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The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the Worldby A. J. Jacobs
Synopses & Reviews
44 million words
10 billion years of history
1 obsessed man
Part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), The Know-It-All chronicles NPR contributor A.J. Jacobs's hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z.
To fill the ever-widening gaps in his Ivy League education, A.J. Jacobs sets for himself the daunting task of reading all thirty-two volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His wife, Julie, tells him it's a waste of time, his friends believe he is losing his mind, and his father, a brilliant attorney who had once attempted the same feat and quit somewhere around Borneo, is encouraging but, shall we say, unconvinced.
With self-deprecating wit and a disarming frankness, The Know-It-All recounts the unexpected and comically disruptive effects Operation Encyclopedia has on every part of Jacobs's life — from his newly minted marriage to his complicated relationship with his father and the rest of his charmingly eccentric New York family to his day job as an editor at Esquire. Jacobs's project tests the outer limits of his stamina and forces him to explore the real meaning of intelligence as he endeavors to join Mensa, win a spot on Jeopardy!, and absorb 33,000 pages of learning. On his journey he stumbles upon some of the strangest, funniest, and most profound facts about every topic under the sun, all while battling fatigue, ridicule, and the paralyzing fear that attends his first real-life responsibility — the impending birth of his first child.
The Know-It-All is an ingenious, mightily entertaining memoir of one man's intellect, neuroses, and obsessions and a soul-searching, ultimately touching struggle between the all-consuming quest for factual knowledge and the undeniable gift of hard-won wisdom.
"Imagine, the original Berserkers were 'savage Norse soldiers' of the Middle Ages who went into battle stark naked! Or consider the Etruscan habit of writing in 'boustrophedon style.' Intrigued? Well, either hunker down with your own Encyclopaedia Britannica, or buy Esquire editor Jacobs's memoir of the year he spent reading all 32 volumes of the 2002 edition — that's 33,000 pages with some 44 million words. Jacobs set out on this delightfully eccentric endeavor attempting to become the 'smartest person in the world,' although he agrees smart doesn't mean wise. Apart from the sheer pleasure of scaling a major intellectual mountain, Jacobs figured reading the encyclopedia from beginning to end would fill some gaps in his formal education and greatly increase his 'quirkiness factor.' Reading alphabetically through whole topics he never knew existed meant he'd accumulate huge quantities of trivia to insert into conversations with unsuspecting victims. As his wife shunned him and cocktail party guests edged away, Jacobs started testing his knowledge in a hilarious series of humiliating adventures: hobnobbing at Mensa meetings, shuffling off to chess houses, trying out for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, visiting his old prep school, even competing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Indeed, one of the book's strongest parts is its laugh-out-loud humor. Jacobs's ability to juxtapose his quirky, sardonic wit with oddball trivia make this one of the season's most unusual books. Agent, Sloan Harris. (Oct.) Forecast: NPR listeners have heard Jacobs interviewed in about a dozen segments since he started this reading project, and will be eager to lay hands on the book." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] comic triumph....It is all enormous fun, educational even....Doubtlessly more enjoyable than reading the EB itself, with lots of arcane nuggets readers can casually drop on the unsuspecting like sacks of flour from a great height." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[S]o breezy you half expect to see the words lift off the page and float around the room....Whatever genius it took to turn the weighty task of reading the encyclopedia into such an entertaining frolic of a book, my bet is that Jacobs had it all along. (Grade: B+)" Entertainment Weekly
"[C]orny, juvenile, smug, tired. Jacobs [is] a poor man's Dave Barry; no, a bag person's Dave Barry....The lead zeppelin jokes are interspersed with musings about his wife's pregnancy and his interaction with his quirky family. This material is even less entertaining." Joe Queenan, The New York Times Book Review
"Plenty of good fun pours out of this prose, but Jacobs' Britannica-incited quest to become the smartest person in the world assumes that command of data is the mark of education rather than any sharply honed critical faculties." Booklist
"The Know-It-All is a hilarious book and quite an impressive achievement. I've always said, why doesn't someone put out a less complete version of the encyclopedia? Well done, A.J." Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show and author of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America
"The Know-It-All is a terrific book. It's a lot shorter than the encyclopedia, and funnier, and you'll remember more of it. Plus, if it falls off the shelf onto your head, you'll live." P.J. O'Rourke, New York Times bestselling author of Eat The Rich
"The Know-It-All is funny, original, and strangely heroic. I found myself rooting on Jacobs's quixotic, totally endearing quest." Jonathan Safran Foer, New York Times bestselling author of Everything Is Illuminated
"I fell in love with this book on page one and I have laughed out loud on every page since. With his hilarious Britannica-fed insights on life, A.J. Jacobs uncovers the profound by way of the trivial. The Know-It-All is endlessly entertaining. Genius, pure." Mary Roach, New York Times bestselling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Alarmed and more than a little chagrined at the massive gaps in his personal knowledge base, Jacobs sets for himself a suitably daunting, and some might say insane, task: to fill in the holes in his Ivy-League education by reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. With endearing wit and a disarming frankness, The Know-It-All recounts the unexpected and comically disruptive effects Jacobs's freshly harvested knowledge has on every part of his life — from his marriage to his sweetheart Julie, to his complicated relationship with his lawyer father and the rest of his charmingly eccentric New York family, to his job as an editor at Esquire.
About the Author
A.J. Jacobs is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically. His most recent work is The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment--a collection of his articles, both new and previously published. He is the editor at large at Esquire magazine. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly, and is an occasional correspondent for NPR. He lives in New York City with his wife Julie and their children. You can visit his website at ajjacobs.com.
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