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The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World Kindle Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Length: 400 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Review

"'The Know-It-All is a terrific book. It's a lot shorter than the encyclopedia, and funnier, and you'll remember more of it. Plus, if it falls off the shelf onto your head, you'll live.' P.J. O'Rourke"

"'A jape of a book...with Jacobs...coming across as a slightly younger and Jewish Bill Bryson. Some of his quips are worthy even of Woody Allen... Hilarious' Guardian"

"'For those who enjoy learning about some of the stranger facts about the world in which we live and who appreciate having a guide of some charm, The Know-It-All will be something of a treat.' Sunday Times"

"'The Know-It-All is one of the most informative humorous books and one of the funniest collections of information that I have seen in a long time. (Note to publishers: that's the sentence you can put on the back of the next edition if you like).' Daily Express"

"'Frequently funny and sometimes downright hilarious, but this is also an unexpectedly moving book.'
Daily Mail"

Daily Mail

'...frequently funny and sometimes downright hilarious'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1094 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0743250605
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (1 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC2LUA
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
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By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 Dec. 2005
Format: Paperback
"If things continue at this rate, by my fortieth birthday, I'll be spending my days watching 'Wheel of Fortune' and drooling into a bucket." It's hard to imagine that a book about reading the encyclopedia could be one of the funniest books of 2004, but AJ Jacobs' tongue-in-cheek journey of knowledge is just that.

Feeling that he was too stupid, AJ Jacobs decided to read the encyclopedia from A ("a-ak") to Z ("Zywiec"), and gain huge gobs of knowledge along the way. His wife thinks it's a waste and his friends think that he's starting to crack ("I guess you're not up to P, for 'Please shut up'"). His father doesn't think he can do it, because he once tried, and stopped somewhere in the mid-Bs.

Undaunted, Jacobs reads determinedly through the encyclopedias, finding out various facts: Absalom ("has the oddest death so far in the encyclopedia"), how Hollywood stole "Planet of the Apes" from the Aztecs, Queen Victoria's musical bustle, the metric system, a hippie-Christian sex cult, and the delinquent antics of teenage Gandhi. Not to mention "Addled Brain Syndrome," which comes from too much encyclopedia reading.

As he slowly but faithfully slogs through the encyclopedia, Jacobs finds out quite a few intriguing new things -- not just about himself, but about the difference between being smart and knowledgeable. And as he offers his wacky thoughts on the various encyclopedia entries, he often strays into tangents about his family, his childhood (he had a phobia about people touching his head), and his struggles with his wife to have a baby.

"The Know-It-All : One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World" -- the title says it all.
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Format: Paperback
When I was a kid I owned an encyclopedia that my grandpa had given us. My family owned many other reference works as well, and a little nerd that I was I had spent many hours reading and browsing those thick books that contained more knowledge than I could ever hope to absorb. There was something really appealing about the idea that all of the knowledge can be systematized and presented in a coherent, all-encompassing whole. And yet, the sheer size of those thick volumes made me wonder if I will ever be able to read it all. Apparently, there are a few brave souls out there who had stopped wondering and decided to undertake the task of reading the entire encyclopedia, and not just any old encyclopedia. Alan Jacobs, the author of this book, decided at the ripe old age of thirty five to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias. This was a monumental task by any measure. Thirty three thousand pages, spread across thirty or so big hard-bound volumes, is probably more text than most of us will absorb in our lifetimes. He chronicles his adventure in this book, interspersing mostly entertaining and curious bits of information from Britannica with personal stories and anecdotes. He recounts meeting Alex Trebek (and mistaking him for a gardener), his (mis)adventure on "Millionaire," and many very personal tales about his very accomplished family. It is precisely through these vignettes that we are able to truly relate to his adventure with Britannica. Jacobs makes it seem that almost anyone could do this, just wake up one morning and read the whole encyclopedia. His writing style is very fluid and entertaining, and he is very good at endearingly deprecating himself. He makes vivid the very human side of knowledge, even when it is at its driest.
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Format: Paperback
I had to make a trip from Exeter, to Ipswich, to Durham, to Ipswich, to Exeter. I picked this volume up purely by chance, and devoured it completely. I own a set of Britannica, mostly for dipping into, and now I am thinking of engaging in reading it myself.

The charm of the book is that it combines the knowledge of Britannica with the life story of A J Jacobs - the attempts of he and his long-suffering wife to have a child, his smug brother-in-law, his work colleagues, his attempt to show off on national televions, and various figures involved in Britannica itself.

A thoroughly good read, and indexed at the back to help you remember which set of native American women it is who, in order to divorce their husbands, simply have to leave their mocassins on the doorstep.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In The Know-It-All, the American journalist A.J. Jacobs hits a premature mid-life crisis and decides to read all the 33000 pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In his job as Esquire editor he has to decide on:

“whether we should run the cleavage shot or the butt shot of the actress of the month”.

And as such he feels that he is on a:

“long, slow slide into dumbness”

He hopes that by the end of his quest he will have reached unheard of heights of wisdom, sophistication and learning.

Each chapter of the book goes from “A-Z” and has his favourite bizarre articles mixed with events which are happening in his life: Jacobs and his wife are trying for a baby, his thoughts on his family of overachievers, his hypochondria and OCD tendencies, his Mensa experiences and what happens when he briefly appears on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Behind the humour the book does actually try to ask a serious epistemological question: what is knowledge and how can it be learnt, and to what extent can knowledge pertinent to any given subject or entity be acquired? He says:

“Reading the Britannica is like channel surfing on a very highbrow cable system, one with no shortage of shows about Sumerian cities.”

So does remembering a lot of facts equal useful knowledge and is it of any real value?

Know-It-All doesn’t offer any clear answers to these questions and I can imagine that readers will either love or hate the style and tone of Jacobs writing, therefore the book probably won’t be for everyone. For example, here’s what he had to say about “heroin”:

“Heroin was first developed by the Bayer Company. That’ll whisk your headache away faster than a couple of dozen aspirin.
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