The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A. J. Jacobs
i picked up a.j. jacobs’ “the year of living biblically” (my review) way after most people had read it, and totally loved it. so i decided to go back and read his first bestseller — the know it all.
“biblically” was about the author’s year of trying to live everything in the bible as literally as possible. seems jacobs likes these year long challenges as writing fodder, because “the know it all” is about his personal challenge of reading the entire encyclopedia britannica in one year.
as you can imagine, reading the entire encyclopedia is quite the daunting task. and jacobs attempted to not just skim it, but actually hold onto all that information (hence the subtitle). of course, this wasn’t possible.
the book is really an alphabetical collection of mini-essays — some on the actual stuff he was learning in the EB, and some on his life that year, using topics from the EB as jumping-off points.
jacobs is witty and narcissistic (in a way that works for a writer). and the book is generally a fun read. but it took me longer to finish than any book i’ve read in the past few years. seriously, i think i plunked along in it (while reading other books simultaneously) for about three months. crazy. and i think the reason it took me so pickin’ long is because, at the end of the day, it’s really just a very long collection of witty mini-essays — like an encyclopedia that’s fun to read. without a narrative arc (and, even most non-fiction books have a narrative arc), i just got… restless. i was going to say i got bored, but that wasn’t quite accurate. i just really wanted to finish the book.
so, fun read. but, ultimately, it wasn’t sustainable for me.
4 thoughts on “the know it all”
When I was a kid my favorite rainy day activity was to grab a volume of the family encyclopedia (Collier’s, couldn’t afford EB) and just start reading. It’s created a lifelong fascination with information.
And probably explains an awful lot about my personality too! LOL
I saw him on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire where he was the Skype expert for a week. If I remember correctly he got every question right.
I read (or rather listened to) a book like this on my last car trip. It was so entertaining to listen to because of its shorter essays but I don’t think that I would have had the patience to sit and read it. It is called “The Book of General Ignorance.” Its about all of the things we think we know but we actually get the facts wrong. (Limes cure scurvy, Bell invented the telephone, etc.) Pick it up if you like trivia.
yeah, deanna — i loved that book. blogged about it here: http://www.ysmarko.com/?p=3089