I just finished A.J. Jacobs’ book The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. It’s a chronicle of Jacobs’ journey reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britanicca. Basically everyone he knows thinks it is a waste of his time, including his wife, but nonetheless, Jacobs pushes through. The book is done alphabetically, and examples of his favorite facts are given, along with what is going on in his life at the time he reads each letter-anecdotes that are woven into the Encyclopaedia words seamlessly. His relationship with his father is examined (the Senior Jacobs attempted the feat of reading the Encyclopaedia previously); his attemps with his wife to get pregnant are discussed; his jealousy of and annoyance with his know-it-all brother-in-law Eric are disected. He joins MENSA and appears on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Every topic is written with wit and intelligence, some sensitivity, and a lot of humor. It’s a really funny book. And you’ll feel like you’ve learned a lot of neat facts on Jacobs’ path too. A good read all around.
excerpts (some book related ones at that):
- Book: United Nations defines a book as a text that is at least forty-nine pages long. By that definition, the Britannica equals 673 books. Unsettling.
- Milton, John: The British poet went blind because he read too late at night while at school. That’s something I’ve learned: scholarship is dangerous. There’s a platoon of men who’ve gone blind (sometimes in both eyes, sometimes in one), who’ve gotten curvature of the spine, who’ve suffered exhaustion from too much reading. It makes me feel like my quest-despite its couchbound nature-is actually treacherous, which gives me a macho thrill.
- Nursery Rhyme: My favorite Mother Goose fact thus far: “Jack and Jill” is actually an extended allegory about taxes. The jack and jill were two forms of measurement in early England. When Charles I scaled down the jack (originally two ounces) so as to collect higher sales tax, the jill, which was by definition twice the size of the jack, was automatically reduced, hence “came tumbling after”. Kids love tax stories. I can’t wait to hear the nursery rhyme about Bush’s abolishment of the estate tax.
- Poe, Edgar Allan: He married his cousin when she was thirteen. Sort of the Jerry Lee Lewis of his day but with more interest in Gothic imagery.