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

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  23,348 Ratings  ·  2,386 Reviews
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.

33,000 Pages
44 Million Words
10 Billion Years Of History
1 Obsessed Man

To fill the ever-widening gaps in his Ivy League education, A.J. Jacobs sets for himself the
Paperback, 389 pages
Published October 10th 2005 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2004)
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Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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
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
Mar 28, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Sep 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, humor
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.
Jul 26, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Oct 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humour
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.
Oct 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I laughed out loud repeatedly through this book. I even made my husband read it
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Laura Singleton
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've read this book three times. Jacobs is funny and fantastic. Read anything of his.
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
Mar 31, 2010 marked it as abandoned
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.
Jul 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Julia Fiorio
I could have done without reading this book. I thought it was cleverly compiled, but realistically, who wants to read a book with a listing of definitions? The only parts that made me want to keep reading were AJ's adventure on Millionaire and his journey to having a child. A novel concept, but not worth the 300+ pages of reading.
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
Jan 30, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Dec 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Author A. J. Jacobs' informative and hilarious romp through the Encyclopedia Britannica. Quite the page-tuner (unlike the complete Encyclopedia Britannica, I'm guessing).
Jun 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, funny
It's a cute idea, but the jokes haven't aged very well. I'd like to read the encyclopedia myself!
Manik Sukoco
Jul 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Overall this is a book worth reading for both the knowledge and the humor. It was, however, at times rough going and I felt as if I was experiencing Jacob's challenge of reading through the encyclopedia but on an obviously much smaller scale. I think it was just too much material, as there is chapter for each letter of the alphabet and, though there are enough fascinating bits of knowledge scattered throughout with the occasional laugh-out-loud Jacobian moments, they seemed for a long stretch to ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  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
Dec 13, 2012 rated it liked it
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
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Trivia nuts, those who like Jacobs's other writings
Shelves: nonfiction
(Reread in October 2015, because I wanted to. Review below is from my first read of the book.)

Words cannot properly express how much I enjoyed reading this book. I read it not too long after reading Jacobs's A Year of Living Biblically, and I loved his writing style in both books. He's got a wonderful sense of humour, nicely balancing self-deprecation and personal anecdotes in a way that really allows you to get inside his head.

This book is written in sections much like encyclopediae, with the t
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Larry H
I picked this up in the airport the other day and devoured it on a flight to California. What a great book! While I've never even thought of reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z (or even one volume), as profound trivia fanatic I can totally identify with A.J. Jacobs' quest to make himself smarter. This book is part trivia lover's dream, part philosophical musing on one's insecurities as you get older and wonder about your place in the world. Jacobs is a terrifically self-deprecating ...more
Sherry Wittman
Sep 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 23, 2016 rated it liked it
I expected more. I was one of those weird kids who actually read two different encyclopedias . Read one the summer after 5th grade and another in 7th grade. The 1st was the world book and I continued to read the update volumes until I went away to college.

I expected less personal anecdotes and more interesting knowledge.
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Sarah McAleer
Feb 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: me
I'm excited to read this book. I like books that talk about process in an unconventional fashion. The stuff between the headlines and big news stories. The mustard stain on the super model's t-shirt.
Lina Slavova
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! It is hilarious, made me laugh out load on many occasions!

The author sets out to become the smartest man in the world with the help of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Yes, he read the entire encyclopedia from A to Z. Quite a reading challenge: 33,000 pages filled with 44 million words. Not as impressive as my reading of Mary Poppins from A to Z.

There is an additional argument for the choice of his subject for the book. It is A.J. Jacob’s one-way competition with his dad. His fat
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Which Jacobs book is better? 11 92 Apr 05, 2013 07:16AM  
Epilogger Book Club: The Know-it-All 1 7 Oct 02, 2012 01:31PM  
  • Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs
  • The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-up
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus: What Your History Books Got Wrong
  • Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
  • The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University
  • The Ridiculous Race: 26,000 Miles, 2 Guides, 1 Globe, No Airplanes
  • Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages
  • mental floss presents Condensed Knowledge: A Deliciously Irreverent Guide to Feeling Smart Again
  • Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World
  • Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library
  • Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players
  • Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky
  • So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading
  • Bibliotopia Or, Mr. Gilbar's Book of Books & Catch-all of Literary Facts And Curiosities
  • Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World
  • Found II: More of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World
  • An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't
  • Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (Harvest Book)
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 about A.J. Jacobs...

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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.” 18 likes
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