The Know-It-All: A Book Review

Know-It-All A Book Review

The Know-It-All was so good! It’s the quirky-but-true story of A.J. Jacobs,  a 35ish New York City magazine editor who undertakes a one-year odyssey to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica so he can become the “smartest person in the world.”

When I was growing up, my family had a white leather-bound World Book encyclopedia set and it was a big deal when we got it. My mother never told us how much it cost — but we understood it was very expensive and very, very valuable.

We used it for homework, of course, to save a trip to the library. But being the frugal and practical person she is,  mom  found additional ways to use it. Whenever we’d ask a random question at the dinner table, mom would dash into the next room and bring the encyclopedia volume with the answer to the question — and proceed to read that section aloud.

Despite that (or maybe because of that), I was geeky enough to try reading the whole encyclopedia (and the dictionary and the Bible) at various times in my life, unsuccessfully  — so the book’s theme really resonated with me.

Jacobs writes in a self-deprecating manner as he imparts numerous weird and entertaining facts he learns from each Britannica chapter (titling his chapters  from A – Z, like the encyclopedia). It almost makes you feel like you’re on the journey along with him: after a while, I couldn’t wait to see what “we” were going to learn next!

The author intertwines encyclopedia entries with entertaining true life stories about his parents (especially his dad, who inspired his love for learning), his wife, his work, his friends, his childhood, his impending fatherhood and more. And you just have to like him.

He comes up with a lot of impulsive ideas as he plows through the tomes of books: he decides to join Mensa, applies to be a contestant on Jeopardy (after interviewing Alex Trebek for his real-life job), seeks out and meets with people of extraordinary intellect to get tips and tries out for the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire TV show — with interesting results.

He also describes how he tries to constantly entertain his wife with helpful things he learns along the way (she must be a saint) — and constantly attempts to — just once! — come out on top after a verbal interchange with his know-it-all brother-in-law.

I couldn’t put this book down, and loved A.J.’s offbeat sense of humor.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you think, OK? And if you get a chance to read it, give it a try.

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