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

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  27,035 ratings  ·  2,550 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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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  27,035 ratings  ·  2,550 reviews

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Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Trivia buffs
I bought this book about 15 years ago in an airport bookstore. My thought was that I need a little something to read for the flight. Well, the flight didn’t last 15 years, so you can tell I am pretty good at procrastinating before reading my book purchases. But, procrastinating in this case had at least one interesting side effect. I’ll get to that in a bit . . .

As a trivia buff, I enjoyed this book and the adventures of the author trying to cram as much knowledge into his brain as possible by r
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
Meredith Holley
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 in b ...more
Lisa Dunckley
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is hilarious!!

Author A.J. Jacobs decides to read the encyclopedia because he thinks he's getting dumber as time goes on, and this will fix it. There are bits of encyclopedia knowledge, A-Z, throughout the book, interspersed with AJ's jouney to become a member of Mensa, get a spot on Jeopardy, compete on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and figure out how you really measure intelligence.

A.J.'s father and his brother in law are both smart, educated, and informed. He's hoping that this e
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.
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, humour
This book turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. And much more fun.

A.J. Jacobs decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. It took him over a year. This book is something like his diary. But in fact it is something more. We have curiosities here that A.J. found in the Encyclopedia. We have description of current events in the life of A.J. and his wife - like trying for a baby and social events. Events from the childhood of A.J. and his relationship with other family memb
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
Roy Lotz
May 23, 2018 marked it as to-read
This book was given to me as a gift on two separate occasions, which I think is says a lot about my behavior...
Laura Singleton
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-the-best
I've read this book three times. Jacobs is funny and fantastic. Read anything of his.
Kaethe Douglas
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.
Kris - My Novelesque Life
I will rate this book after book club
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
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
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nova-lit-chicks
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.
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I feel now as if I read the encyclopedia myself!

OK, so this guy read the entire Britannica Encyclopedia in about a year, 33000 pages. In comparison it takes me about two years to read that many. (In fact, I went back and added up ALL the pages I've read of books I've listed here on Goodreads, even going back to all those Little House on the Prairie books. And guess what? I've just barely scratched 300000 in all my years of being able to read. Let's say 52 years.)

So Jacobs teasingly says he wan
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Absolutely everyone
As much as I enjoyed A.J. Jacobs' newest book, The Year of Living Biblically, I think that it doesn't hold a candle to the book that preceded it: The Know-It-All. After reading these two books, along with a handful of his articles for Esquire (he's the magazine's Editor at Large), I've developed such an appreciation for the man that I am currently debating ordering one of his older works, The Two Kings: Jesus and Elvis, which analyzes the eerie similarities between the two figures. That I'm even ...more
 Sarah Lumos
Usually when I finish a book, I feel a sense of profound euphoria. I just went on an adventure with the author and peered into their inner world - at least that is how I feel after reading a good book. However, after reading “The-Know-It-All” instead of being enlightened, I felt accomplished because this book tested my reading stamina unlike any other.

“The-Know-It-All” intrigued me due to my own pursuits of scholarship and learning. I feel fascinated by knowledge and the positive impact it
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
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
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
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ha! I read a review of this and added it to my wishlist, then found a copy on my own library shelves.
* * * * *
Wonderful book containing lots of interesting facts. I will read it again some day. The writer is a likeable guy who performed the amazing feat of reading the entire _Encyclopedia Britannica_ in print in about a year's time!
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
I found the premise of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World to be compelling. I would love to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (or at least be one of the types of readers who could consume that volume of information)! To be exposed to so much information contained therein and to be able to learn so much (or as much as I am capable of learning) is amazing. The more I read, the more impressed I was with the enormity of Jacobs' undertaking.

The fa
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
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
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
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
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Play Book Tag: The Know-It-All - AJ Jacbobs - 2* (Decathlon part 1) 5 20 Mar 22, 2018 08:06PM  
Which Jacobs book is better? 9 93 Apr 05, 2013 07:16AM  
Epilogger Book Club: The Know-it-All 1 7 Oct 02, 2012 01:31PM  

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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

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