The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs

A few months ago, I read Jacobs’ book entitled The Year of Living Biblically, in which he told about spending a year reading the Bible, with which he was not familiar, and trying to live according to its rules.  I liked his writing style so much that I recently read this earlier book, telling about a year which he spent in reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.  He hoped to fill in some of the gaps from his Ivy League education—and to compete with his father, a brilliant lawyer who once started reading the set and gave up somewhere in the Bs.

Jacobs helps the reader to fill in gaps as well, and his sense of humor and tendency to find the quirky aspects of an encyclopedia article make The Know-It-All anything but a boring read.  He also ties his reading in with his own life, whether telling us how he brought a fact from the encyclopedia into a conversation (almost always finding that no one wants to hear it), relating the articles to happenings in his personal life, or telling us about being a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to use his new-found knowledge and about attending a Mensa convention.  This is a great book to pick up when you only have a few minutes to read, since each section is brief, ranging from a paragraph to a few pages.

As a young teenager, I tried to read Compton’s Encyclopedia from beginning to end and gave up somewhere in the early As.  I learned a little about aardvarks and such, but I didn’t find the fun in it that Jacobs brings to his readers. If I had, I might have read the entire encyclopedia!

(Helen Snow, Information Services)

One Response

  1. I had started this and paused midway through. You’ve inspired me to pick it up again. I’m really excited to read The Year of Living Biblically, too!

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