Book Review: The Know It-All, by A.J. Jacobs


A.J. Jacobs works as the editor at large at Esquire magazine and has carved his personal niche at becoming what he calls “a human guinea pig.”  I would love to be present during one of his brainstorm sessions  (“Maybe I could do this!,”  “Has anyone ever tried that?”).  It might have been after consuming several caffeinated drinks that he thought of the premise for The Know It-All:  One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. In short, he decided to read the entire Encylopaedia Britannica in one year.

I was not sure what to expect when reading about his experience.  I worried it might be as big of a snooze as reading the encyclopaedia itself.  Let me tell you – it’s anything BUT boring.  Jacobs highlights several entries – A to Z – from Britannica that he found interesting, disturbing, educational, or just plain random.  He also explains how he sought to use his newfound knowledge in his everyday life (often to quite hilarious outcomes!).  I didn’t realize it was possible to relate even the most dense of encylopaedic articles to one’s own life, but Jacobs manages to weave the different entries into aspects of his own life, and you end up getting to know him quite well.

This is a really charming book, and Jacobs’ voice is so clear and distinct that you feel the book more as a conversation than a read.  Phooey with waiting for the library copy again – I need to get my hands on one to own!

Related Links:  A.J. Jacobs’ website

*Disclosure: Amazon affiliate link included.