old). It was always I’d watch it if I was home and it happened to be on but I didn’t make a point to do so. All that changed when I heard about Alex Trebek being diagnosed with cancer, I watched all his final episodes and it rekindled my love for the show. That was almost 2 years ago and I do my best these days to never miss an episode, it is a wonderful show that I love more than ever, I look forward to watching it 4-5 nights a week (I record it and wait to skip through the ads) and got excited when I realized that this book was partially read by Alex, it was one last chance to hear from him. Suffice it to say when I found this book on Libby (way to get books for free with a library card here in Canada), I knew I had to listen to it, I didn’t even check the reviews because they didn’t matter.
Main Points:
Well, that was a long intro! Not like I care but I noticed. I’ll say right away this review will be biased, I love Jeopardy, I loved Alex and I think it’s fair to say unless you are a fan of both (or at least Jeopardy), you just won’t get the same enjoyment out of this book.
As Alex says himself this is not the typical autobiography book at all, it’s quite short at just 4.5 hours. Normally I listen to a book at 1.25 or even 1.5 speed, but for this, I didn’t even consider it. The early chapters as you would suspect go through Alex’s life as a child and young adult but really we only get snapshots, kind of a best of his life and not the complete package. Ken Jennings reads most of the book (Alex loved him, this is made clear in the book and he was the obvious choice), Alex had a much nicer voice than Ken, and I wished the former had read more of it.
Once we get through the early chapters we get something really unique, Alex’s thoughts on a variety of topics and some really touching (and yes some parts are heartbreaking) moments about his wife, kids, family, and how he dealt with his diagnosis and ultimately dying. What really comes through here is what a wonderful person Alex was, a celebrity who was so humble, generous, and loving. Someone who loved his fans and loved Jeopardy so much that he continued to tape the show up until just 6 weeks before his death.
Enough about the sad parts, the book is much more a celebration of Alex’s life and what he wants people to remember him for. There are wonderful moments when Ken stops reading a chapter and Alex picks up with the next one (you’ll have to listen for yourself to find out why), in a seamless and natural manner, just like two people having a conversation.
Alex was a rare thing in Hollywood, a Canadian game show host, I know for most people that’s not a big deal but as a Canadian myself I can’t help but love him just a bit more. Canada is a small country (population-wise, not area) and it’s still a rare thing to have a Canadian celebrity really do well and be loved by everyone, Alex was both those things.
Time for some more honesty, while I enjoyed the chapters that talk about his life and what mattered to him (and it’s quite current, talking about US politics and Covid-19), it’s the parts about Jeopardy that really got me excited and warmed my heart. To hear someone talk about love for his job (a job he did for 37 years!) is so rare compared to like 90% of people I know, that well it just makes you feel good. Excitement is contagious and it’s uplifting to hear someone talk with passion and knowledge on something they really love and that’s what Jeopardy was for Alex.
You get plenty of behind-the-scenes knowledge and lots of trivia on the show. I love behind the curtain stuff and the book gives plenty of that on Jeopardy. Ultimately I think if you enjoy Jeopardy and you like audiobooks you HAVE to listen to this, it’s just that simple.
Final Thoughts:
I could just go on and on but this review (like all good things) must come to an end. Sure I wished it was longer, revealed more, had more of Alex narrating and less of Ken Jennings but that’s not what Alex wanted. I think it’s an important lesson to learn, when you are invited to do a book (and the publisher knows it will sell no matter what’s in it, within reason of course), then it’s what the author wants to do, not what the public wants to read.
I loved this book and I would recommend to any Jeopardy fan first, Alex Trebek fan 2nd, and just non-fiction fan 3rd. A solid 8.5 out of 10 from me. There is some coarse language (Alex swears in it, it’s amazing!) and some mature themes, so ages 13+. Really when your main complaint is it too short, that’s barely a complaint at all.