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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


David returns from the kitchen with a bottle of wine.

"Anyone want some cabernet?"

"I'll have a glass," says Julie.

"I'll have some too," I say. "And an amethyst if you've got one."

David cocks his head.

"Amethysts protect against drunkenness, according to the ancients," I say.

"Is that so?" says David.

"Yes. I don't want to end up like Alexander the Great, who died after getting ill from a drinking bout."

"No, I suppose not," says David. He laughs. Nervously, I think.

Julie turns back to Shannon, hoping to resume the vacation talk. "So, which hotel?"

"We've got reservations at this place I found in Conde Nast Traveler -- "

"Also, speaking of alcohol consumption," I say, "what country do you think has the highest per capita rate? I'll give you a hint: it's not Ireland."

"Hmm. Is it France?" asks Shannon. She's very polite.

"Nope. Not France. The residents of Luxembourg are the biggest boozers in the world."

"Huh."

"Who woulda thunk?" I ask. "Luxembourg! But seriously, do not get between a Luxembourgian and a bottle of whiskey!" I say, shaking my head and laughing.

Part of me is hoping Shannon and David won't notice that all my facts start with A. But at the same time, I'm also kind of longing to be exposed. I've already logged thirty hours reading my encyclopedia, and I want them to ooh and aaah at my accomplishment. Maybe Julie senses this, or maybe she just wants to avoid further embarrassment, but she decides to spill my secret.

"A.J.'s decided to read the encyclopedia," she tells Shannon. "And he's only in the As, so you'll be hearing a lot of A facts."

"The encyclopedia?" says David. "That's some light reading."

"Yeah, it'll be good on the beach," I say.

"Seriously, why are you reading the encyclopedia?" says Shannon.

I had prepared for this. I had my answer.

"Well, there's an African folktale I think is relevant here. Once upon a time, there's this tortoise who steals a gourd that contains all the knowledge of the world. He hangs it around his neck. When he comes to a tree trunk lying across road, he can't climb over it because the gourd is in his way. He's in such a hurry to get home, he smashes the gourd. And ever since, wisdom has been scattered across the world in tiny pieces. So, I want to try to gather all that wisdom and put it together."

"I guess you're not up to P, for 'Please shut up,' " says Julie.

They all laugh at that one.

 

Arabian horses

Next morning, it's back to my daily dose of Britannica. Arabian horses have twenty-three vertebrae instead of the twenty-four found in most horses. I spend a moment trying to think of a situation in which this information might be useful. Maybe I could write a mystery story where the identification of an Arabian horse skeleton is a major plot point. Maybe I could win a bar bet with a moderately -- but not overly -- knowledgeable equestrian. Who knows?

 

Asimov, Isaac

I was aware that Asimov was a major figure in American literature, the author of numerous science fiction and science books. I didn't know just how many books: about five hundred. The man wrote five hundred books. I don't think I've written five hundred Post-it notes. He wrote so many books, even his biographers are reduced to the vague "about five hundred." The Britannica can be depressing that way. As you read accomplishment after accomplishment, Nobel after Nobel, you are reminded just how little you've done with your life. My entry -- if written today -- would look something like this:

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!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Pachinko
    Pachinko
    by Min Jin Lee
    Pachinko has one of the best opening lines I've encountered in some time: "History has failed us, ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Summer Before the War
    by Helen Simonson
    Set on the cusp of World War I, The Summer Before the War exudes strength and spirit as a small town...
  • Book Jacket: Lincoln in the Bardo
    Lincoln in the Bardo
    by George Saunders
    George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo is a philosophy discourse brilliantly disguised as a ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin

"A hit…The research is impeccable, the attention to detail, perfect." - The Sunday Mirror (UK)

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Fifth Petal
    by Brunonia Barry

    Beloved author Brunonia Barry returns to the world of The Lace Reader with this spellbinding new thriller.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    I See You
    by Clare Mackintosh

    A dark and compelling thriller about an everyday woman trapped in the confines of her everyday world.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Your F C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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.