Excerpt from The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Know-It-All

One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

by A. J. Jacobs

The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs X
The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 400 pages
    Oct 2005, 400 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Actually, I think that appeared in The New Yorker," I say.

"No, it was Esquire."

"No, I'm pretty sure it's The New Yorker."

"It wasn't The New Yorker," says Mark. Then he wavers: "Well, maybe it was The Progressive. But it certainly wasn't The New Yorker."

I scurry back to my office and look up Baldwin on the Internet. Yup. "The Fire Next Time" appeared in The New Yorker. I e-mail Mark the news, concluding my note with some helpful advice: "Also, if you have any questions for Bavarian cream pie or beavers, just let me know."

So I had done it. I had made my first correction, and I corrected a brilliant man, to boot. I felt great. Well, actually I felt like kind of a dick. But also great.



Back to the books. The world's largest bell was built in 1733 in Moscow, and weighed in at more than four hundred thousand pounds. It never rang -- it was broken by fire before it could be struck. What a sad little story. All that work, all that planning, all those expectations -- then nothing. Now it just sits there in Russia, a big metallic symbol of failure. I have a moment of silence for the silent bell.


Bentham, Jeremy

The British ethical philosopher -- who advocated the greatest good for the greatest number of people -- died in 1834. "After Bentham's death, in accordance with his directions, his body was dissected in the presence of his friends. The skeleton was then reconstructed, supplied with a wax head to replace the original (which had been mummified), dressed in Bentham's own clothes, and set upright in a glass-fronted case. Both this effigy and the head are preserved in University College, London." Not sure how that contributes to the greater good of mankind. The greater creepiness, yes.



Savage Norse soldiers from the middle ages who, it is said, went into battle naked. Hence "going berserk." So to truly go berserk, you should take off your pants. Noted.


Beuys, Joseph

A German avant-garde performance artist whose most famous piece was entitled How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. For the piece, "Beuys covered his head with honey and gold leaf, wore one shoe soled with felt and one with iron, and walked through an art gallery for about two hours, quietly explaining the art therein to a dead hare he carried."

Huh. And for this he gets himself written up in the encyclopedia. Maybe I'm a philistine, but I don't see the brilliance of this. If he explained pictures to a dead hamster or a dead iguana -- yes, that would be ingenious. But a dead hare? Eh. Feels lazy.


birth control

The condom, according to legend, was invented by a British physician named Dr. Condom, who was alarmed by Charles II's growing flock of illegitimate offspring. That's the legend, anyway. The sober Britannica instead endorses the theory that the condom is named for the Latin word condus, which means a receptacle. The condom, the pill, the IUD, the vasectomy -- they all get their proper due in this section. But I prefer the creativity of the earlier birth control techniques, which ranged from the delicious (using honey as a spermicide) to the aerobic (jumping backward seven times after coitus).

Those are good to know. Very relevant. I tell Julie not to jump backward seven times after sex and to keep honey safely above her belt. We can't afford any mishaps. For the past year, Julie and I have been trying to have a baby. We're getting a bit desperate. It doesn't help that all of Julie's friends are breeding like the female octopus, which lays and cares for 150,000 eggs. They're frighteningly fertile, her friends. They seem to get pregnant if they brush up against their husbands in the hallway. Which means there's a growing platoon of diaper-wearing creatures stomping through our lives, and an accompanying fleet of fold-up strollers and car seats. Meanwhile, Julie and I have nothing. Zilch. It's infuriating.

From The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs.  Pages 7-30 of the hardcover edition.  Copyright © 2004 by A.J. Jacobs

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The House of Broken Angels
    by Luis Alberto Urrea

    The definitive Mexican-American immigrant story from an acclaimed storyteller.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Sorry, we do not currently have an active wordplay!

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.