The Know-It-All – A.J. Jacobs

Title: The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
Author: A.J. Jacobs
ISBN: 9780743250627
Pages: 400
Release Date: September 21, 2004
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From the publisher’s website:

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 Encyclopedia 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 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.

I’ve heard a lot of great things about A.J Jacobs’ books, though I’d only heard of The Year of Living Biblically for a long time. However, when I heard about The Know-It-All, I immediately knew I wanted to read it first. The idea of someone reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica seemed crazy, yet incredibly appealing. I knew I was in for a treat when I opened this book.

I absolutely loved the way The Know-It-All was written. Instead of writing it in pure memoir form, Jacobs organized the book like an encyclopedia. There is one chapter for each volume of the encyclopedia he read, and the chapters are organized into different anecdotes and stories that relate to words from that letter. For example, in the “B” chapter, he has a section called “Brutus.” Here is his discussion of Brutus:

I was familiar with Brutus, the one featured in Shakespeare’s classic line “Et tu, Brute.” But what I didn’t know was that there were two Brutuses who took part in Caesar’s assassination, Brutus Albinus and Brutus Marcus. But only one Brutus — Marcus — gets all the headlines. That poor sap Brutus Albinus — also a protégé of Caesar’s — needed a better publicist. “Et tu, Brute. Et tu, Brute, too?” I can’t be certain, but the forgotten Brutus seems to have been the more powerful one at the time. After the assassination, this Brutus led an army against Antony; he lost, and was killed by a Gallic chieftain on Antony’s orders. Ignored by history or killed by a Frenchman — I’m not sure which is sadder.

The style of this book makes it incredibly easy to read. You can read as much or as little as you want – it’s a great book to pick up if you want to read some non-fiction that isn’t really dense and difficult to read!

The best part of The Know-It-All is A.J. Jacobs’ sense of humor. He is absolutely hilarious – he had me laughing out loud multiple times through the course of the book. Additionally, I loved how he injected personal anecdotes into this novel. He switched between commenting on the encyclopedia entries to discussing how reading the encyclopedia was affecting his personal and social life quite often. Reading just one or the other might get tedious, but by mixing it up, Jacobs keeps the reader engaged and interested in this book.

The Know-It-All was a thoroughly entertaining book that I really enjoyed. I definitely recommend this book, especially if you are trying to read more non-fiction. The style of this novel makes it a light read, yet it is full of substance, interesting facts, and a great sense of humor you won’t want to miss!

Comments

  1. I read both of Jacobs’s books, and I enjoyed this one much more. Both were funny, but The Know-It-All is structured in a way that keeps the writing much tighter. Plus, I love the Know-It-All just for the entry on “glottal stop”. 🙂

  2. I read both of Jacobs’s books, and I enjoyed this one much more. Both were funny, but The Know-It-All is structured in a way that keeps the writing much tighter. Plus, I love the Know-It-All just for the entry on “glottal stop”. 🙂

  3. I remember reading about this one when it first came out. I had no idea it would be so entertaining! Thanks for making me take a second look at a book I initially passed by.

  4. I remember reading about this one when it first came out. I had no idea it would be so entertaining! Thanks for making me take a second look at a book I initially passed by.

  5. This one looks great! Adding it to the TBR list now. 🙂

  6. This one looks great! Adding it to the TBR list now. 🙂

  7. Sounds like a good read. Great post!

  8. Sounds like a good read. Great post!

  9. My father actually did this when I was little. He decided that we needed the encyclopedia and bought it from the door to door salesman. I think I was in the 4th grade. then he started reading it. He read every word of every volume and even the yearly updates. HE helped me with my homework because he could just about put his finger on where something was. It was pretty amazing.

    Rebecca

  10. My father actually did this when I was little. He decided that we needed the encyclopedia and bought it from the door to door salesman. I think I was in the 4th grade. then he started reading it. He read every word of every volume and even the yearly updates. HE helped me with my homework because he could just about put his finger on where something was. It was pretty amazing.

    Rebecca

  11. I read this book with my book club when it first came out. I was surprised how much I loved it. A.J. Jacobs is a rare combinatino of smart, funny and immensely relatable. Now his third book is coming out too, so I need to catch up on both!

  12. I read this book with my book club when it first came out. I was surprised how much I loved it. A.J. Jacobs is a rare combinatino of smart, funny and immensely relatable. Now his third book is coming out too, so I need to catch up on both!

  13. I enjoyed The Year of Living Biblically on audio, so I’ll try to check this one out at some point, too. I also noticed his latest, The Guinea Pig Diaries, on the shelf the other day. It looks pretty entertaining.

  14. I enjoyed The Year of Living Biblically on audio, so I’ll try to check this one out at some point, too. I also noticed his latest, The Guinea Pig Diaries, on the shelf the other day. It looks pretty entertaining.

  15. I’ve been curious about A.J Jacobs for quite some time, and this sounds like a great book to start with.

  16. I’ve been curious about A.J Jacobs for quite some time, and this sounds like a great book to start with.

  17. This sounds great! Definitely a book that could be done well or really badly. Glad to hear it’s the former. My sister is reading the year of living biblically and she’s enjoying it. I’ll have to add this to my WL.

  18. This sounds great! Definitely a book that could be done well or really badly. Glad to hear it’s the former. My sister is reading the year of living biblically and she’s enjoying it. I’ll have to add this to my WL.

  19. I bought this for the title without knowing anything about it and I LOVE it. It is one of those books that I’ll grab, open anywhere, and read a bit of from time to time. I have Guinea Pig Diaries waiting for me at the library, so I’ll probably be heading there tomorrow.

  20. I bought this for the title without knowing anything about it and I LOVE it. It is one of those books that I’ll grab, open anywhere, and read a bit of from time to time. I have Guinea Pig Diaries waiting for me at the library, so I’ll probably be heading there tomorrow.

  21. I’ve read A.J Jacobs in Esquire and think he’s hilarious. I definitely need to buy this one.

    http://oohbooks.blogspot.com

  22. I’ve read A.J Jacobs in Esquire and think he’s hilarious. I definitely need to buy this one.

    http://oohbooks.blogspot.com

  23. I’m in the process of reading The Year of Living Biblically right now and am really enjoying it. Growing up deep in the Bible Belt, I like reading the journey of someone who wasn’t really raised with a specific religious tradition and seeing how he interprets the experiences his “Project Bible,” leads him to undertake.

    He mentions The Know it All in that book, and I’ve been curious about it. Will add this to my TBR list.

    Thanks!

  24. I’m in the process of reading The Year of Living Biblically right now and am really enjoying it. Growing up deep in the Bible Belt, I like reading the journey of someone who wasn’t really raised with a specific religious tradition and seeing how he interprets the experiences his “Project Bible,” leads him to undertake.

    He mentions The Know it All in that book, and I’ve been curious about it. Will add this to my TBR list.

    Thanks!

  25. I love a humorous book and if I can laugh and learn something at the same time, it’s a bonus.

  26. I love a humorous book and if I can laugh and learn something at the same time, it’s a bonus.

  27. I loved this one, too! I listened on audiobook, which was an extra bonus, I think.

    (also via 5minutesforbooks.com)

  28. I loved this one, too! I listened on audiobook, which was an extra bonus, I think.

    (also via 5minutesforbooks.com)

  29. I’ve had my eye on this book for about five years now, and I can’t believe I still haven’t read it! I’m glad you liked it so much as that reinforces my determination to get to it.

  30. I’ve had my eye on this book for about five years now, and I can’t believe I still haven’t read it! I’m glad you liked it so much as that reinforces my determination to get to it.

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