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The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World [Kindle Edition]

A. J. Jacobs
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

Print List Price: CDN$ 18.99
Kindle Price: CDN$ 16.99 includes free international wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
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Sold by: Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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 Encyclopædia 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

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. Cortés 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1094 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0743250605
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (Oct. 1 2004)
  • Sold by: Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC2LUA
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #139,872 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Yonny
This is a great book. I learned about it after reading a few other books in the same "let me temporarily devote my entire life to a marginal activity and then write about it" genre. (Word Freak, Crossworld) This is not meant to be the Reader's Digest abridged version of EB. It's humour, nothing more, nothing less. But as humour, it's hilarious.

In the text, he alternates between tidbits of info from EB, how he uses his newfound knowledge in social situations, his relationship with his wife, and odd side trips that sometimes seem surreal: crossword competition, MENSA meeting, EB headquarters and most improbably, a meeting with Alex Trebek and an appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?*

The subjects in EB that fascinate him definitely lean towards the juvenile and sensational. Some might say Jacobs is immature for focusing on such subjects. I don't agree. In my mind, the fact that EB felt it necessary to mention Rene Descartes's fetish for cross-eyed women is so sublimely absurd it's hard to fault him for mentioning it numerous times. The weird stuff is also what's easiest to make jokes of. Like I said above, that's the point of this book: humour. Lastly, with the proliferation of tabloids and rags on newsstands I'd argue an obsession with the lurid simply makes him an average member of our society.

The structure is refreshing, appropriate and most importantly, effective. He starts at A and ends at Z. Within each chapter there are headings taken from EB. Some headings have interesting facts about them included, while others are arbitrary to provide a break to switch topics.

When I got this book for Christmas I read almost non-stop until P and had a minor anxiety attack when I realized I only had 1/3 of the alphabet left, that it would be over too soon.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun! Interesting! Extraordinary! Jan. 2 2005
This was easily my favorite book of 2004. The author is witty, endearing and hilarious. As I worked my way through the book, I found myself laughing at nearly every turn, and picking up unusual facts that I can't wait to drop at future cocktail parties. Who would have thought that a journey through the Encyclopoedia could be so entertaining? A must read!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Read! Jan. 3 2005
This is a subperb book. The author is witty and entertaining, and his story is touching. The book reveals a great deal about the world that I probably ought to know by now, and it made me appreciate history and my surroundings in a new way. I couldn't put it down until I reached zywiecz! Can't wait for this guy's next work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light-hearted yet thought-provoking Dec 18 2005
By A Customer
Picked this up in the airport to pass the time while travelling, and found it to be a most enjoyable read. This is not meant to be a condensed version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, rather the story of one man's quest to do something unique, to achieve an unusual goal, to assert his identity within his family and, perhaps, his place in the world. The author's writing is witty and intelligent, a most entertaining look at life, the world, and who we are. Definitely an intelligent read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read It Again and Again Aug. 17 2010
It is hard for me to imagine that anyone would rate this less than 5. Okay maybe I'd understand 4 to a 4.5 - but any less would be dumbfounding.
Although this book came out before Biblically, I read it after Biblically. I read it simply because I wanted more AJ Jacobs. He is hilarious. He is articulate. Precise, almost compulsively...which after you've read him, you understand. Within these pages you feel as though you've spent a weekend with him. Him and his wife - who, from how he writes her, is just as hilarious.
I have read everything David Sedaris and when there was no more...AJ Jacobs seemed to knock at my door. I'm so thankful Mr. Sedaris hadn't anything else published that I had to feast my eyes on, because Mr. Jacobs entered the building.
Few do it better than either of the authors I mentioned, but since this is a review of The Know-It-All, let me just say: if dry, self-effacing, off-the-wall humour is your taste with a hint of sentimental schmuckery (for his family) is anywhere within the smallest realm of interest to will laugh out loud and want to keep this book forever; the way you might hang on to memorabilia from better days.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to read an encyclopedia May 20 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 50 REVIEWER
When I was a kid I owned an encyclopedia that my grandpa had given us. My family owned many other reference works as well, and a little nerd that I was I had spent many hours reading and browsing those thick books that contained more knowledge than I could ever hope to absorb. There was something really appealing about the idea that all of the knowledge can be systematized and presented in a coherent, all-encompassing whole. And yet, the sheer size of those thick volumes made me wonder if I will ever be able to read it all. Apparently, there are a few brave souls out there who had stopped wondering and decided to undertake the task of reading the entire encyclopedia, and not just any old encyclopedia. Alan Jacobs, the author of this book, decided at the ripe old age of thirty five to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias. This was a monumental task by any measure. Thirty three thousand pages, spread across thirty or so big hard-bound volumes, is probably more text than most of us will absorb in our lifetimes. He chronicles his adventure in this book, interspersing mostly entertaining and curious bits of information from Britannica with personal stories and anecdotes. He recounts meeting Alex Trebek (and mistaking him for a gardener), his (mis)adventure on "Millionaire," and many very personal tales about his very accomplished family. It is precisely through these vignettes that we are able to truly relate to his adventure with Britannica. Jacobs makes it seem that almost anyone could do this, just wake up one morning and read the whole encyclopedia. His writing style is very fluid and entertaining, and he is very good at endearingly deprecating himself. He makes vivid the very human side of knowledge, even when it is at its driest.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
i like it
Published 13 months ago by Ahmed Mohamed
5.0 out of 5 stars A. J. Jacobs is wildly entertaining.
Authors who tend to write about themselves usually come off as self-absorbed and annoying. A. J. Jacobs not only talks about his own insecurities but allows the reader to relate to... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Ashly Flannery
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun read
Because the book was well-interesting, fun, and I had read two other books by Jacobs which had impressed me very favourably.
Published 19 months ago by judith flynn
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book for the waiting room
Unfortunately, this is one of those books where the only reason you finish reading it is because it was started in the first place. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2009 by Ronald W. Maron
5.0 out of 5 stars The Know-It-All: One man's humble quest to become the smartest person...
Very off-the-wall dry humour - sucker punches the reader. Much like British humour which is about as subtle at times as a smack on the head. Read more
Published on Oct. 5 2009 by Anne Hayden
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius!
A.J Jacobs is a GENIUS! All I can say is BUY THIS BOOK!!! You will not regret it, it's hilarious and incredibly interesting. Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2008 by Brian Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate quest
What is it with guys and their quests?

I have recently read about Dave Gorman with his quest for namesakes and Googlewhacks, about John Donoghue with his funny place... Read more
Published on July 9 2006 by Tanya
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny
Lots of fun to read. And you may learn something while you're at it
Published on May 28 2006 by Scott Fairley
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