Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs

Book Summary (from

Part memoir, part Cliff's Notes to every topic under the sun, The Know-It-All is about the year I spent reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z (or, more precisely, from a-ak to zywiec). All forty-four million words of it. The book is many things:

First, it's a compendium of the funniest, most fascinating, and most profound facts I uncovered-from the history of canned laughter to Nathaniel Hawthorne's obsessive-compulsive behavior to female spies in the Civil War.

Second, it is a search for meaning and wisdom among that ocean of facts.

Third, it's a memoir of my eccentric, knowledge-loving family. (My dad, for instance, holds the world record for the most number of footnotes in a law review article: 5,435.)

And finally, it is a series of adventures to test the limits of intelligence. I competed in a crossword-puzzle tournament, went on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and attended a Mensa convention.

And if that's not enough, it's a mere 1.4 pounds, as opposed to the Britannica's 128 pounds.

My review

I read “TheYear of living biblically” (If the link won t work I added the video of his conference in TED, down below) before, from the same author, and had a blast, so I had big expectations about this book. My boyfriend read it a couple of months ago, and just like me with “Lamb” he would laugh out loud and read me excerpts from it. Needless to say, I was craving to read it myself and I was in for a treat.

I think I can now say with confidence that I really like the way Jacobs writes, to be honest I have never read anything else from him, but these 2 books have been entertaining and even better full of new knowledge.

His quest to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica starts actually with his father, who also tried to read the whole thing, but couldn’t pass the B section (I think I wouldn’t be able to finish the A, but never mind that). Also, because Jacobs is starting to feel dumber, which I can relate to, feeling like a lot of knowledge just escapes from you and there is nothing you can do. Actually, if I’m completely honest, I feel related to a bunch of character traits from Jacobs, although I wouldn’t consider myself as a germaphobe. But since this is not an essay (BTW, this I learn with the book, this word was coined by using the French term “essai” which means try. I had no idea) about my similes with Jacobs, let’s just say that I feel REALLY awkward in a crowd (more than 10 people is a crowd to me), I totally understand his fear of losing his intelligence, and like Julie, I am bit of a order freak…

The book is written the same way as the encyclopedia, every chapter is a letter. But is not a copy-paste of definitions but mostly a compilation of ha and hum moments about everyday things and not so everyday situations. At the same time, the words sometimes fall appropriately in moments of Jacobs’ life.  Another quest is going on in his life…being a father. You cross your fingers every time, hoping that this will be the moment when Julie (his wife) becomes pregnant. 

But off course there is more side stories, the constant rivalry with Julie’s brother, Eric, a know-it-all in himself, not afraid to gloat and even correct the EB (yes, he did it). Jacobs encounters with Mensa, he joining and then feeling not so good about it. Wanting to go into Jeopardy!, meet Alex Trebeck and then learn that because of this he cannot longer compete! (Another thing I didn’t know).  Also, he has all this movie ideas (Young Ghandi for example, I am sure would be a hit!).

At the end, he goes to How to be a Millionaire and I’ve been looking for that video all over the internet, with no success. I won’t tell you how far he goes, because for me that was a moment of stress. I think a book is really good, when you can feel the same emotions of the main character, either fiction or non-fiction. When the author manages to make you feel through words…is just that magical moment that you have than involves every single inch of what you are. Talking about words…his final words to his dad, they were ever so touching, that I was glad I was done with my work day, so no one actually saw me teary eyed.

I’m happy to say that there’s another book coming from the same author (Available in April), called Drop Dead Healthy. In the mean time, I while look for My life as an experiment, a book that promises to be as entertaining as the last two.


  1. I can't wait for Drop Dead Healthy. I can never get that picture out of my mind of Jacobs "stoning" a woman in the park....Hilarious!

  2. I know, that and Julie sitting on every single chair in the apartment! Is a shame that the Goodreads give away is for USA only :(.