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The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to…
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The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in… (original 2006; edition 2005)

by A. J. Jacobs (Author)

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4,5551581,792 (3.76)162
"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"--Book description.… (more)
Member:mfagan
Title:The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
Authors:A. J. Jacobs (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster (2005), Edition: Reprint, 400 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:None

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The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs (2006)

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English (154)  German (3)  Dutch (1)  All languages (158)
Showing 1-5 of 154 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this at first and found it pretty funny. Until I got to the E section and realized I had a whole alphabet left ahead of me. I lost interest after the first quarter of the book and just didn't feel like finishing.
  JustZelma | Dec 20, 2020 |
I like to throw a little non-fiction into my reading list from time to time, and I really enjoyed this book. I found I read it in small bites, almost like reading the encyclopedia itself. :) The author writes engagingly and does a great job of interweaving his actual reading quest with the events of his life during the same period. I also learned a few things along the way. Highly recommended! ( )
  sdramsey | Dec 14, 2020 |
It is unfortunately coincidental that I finished this some hours before learning of Alex Trebek's death. I learned in this book of a quote of Trebek's that fits me to a T and I'm adopting (while still giving credit):I am curious about everything - even things that don't interest me.Some of my reading takes me down those paths. This? No, I was interested in it. And curious. I like Jacobs; he's funny: I didn't grow up with an overabundance of religion. I'm officially Jewish, but I'm Jewish in the same way that the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant. Which is to say, not very Jewish at all." . And he did something obsessive that would have no value to anyone but him. (And wrote a book about it.) Except... I started reading the EB when I was maybe 11 or 12. We didn't have much money - below the poverty line when my father was in the Navy - but my parents financed the 1968 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (including the special replica 1768 three-volume edition) so that we could have something like this available in our tiny podunk town of Connecticut. I think I was the only one who used it and it was the start of my own love affair with the Britannica. This book was written 17 years ago - Jacobs notes that Microsoft Encarta is the market leader, "the Nike sneakers of the encyclopedia world." Not anymore.

So what you have here is Jacobs' selected in alphabetical order commentary on things he learned while on this particular quest (his other books are about quests, too.) Sometimes he self-deprecates about being humbled by others who know more than him. Brushes off the ones who don't care about his obscure nuggets of knowledge. Frets about the ones he wants to care about his nuggets. Crows the few times he can one-up his intellectual rivals (not sure if that's a writing device or if he's really that neurotic) with obscure facts. And I have the chance to one-up him with one arcane bit of my own. Well, actually, Jacobs was recounting what someone else said, so I'm one-upping some anonymous geek. In one of his asides where he talks about using his encyclopedic knowledge, like joining Mensa, he tells of trying the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Jacobs talked about a New York Times puzzle constructor (the preferred term) who said the complaints kill him. He had a clue - "24 hours" and his answer was "rotation". "Someone wrote an angry letter pointing out that, actually, the rotation of the earth is just 23 hours and 56 minutes and 9 seconds, because the earth is simultaneously revolving around the sun." Sorry. Wrong answer. As it so happens, I know that the Earth's rotation is 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.091 seconds, a little trivium I retained from a book published by Ross and Norris McWhirter, of the Guinness Records fame, titled Dunlop Illustrated Encyclopedia of Facts. I miss that book.

Jacobs reached out and interviewed many for this, including Trebek (which unknowingly disqualified him from competing on Jeopardy...appearance of impropriety, and all...) One English teacher, Steve Bender, was less impressed than Jacobs wanted him to be.Being a Buddhist, my relationship to knowledge has changed. It's more about genuine inquiry than about accumulation of facts.Buddhism has some irrevocable flaws for me, but that's a good sentiment.

I like this from Jacobs:Thanks to the Britannica, my brain is like a playroom, lots of little toys to keep me occupied. Or, to switch metaphors, my rambling trains of thought now have much more interesting landscapes out their windows.

Now to cross off a few others from my list before seeking out another Jacobs quest... ( )
  Razinha | Nov 8, 2020 |
Have you ever had the desire to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica? No? Well, neither have I. But A.J. Jacobs did, in an effort to expand his knowledge and become the smartest person in the world. And then he wrote a book about that experience, and that book is this one.

I don't think Jacobs would actually ever claim to be the smartest person in the world, but he did grow up and at one point feel like he was the smartest boy in the world. Then reality hit. And he eventually became a journalist. This is the third book of his that I've read, although this is one of his earlier books. He's a funny guy. I enjoyed The Guinea Pig Diaries quite a lot. The Year of Living Biblically I didn't enjoy as much. But I did like this one. True, there are lots of encyclopedic entries that are dry and not so interesting, but there are others that really are quite entertaining. In this book, Jacobs literally does make his way through the encyclopedia, highlighting for the reader certain topics that warrant discussion. But he intersperses this with a lot of personal anecdotes, and that's what really hooks me. He refers to his wife a lot, and his family, and his friends and co-workers. The reader for this audiobook, Geoffrey Cantor, did a great job in capturing the humor and spirit of this book (though I do think he mispronounced a few things). This book didn't make me want to go dive into the Encyclopedia Britannica (would I even be able to find those anymore?), but I do enjoy A.J. Jacobs' sense of humor and writing style. ( )
  indygo88 | Oct 3, 2020 |
This book turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. And much more fun.

A.J. Jacobs decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. It took him over a year. This book is something like his diary. But in fact it is something more. We have curiosities here that A.J. found in the Encyclopedia. We have description of current events in the life of A.J. and his wife - like trying for a baby and social events. Events from the childhood of A.J. and his relationship with other family members. Finally, we have here A.J.'s impressions of meetings with remarkably intelligent people and those a little less brilliant who make up a certain complicated picture and an attempt to answer the question of what intelligence and wisdom are.

In all this, AJ is brutally honest with himself and his family. He admits his rivalry with his father and brother-in-law. He admits to his own desire to impress others. But he describes other people with no less brutality. The only people I think he takes pity of are his mother and his wife. Huh, there's something Freudian about it, isn't it? AJ is much harsher towards other men.

The book has a very interesting composition. Instead of chapters there are consecutive letters of the alphabet. And each entry begins with a word found in the encyclopedia and most often with some information about it. Entries are usually short. Which makes the book easy and quick to read. It can also be put down at almost any time without much of a fuss. The descriptions of the events of A.J.'s life are usually connected to the encyclopedia entry. This makes the book really remarkable.

What I didn't expect the most is humor, that I would laugh so much reading this book. The book is written in a light, playful language and full of funny comments and comparisons.

I know that A.J. has written a few more books in a similar style. After reading this, I want to read his other books. ( )
  Sarielle | Jan 15, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 154 (next | show all)
Corny, juvenile, smug, tired. Jacobs -- a poor man's Dave Barry; no, a bag person's Dave Barry -- has a modus operandi: to drift through the encyclopedia he supposedly read, yank out an entry, tear open his Industrial-Strength Comedy Handbook and jerry-build a lame wisecrack.
 
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Dedication
To my wife, Julie
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I know the name of Turkey's leading avant-garde publication. (introduction)
a-ak. That's the first word in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Quotations
That's where the real appeal lies [of the 1911 edition]--nostalgia for a world where it all made sense, where all was knowable, where one point of view was the correct one. . . . the world of the EB is still one that treats everything rationally and sensibly, that still believes in the overall progress of civilization.
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Wikipedia in English (3)

"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"--Book description.

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HighBridge

2 editions of this book were published by HighBridge.

Editions: 1565119053, 1565119088

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