Since James Holzhauer began his record-breaking “Jeopardy!” winning streak, everyone has been trying to figure out how he does it. Sure, there are his category choices, his recall skills and his quick buzzer hands. But how does he know all that trivia? One recent hint: books. Well, of course. But in recent interviews, the 34-year-old professional sports gambler revealed that he finds the most helpful titles in the section more suited to his 4-year-old daughter. (And to show how much he appreciates those books, he’s pledged a donation to his local library in Las Vegas.)
We asked Holzhauer about the importance of kids books in his prep, and which ones have proved most useful:
Q: How are kids’ books more helpful than adult books in preparing for the show?
A: You may be able to read an adult book about a boring subject without falling asleep, but I can’t. For me, it was either read some children’s books — designed to engage the reader — or go into “Jeopardy!” with giant gaps in my knowledge base.
Q: Which children’s books are you most grateful that you’ve read? Can you give us a list of a handful that turned out to be most useful?
A: The Classics Illustrated series was an excellent primer in literature, and I also really enjoyed Zachary Hamby’s mythology books for teens.
Q: Can you tell us about a game-vital fact or two that you learned from a kids’ book that you wouldn’t have otherwise known?
A: I had a Daily Double about the Denver Mint, which came from some Americana book that I can’t remember the name of.
Q: You mentioned in a Publishers Weekly article that you’d read a book about Maurice Sendak. What was the book and how did it help you?
A: The first book I ever read my daughter — months before she was born — “Where The Wild Things Are.”
Q: Do you and your daughter like the same children’s books?
A: I’ve learned more about animals just by reading to my kid than I ever did studying.
Q: Do you ever read kids’ books for fun?
A: I really like the works of [mathematician and popular science writer] Martin Gardner, who might count as a children’s author. But when I read for fun, it’s usually a bridge book — my shelf is full of them yet I keep asking for more.