BookBrowse Reviews The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs

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

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Sardonic wit juxtaposed with oddball trivia. Non-Fiction

 This is an excellent book to read cover to cover or just to dip into at anytime - we keep our copy in the bathroom!

Britannica is the oldest continuously published reference work in the English Language. It had its birth in Edinburgh, Scotland in the late 18th century (a period known as the Scottish Enlightenment),  Colin MacFarquhar, a printer, and Andrew Bell, an engraver, decided to create an encyclopedia for the new era and formed a 'Society of Gentlemen' to publish the work.  They hired William Smellie, a 28 year-old scholar, to edit it.  Their aim was to create an encyclopedia that would be arranged alphabetically and "compiled upon a new plan in which the different Sciences and Arts are digested into distinct Treatises or Systems."

Just like the Oxford English Dictionary (which was begun sometime later in 1861), Britannica was originally published in 'fascicles' (installments) over a three-year period beginning in 1768. The first three-volume edition was completed in 1881 and sold out quickly.

The second edition boasted 10 volumes and was published and distributed between 1777 and 1784.  The third edition was completed in 1797 and was the first to include articles by outside contributors.  By 1809, when the fourth edition was published, it had expanded to 20 volumes.  

The first copies available in the USA were from a pirated edition printed in Philadelphia in 1790 by Thomas Dobson.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were all proud owners.

A.J. Jacobs' latest project is to spend 365 days following the rules of the Bible as closely as he can. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Obey The Bible as Literally as Possible is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2007, and movie rights have already been optioned by Paramount. The director of Men In Black, Barry Sonnenfeld, has an option on The Know-It-All.

This review is from the October 19, 2005 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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