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The Know It All One Man's Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In The World
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The Know It All One Man's Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In The World

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  19,049 ratings  ·  2,090 reviews
33,000 PAGES

44 MILLION WORDS

10 BILLION YEARS OF HISTORY

1 OBSESSED MAN

Part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), The Know-It-All chronicles NPR contributor A.J. Jacobs's hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z.

To fill the ever-widening gaps in his Ivy League education, A.J. Jacobs sets for himself the d

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Hardcover, Large Print
Published January 1st 2005 by Thorndike Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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Sparrow
This was a little more like actually reading the Encyclopedia Britannica than I was really prepared for. I think it took me longer to read this book than it took Jacobs to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, too. So, I’m not sure what that says about my reading stamina. It took Jacobs something like a year to read the encyclopedia? I think it took me two years to read this book. Although I don’t really get how it’s possible that it took him a year because I feel like way more than half of t...more
Amanda
This book chronicles snarky rich kid (he is actually 35) A.J. Jacob's quest to read The Encyclopedia Brittanica from A-Z, in an attempt to become "the smartest person in the world". Jacobs breaks the book into alphabetical chapters and free-associates on the entries that he finds interesting. This book was by no means dull, but it was interesting in the way that flipping through the encyclopedia or the dictionary yourself is interesting-- as you scan the pages you find weird little tidbits that...more
Edward
I saw this dude in person talking about his newer book ("The Year of Living Bibically"): he seemed quirky, intelligent, curious, funny, and overall quite interesting. In time I saw that he used the same one-liners in every medium available and he was kind of obnoxious, but this was before that. He cast quite a spell on me and I knew I wanted to buy one of his books then. He had just talked about "The Year", it was newer, and honestly it just seemed a lot more interesting than a book about readin...more
Mark
What a thoroughly enjoyable book!

When Esquire editor A.J. Jacobs sets out to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, you can guess you're going to get lots of interesting trivia tidbits from the world's leading compendium of knowledge.

But what makes the book far more rewarding is that A.J. Jacobs is flat out funny. And after suffering through all the authors who attempt to write humor and do it badly, it is so good to be able to say that. I found myself laughing out loud every couple of pages....more
Jan
Aug 15, 2007 Jan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who scoffs at the world book
Shelves: 2007reads
first of all, since when is "i spent a year ________ing" a trendy model for a book? seems like they're all over the place now, but i don't remember seeing quite the plethora before. my friend beth spent a year following the advice of self-help gurus; a.j. jacobs read the entire encyclopedia brittanica. and then there's that me & julia cooking lady; karaoke nation; the dishwasher book; self-made man (the gal who posed as a dude); early bird (the guy who spent a year at a retirement community...more
Louis
I loved this book.Reminds me of when I was a child and would read the encyclopedia because there was nothing else in the house.Extremely funny, one of the only books to actually make me laugh out loud no matter where I was.
Eliza
I laughed out loud repeatedly through this book. I even made my husband read it
Anne
This is the first book by the author who wrote The Year of Living Biblically, which I read last month. In this one, Jacobs decides to become the smartest person in the world by reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica from beginning to end. Jacobs has a separate chapter for every letter, and within the chapter he divides the sections out by subjects within that letter - highlighting important facts for us, and throwing in stories about how this quest is affecting his personal life - mostly making him...more
Jay Daze
An annoying book about reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica that I was compelled to finish. Humour is subjective and I found Jacobs' nebbish, hypochondriac, regular Jewish guy persona to be pretty fake and forced (as well as pretty old, Woody Allen did it much better). (He's an Esquire editor, roomed with a Kennedy in college, goes on fab vacations, all while trying to portray himself as a bumbling oaf. If he had just fessed up to being an elitist with some intellectual pretensions I would...more
Caroline
Definitely food for you brain, but upon purchasing this book I wasn't aware the chapters of the book went from "A-Z" each chapter containing his favorite words/definitions, mixed in with narrative of his life. I liked the author, but sometimes he could really get on my nerves..if i heard one more mention of visiting his parents in "East Hampton" and countless mentions of being an "upper middle class New Yorker" writing on his "white Macintosh lap book", or his complaining about how he couldn't g...more
Michael
A.J. Jacobs has noticed an ever widening gap left from graduating from an Ivy League education. His solution, to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, from A to Z. Follow A.J. as he works his way through all 32 volumes, that’s 33 thousand pages and 44 million words. His wife thinks it’s a waste of time, his friends believe he has lost his mind, but follow this unconventional task in this memoir.

I have read an A.J. Jacobs memoir before; I read “Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Ques...more
Stephanie
As anyone who knows me can attest, I generally spout information to anyone who will listen to me. Most conversations begin: I heard on NPR the other day . . . For example, did you know there's a marsupial species in Australia whose male population only lives 11 months, the last month of which is spent obsessed with procreating or that a cockroach can live up to ten days without a head? Just one of the many useless bits of knowledge I have tucked away. AJ Jacobs wrote "The Know-It-All" as a quest...more
Kaethe
Jul 16, 2014 Kaethe marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
I decided to clear my rating. I didn't find it particularly amusing, but it didn't repulse me or anything. The thing is, a lot of us bookish kids back in days of yore did find ourselves at some point sitting down and reading encyclopedias. So, as far as I'm concerned, Jacobs is way late to the game.
Lisa
Dec 18, 2013 Lisa rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone I loathe
I can no longer force myself to read this. I started reading it in August and have only gotten 46% of the way through. It clearly isn't happening, and there is absolutely no reason to continue. I'm really disappointed, because out of all of his books, this is the one that appealed to me the most. Also, I read The Year of Living Biblically by him and really enjoyed it. The problem with this is that it really does read like a condensed version of the Britannica. I expected it to be more interestin...more
Aneel Trivedi
I picked up “The Know-it-All” immediately after finishing Jacobs’ more recent book, “The Year of Living Biblically”. I really enjoyed “Biblically”, and figured what worked for the bible would work for the encyclopedia as well.

In “The Know-it-All”, Jacobs aspires (tongue-in-cheek) to become the smartest person in the world by reading every word in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Jacobs does a great job mixing quirky/interesting/funny stories retold from the encyclopedia with stories from his life du...more
Bryce
What started out as a clever and funny tale of an epic chore -- reading the entirety of the Encyclopedia Britannica in one year -- quickly devolved into a study of one of the most annoying people I can imagine.

I read Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible last year and found it fairly enjoyable. Enjoyable enough to pick up his first book. Jacob came across as slightly neurotic but basically curious and endearing in Living Biblic...more
Embee
I purchased this book as a birthday present for my husband. I mean, look at the title... It has his name on it! (Sorry hon, you know I mean well.) While reading the book my husband would share with me funny little tid-bits and upon completion, told me he thought I'd really enjoy it... Why? Because I'm a 'Know it All' too? No, that can't possibly be true!

Anyway, this book is Great Fun! I know it sounds like the story of a guy recounting his foray into reading the entire library of Encyclopedia Br...more
Sherry Wittman
This was awesome! Kind of like a hilarious, abbreviated version of a set of encyclopedias!

It's found under humor, but is sort of a memoir? The guy complains his brain is turning to mush because the only information he takes in lately is regarding pop-culture. Why can he name all the members of N'Sync, yet forgets major historical events? So he sets out on a quest for knowledge and commits to reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

This book includes author-deemed high-points of the encycloped...more
Monet
A stimulating, fascinating read. This book will, in the least, teach you a thing or two. What makes it such a good read is the authors sense of humor and how he creates a story around this seemingly nonsensical quest to read the encyclopedia. Each chapter filled with useless facts, fun life applications and a good laugh or two. I thoroughly loved this book.
Lisa Nelson
A.J. Jacobs had me laughing out loud again. I love his awkwardness, his vulnerability and his ease at being able to constantly make fun of himself. I enjoyed his, " The Year of Living Biblically," a bit better because I found the subject matter more interesting. But, this is still such a fun book.
Valarie
The author's journey through the encyclopedia is definitely interesting, and some of his anecdotes are mildly entertaining (particularly his experiences with Mensa members), but overall I could not enjoy this book. Jacobs casually refers to huffing aerosol as a teenager and doing ecstasy in college as if this were something to be proud of, which was really not necessary in a book about reading the encyclopedia. His attempts at self-deprecating humor don't hide the fact that he clearly does think...more
Thom
This book was fantastic! It made me actually want to read again, after years and years of generally avoiding paper books. I doubt I'll be duplicating his feat, but it succeeding in being so captivating that it forced me to work it into my life. All the little things that kept me from reading when I tried gradually resolved themselves as I was forced to make time and room and find a spot to sit down and read in order to keep making my way through this witty compendium of wisdom from the pop-cultu...more
Ria
A fascinating wealth of random facts, most of which, despite Jacobs's experience, are actually great conversation starters. I mean, who doesn't want to participate in a lively discussion of cultures where fraternal twins were forced to marry because it was assumed that they had sex while in the womb?

...Okay, so maybe I hang around with strange people who appreciate such facts. But my point still stands. It's actually amazing how intelligent one can appear when armed with an arsenal of trivia, so...more
Chana
My son calls this type of book "a bathroom book". You keep it in the bathroom and just read short sections at a time.

For example from page 32:

Casanova: The famous 18th century lothario ended his life as a librarian. Librarians could use that to sex up their image.

followed by

Chalk: Chalk used in classrooms is not actually made of chalk, but a manufactured substance. More reason to distrust my teachers, those weasels.

Not all the entries are this short of course but you get the idea.

What is going...more
Ciara
Dec 27, 2008 Ciara rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people aiming to read the encyclopedia, dudes, people with daddy issues
so, this dude decided to read the entire encyclopedia brittanica. & he wrote about his quest as he undertook it, connecting his discoveries back to his everyday life & sharing a few salient details that he discovered alone the way, like certain philosophers who had a jones for cross-eyed ladies. while he was reading the encyclopedia brittanica, he & his wife were also on a quest to get pregnant, but it wasn't going so well. so there's a lot of "we want a baby" stuff in here. & a...more
Cassy
At first, I was dubious that a book about one man's mission to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) would make a enjoyable read. I was very pleasantly surprised. This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Jacobs pulls out the oddest facts from the EB and adds his own quirky commentaries. And he is frank about the motivations, joys, and hardships of his project. Indeed, some of my favorite parts are when he discusses the nitty-gritty details of how he went about the project. What is the best...more
Kira
One thing The Know-It-All does quite well is convey the breadth of the world’s available knowledge, something I actually think Wikipedia minimizes by virtue of being so accessible. After all, there’s a difference between looking something up when you need to know it, and setting out to learn everything there is to know.

Indeed, whether or not I loved the final product, I still have tremendous respect for Jacobs’ mission, which I would have probably given up on by about the letter B. The Know-It-A...more
Abby
In this book A.J. Jacobs reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A- Z, in an attempt to become the smartest person alive. I can understand. I LOVED the encyclopedia when I was a kid. However, it was the World Book (with lots of pictures), and I didn't read it A-Z. I probably lingered on articles about cats and The Beatles way more than any about mathematical concepts or historical events. But still, I know what it's like to cuddle up with an encyclopedia for the evening, just like A.J.

Ther...more
Cies Charbeneau
I suppose to be fair it is January 2 since it is now 2:00 in the morning, but I planned on writing this before the day was out and that is will enough for me to put down the 1st instead of the 2nd.
Starting a blog is a very daunting task. There are millions of them out there on every subject imaginable, and that makes it so much harder for me to believe that anyone would find what I have to say interesting. Instead I remind myself that I find what I have to say interesting and if no one else wan...more
John
HOORAY - I'm a genius ... I learned my GRE score would qualify for MENSA!

I found the parts relating directly to the encyclopedia entries mostly humorous and informative; I was surprised at the "facts" Jacobs claimed were "new" to him, as most were ones I'd thought were general knowledge. I liked his reports from MENSA meetings, the two day-long seminars on speed-reading and memory-retention (which turned out to be "infomercials" for expensive courses), and his aside on his appearance on "So You...more
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Which Jacobs book is better? 12 88 Apr 05, 2013 07:16AM  
Epilogger Book Club: The Know-it-All 1 7 Oct 02, 2012 01:31PM  
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  • Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages
  • Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus: What Your History Books Got Wrong
  • More Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
  • Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World
  • Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World
  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
  • Under the Covers and between the Sheets: Facts and Trivia about the World's Greatest Books
  • An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't
  • Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players
  • Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
  • So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading
  • The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits
  • Bizarre Books
  • Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye!
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A.J. Jacobs is a New York Times bestselling author, Esquire editor and human guinea pig.

Among Jacobs’ life experiments:
--The Know-It-All. The bestselling memoir of the year he spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a quest to become the smartest person in the world.
--The Year of Living Biblically. The bestseller about his life as the ultimate biblical man. He followed every rule of th...more
More about A.J. Jacobs...
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment Fractured Fairy Tales Esquire Presents: What It Feels Like

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“Scrabble - The game is available in Braille. That’s a nice fact. This makes me feel better about humanity for some reason. I can’t really explain why.” 16 likes
“I can’t help but notice that you keep writing love poetry to my wife. Well, you see, I married her, which makes her my wife. You know what you might want to try? Writing some poems about the sunset. The sunset isn’t fucking married.” 14 likes
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