The Know-It-All is absolutely hilarious. It traces one man's quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Jacobs does a great job of intertwining personal history with funny snippets and reflections on the entries themselves.
A bit of a "know-it-all" myself, I loved this book. I thought because of the subject matter - one man reads the full encyclopedia britannica cover to cover - that it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but it was wonderfully engaging, warm, and funny. The author takes you through his A to Z trip, peppering the interesting facts he learns along the way with details about his (incredibly entertaining) family and his adventures along the way. During his quest to become the "World's Smartest Man", he talks to high-IQ guns, meets Alex Trebek, and even tries out for Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I think that anyone could enjoy this book (and get something out of it), but those who have a soft spot for trivia, learning, and quirkiness will REALLY enjoy it. I got a chuckle out of nearly every page.
This book was excellent. The author takes you from A-Z in the encyclopedia and as you go you learn facts you never thought would be interesting and you get to know the personal life of the author. Soon you will be telling everyone the interesting facts you read in this book.
I LOVED this book! Loved it so much I ordered one for my dad and sent it to him. My father taught me the love of reading, and the enjoyment of finding out the odd things in life, and this book feeds that need for the odd. I have never attempted to read the whole encyclopedia from A to Z, but I am guilty of having picked up one, on a boring rainy day, and leafed through it and read articles that caught the eye.
The author of this book decided to read the Encyclopedia Brittanica from A-Z as if it were an ordinary novel or non-fiction work. 32 volumes and some 44 million words later he discovers that while he hasn't become the smartest human in the world, he has learned a whole bunch of interesting facts and come to the conclusion that the human race isn't doomed after all.
One reviewer on Amazon commented that there was too much personal information lurking in the pages of this memoir. I found that an interesting commentary, as isn't that the definition of a memoir - one's musings on self? My thought was that perhaps this reviewer should read the encyclopedia themselves if all they want is the just the facts.
An interesting and likeable read. One where you just might learn something along the journey.
I had the audio CD version, and found that I was volunteering to run errands just so I could get back to the book. It's exactly what I wanted - personal although not too navel-gazing introspective, funny in that way things happen not the way you expect them to. For example, he takes his newfound knowledge out for a trot at a museum tour, only to find there is a different customer on the tour who keeps jumping in and answering the tour guide's questions before he can proclaim his superior knowledge.
It was great that he included a lot of the weirder, funnier, and surprising facts from each letter with his descriptions. Saved me the trouble of reading the Encyclopedia myself. I could identify with him and his quest, truth is I had always wanted to read the entire thing when I was growing up (this was before the Internet!), and I used to close my eyes and randomly pluck a volume from the shelves, then randomly turn to a page and read it. Might be an obscure French artist, might be details on a really gross disease, might be history of an odd fruit from an island in the Pacific. I can also relate to the urge to use what you've just learned since you're sure no one else knows it, and I would keep trying to find a way to work in the details of my new facts no matter how awkward it then made the conversation, and he did the same thing.
That's probably why I picked this up to begin with - I had often been called (affectionately, and not-so-affectionately) a know-it-all many times in my life. My husband has had to put up with the many times I hit "pause" while we are watching a movie or TV show so I can explain to him the obscure facts behind whatever bird, article of clothing, town, or figure in history we are seeing at the time.
He doesn't hesitate to also describe the times he embarrassed himself, suffered rejection, felt frustration, or was irritating to his friends and co-workers. I can relate.
Even if you don't want to read the whole Encyclopedia, I recommend this book, a very interesting story, lots of humor, lots of fun facts, and you'll want to know the outcome of his personal story that winds its way through his quest.
A.J. Jacobs decided to be the 'smartest person' in the world by reading the entire 'Encyclopedia Britannica' (EB). He took a year to accomplish this. So, I decided to see how long it would take me to read his book. The book contains 24 chapters: A-W and XYZ.
Yea! I finished. It took me about 6 months reading an entry or two every day or so. Last entry-Zywiec-a town in south-central Poland. It's known for its large breweries and a 16th sculpture called 'The Dormant Virgin'.
I learned a lot of minutia, but my favorite entry was under Ecclesiastes. "(The EB author's) observations on life convinced him that 'The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all" (9:11)... In the face of such uncertainty the author's counsel is to enjoy the good things that God provides while one has them to enjoy". (Jacobs again references this in the Ws under Wise Men as a bit of wisdom from the EB that hit him over the head.)
I am glad I decided to read it in stages. It would have been boring to read as a novel. This way I had time to digest the the entries little by little instead of a big gulp.
Terrific book! Really funny, and easy to read since it's broken down into different subjects he's read about in the encyclopedia. Some topics are only a quick paragraph, others a page or more. It's a great book to bring with you everywhere so you have something fun to read while waiting in line or waiting for someone. We often read parts aloud to the whole family, because it's so darned FUNNY. Love this book!
one man's quest to read all the pages in the Encyclopedia Britantica.
"You can't spend your life comparing yourself to others."
page 70 "time and chance happen to... (us) ...all."
page 75 "if there is a rule, law, or an order somebody is going to find the loophole."
page 92 "...the inertia of bad ideas. Once they take hold it is a bitch to rout them out."
we read books and later in life we can not remember them.
page 159 "...names are imprecise, repetitive and arbitrary."
page 200 "the more you know about a topic, the more you will be able to remember."
page 202 "the world hinges on physical things. You can theorize all you want, make abstract arguments for days on end...(but the world is physical)."
page 220 "if i am just reading about life...maybe my time would be better spent out in the world, experiencing it."
Does reading the EB end to end make you a genius? no. there is a difference between knowledge and situational knowledge. knowing what to do given a problem or situation is more important than breath of knowledge or general knowledge.
some of the smartest people are very unhappy.
page 409 "(thomas) Paine refused to take profits on (common sense) so that cheap editions could be sold."
page 291 "the key is to take advantage of the free time your health problem creates, to use it as a chance to explore some unknown creative alleyway."
page 321 "you can ingest facts for seventeen hours a day, every day of your life, and you will still have gaps."
Even the editors of the EB do not know every article and fact contained within.
page 356 "...he doesn't know everything. No one does."
page 369 "you should aways say yes to adventures or you will lead a very dull life"
took the author slightly over one year to read all of the EB and write a book, it took me about three days to read this book. Worth reading.
This is the 2nd book I have read by A.J. Jacobs. I enjoyed this very much. I liked the layout, the factoids and the insghts into his family. Some parts had me laughing out loud and othere brought tears to my eyes.