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

by A. J. Jacobs

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,5921591,932 (3.76)163
"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)
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» See also 163 mentions

English (155)  German (3)  Dutch (1)  All languages (159)
Showing 1-5 of 155 (next | show all)
An interesting read, but not altogether life changing. ( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
I figured I'd go back and read the book that started them all and, boy, does having a child change you. His vocabulary has sure mellowed some this first book. Still funny, still AJ, but I prefer his others. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
Anyone curious about the experience of reading an encyclopedia all the way through should pick up this book. The author managed that feat, which would take me at least two years if I replaced all of my book reading with this one project. Like a marathon, I was impressed that a person would attempt such a thing, especially since I have no intention of doing it myself.

I really enjoyed the way that this book combined stories from the author's life with trivia that he learned reading the encyclopedia. There is a significant amount of biographical info about the author baked into his stories, and it provides insight into why he would retain and share particular bits of info from his readings. One tidbit I liked is that Teddy Roosevelt commissioned a Presidential inquiry into the way that collegiate football was played in the early 1900's because more than a dozen players had died in a single season, and as a result the rules of the game were revised to allow forward passes. This is a reasonably representative fact from the book for a few reasons: It is sports-related, America-centric, and in the book it included a lot of details (the specific year and number of players) that I have not remembered.
( )
  wishanem | May 27, 2021 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 155 (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.
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
A. J. Jacobsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cantor, GeoffreyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meerman, JacquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my wife, Julie
First words
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

HighBridge Audio

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge Audio.

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