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The Know-It-All


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A. J. Jacobs tells the story of his bizarre, hilarious and seemingly impossible quest to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z.

About the Author

A. J. Jacobs is the editor of What It Feels Like and the author of The Two Kings- Jesus and Elvis, America Offline, and Fractured Fairy Tales. He is a senior editor of Esquire and lives in New York City with his wife Julie.


This guide to everything you don't know and don't really care about that much is narrated to you over the family dinner table by your smartyparts older brother. Jacobs, an editor, author, and NPR contributor, sets out to read the entire Encylopaedia Britannica, apparently as a way to avoid acknowledging that his wife is pregnant with their first child. In a series of A-to-Z entries, Jacobs writes about himself as well as the knowledge that he gleaned from his project. This means you can skim his "guide" for some interesting trivia, try and find just the storyline about the upcoming birth, or read it straight through, of course. If you persevere, you can look for some interesting thoughts about knowledge vs. wisdom and book learning vs. emotional growth. An optional purchase for academic and larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.]-Terren Ilana Wein, Univ. of Chicago Lib. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"'The Know-It-All is a terrific book. It's a lot shorter than the encyclopedia, and funnier, and you'll remember more of it. Plus, if it falls off the shelf onto your head, you'll live.' P.J. O'Rourke" "'A jape of a book...with Jacobs...coming across as a slightly younger and Jewish Bill Bryson. Some of his quips are worthy even of Woody Allen... Hilarious' Guardian" "'For those who enjoy learning about some of the stranger facts about the world in which we live and who appreciate having a guide of some charm, The Know-It-All will be something of a treat.' Sunday Times" "'The Know-It-All is one of the most informative humorous books and one of the funniest collections of information that I have seen in a long time. (Note to publishers: that's the sentence you can put on the back of the next edition if you like).' Daily Express" "'Frequently funny and sometimes downright hilarious, but this is also an unexpectedly moving book.' Daily Mail"

Adult/High School-When Jacobs, a pop-culture junkie and magazine editor, got a bee in his bonnet to read the entire abridged set of the Encyclopedia Britannica to stave off the decline of his recalled knowledge, his wife, family, and coworkers looked on with disbelief, amusement, and annoyance. They thought he'd give up on his quest, but fortunately he did not, for his recap manages to impart the joys of learning, along with a lot of laughs. The alphabetical arrangement of his book allows Jacobs to share highlights, many of which show his fixation on the morbid, the insane, and the grotesque in history. Cort?s had syphilis. Descartes had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Throughout, the author digresses with anecdotes about such things as his trip to a Mensa meeting, his visit with Alex Trebek, and (mainly) his wife's attempts to get pregnant. While the pregnancy woes probably won't hold the same resonance with teens as with adults, they are all short, and soon there is another funny or gross item. As Jacobs wraps up, he leaves readers with the sense of satisfaction and wistfulness that often occurs when finishing a particularly satisfying book, only multiplied by the magnitude of what he has accomplished. This is a love note to human knowledge and the joys of obtaining it.-Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Imagine, the original Berserkers were "savage Norse soldiers" of the Middle Ages who went into battle stark naked! Or consider the Etruscan habit of writing in "boustrophedon style." Intrigued? Well, either hunker down with your own Encyclop?dia Britannica, or buy Esquire editor Jacobs's memoir of the year he spent reading all 32 volumes of the 2002 edition-that's 33,000 pages with some 44 million words. Jacobs set out on this delightfully eccentric endeavor attempting to become the "smartest person in the world," although he agrees smart doesn't mean wise. Apart from the sheer pleasure of scaling a major intellectual mountain, Jacobs figured reading the encyclopedia from beginning to end would fill some gaps in his formal education and greatly increase his "quirkiness factor." Reading alphabetically through whole topics he never knew existed meant he'd accumulate huge quantities of trivia to insert into conversations with unsuspecting victims. As his wife shunned him and cocktail party guests edged away, Jacobs started testing his knowledge in a hilarious series of humiliating adventures: hobnobbing at Mensa meetings, shuffling off to chess houses, trying out for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, visiting his old prep school, even competing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Indeed, one of the book's strongest parts is its laugh-out-loud humor. Jacobs's ability to juxtapose his quirky, sardonic wit with oddball trivia make this one of the season's most unusual books. Agent, Sloan Harris. (Oct.) Forecast: NPR listeners have heard Jacobs interviewed in about a dozen segments since he started this reading project, and will be eager to lay hands on the book. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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