October 13, 2011

Review of "The Know-It-All"

I just finished reading The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A.J. Jacobs, and decided to immediately share my impressions here, while they're fresh in my mind.  First off, let me say that I bought this book from my local swapping used bookstore several months ago, which means it qualifies as part of this month's "Read Your OWN Library! Challenge".  Yay!  Now, on with the review.

This is now the second book I've read by A.J. Jacobs--the first was The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, which I can also recommend--and I have enjoyed them both, so I'm ready to declare officially that he is an entertaining author of non-fiction.  There's a touch of Woody Allen's self-deprecation in everything Jacobs writes, and enough honesty to admit that he thinks more highly of himself than he probably ought, which makes any hubris inherent in this project mostly excusable.  (BTW, I really can't stand Woody Allen most of the time, but I do find his early stand-up stuff where he was constantly deconstructing himself funny.  End of pointless and irrelevant bulletin.)

For anyone who hasn't already heard of this book, it is simply an account of one rather odd man reading his way through the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Since I have often read brief sections of encyclopedias and dictionaries for fun, I find Jacobs to be my kind of odd person, though I won't be dashing out to replicate his experiment any time soon.  One of the coolest things about this book is that you actually learn quite a few interesting though useless facts, sort of gathering by osmosis the highlights of the ass-numbingly dull project this man took upon himself.  I found the structure of the book a bit off-putting when I first opened it and discovered that the memoir itself is arranged like an encyclopedia, but I quickly realized that I REALLY should have seen that coming, shouldn't I?  I mean, how else would he arrange it but alphabetically, according to the volume of the Britannica that he was currently slogging through at the time of writing?

This book--like its author and his long-suffering wife--has its annoying moments, times when I kind of wished he'd get back to the issue at hand and quit talking about his irritating brother-in-law, but for the most part, the real-life backdrop added whimsy and humanity to what could have been a very dull read, considering how dull Jacobs' source material was at times.  I enjoyed this book, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks the project sounds cool, but certainly has no intention of ever undertaking it for themselves.


  1. Hello! I discovered your blog yesterday through WWW, and now I'm back to see what you're up to.
    This one I read some time ago and quite liked it, but I'm a word geek, so that explains some of my liking it, right? Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Thank you for stopping by! I have also checked out your blog--the English version, since I confess I know very little about Italian--and I must say, I'm really impressed at your command of two languages. I know lots of people who are bilingual (or more), but would not be able to blog fluently in their second or third languages. Very cool!

  3. I LOVE AJ Jacobs! He's hilarious and his wife is SUCH a good sport!



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