44 million words
10 billion years of history
1 obsessed man
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.
This is the perfect book to dip into, so don't relegate it to the book shelf ; keep it in the bathroom, by the bed, in the car, or wherever you're likely to find yourself with a few spare minutes. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
...one of the book's strongest parts is its laugh-out-loud humor. Jacobs's ability to juxtapose his quirky, sardonic wit with oddball trivia make this one of the season's most unusual books.
It is all enormous fun, educational even, and let's hope that Esquire gets a cut of the deservedly juicy royalties, since Jacobs appears to have read much of the encyclopedia on the job. Doubtlessly more enjoyable than reading the EB itself, with lots of arcane nuggets readers can casually drop on the unsuspecting like sacks of flour from a great height.
Jon Stewart, Host of The Daily Show
A hilarious book and quite an impressive achievement. I've always said, why doesn't someone put out a less complete version of the encyclopedia? Well done, A.J.
P.J. O'Rourke, author of Eat The Rich 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.
Jonathan Safran Foer The Know-It-All is funny, original, and strangely heroic. I found myself rooting on Jacobs's quixotic, totally endearing quest.
Mary Roach, author of Stiff The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
I fell in love with this book on page one and I have laughed out loud on every page since. With his hilarious Britannica-fed insights on life, A.J. Jacobs uncovers the profound by way of the trivial. The Know-It-All is endlessly entertaining. Genius, pure.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
i find this book very interesting to read. it's not ordinary novels or stories that we are all fameliar with, the short stories about his life are extremely funny.
Rated of 5
by CHAD MULLINS
While I found this book interesting and the concept worthy of my attention; the spelling errors were distracting. I may have committed some grammatical errors in this review, but I am not a professional writer. My point is that a book by a writer... Read More
Rated of 5
I really loved this book! I think it has to be the best light read I've come across in a long time, if not ever. Every time I picked it up, it put a smile on my face. I even started reading only a couple of pages at a time, because I didn't want... Read More
Rated of 5
This is really one of the best books I've read in a long time! It really is laugh-out loud funny but oh, so educational. It's the "good parts" version of the Encylopedia Britannica with witty real-life commentary thrown in.
Rated of 5
Hysterically funny and still educational; intellectual and yet deeply pragmatic; capable of citing both Real World and Renoir without seeming to favor one over the other. I enjoyed everything about the book. Great for people who like, as A.J.... Read More
If your shelf space allows it, I encourage you to buy yourself a
set of encyclopedias. However, I'm not thinking of the modern Britannica
(because you can save a lot of trees and money by buying the electronic version
of the entire 32 volumes for less than $70 at
but an older encyclopedia. We've had many happy hours with our 10 volume
Chambers Encyclopedia (1892) that we bought for the equivalent of about
$75 in England almost twenty years ago. Not only is it fairly useful for
referencing history before the 19th century but it also provides a fascinating
snapshot of how the late 19th century educated classes saw their world. Our favorite entry
explanation of why powered flight is quite impossible because the steam engine
is far too heavy. A mere eleven years later the Wright brothers took to the
air with the first powered flight, and a little over two decades later men were
fighting in the skies over Europe!
Written by the founder of the wildly popular A Word A Day web site (www.wordsmith.org), this collection of unusual, obscure, and exotic English words will delight writers, scholars, crossword puzzlers, and word buffs of every ilk.
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