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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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March 2018: Autobiography > The Know-It-All - AJ Jacbobs - 2* (Decathlon part 1)

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Elise (ellinou) | 525 comments One year, AJ Jacobs throws himself the challenge of reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, from A-ak to Zywiec, all 44 million words of it. This is classified as an autobiography because the book, written as a series of definitions, sometimes gives anecdotes of his life during that year, or of the past (always linked more or less closely to the word he’s defining at the moment).

I liked the challenge. I learned a lot of random facts, and often giggled at his definitions or comments on the words and random information given in the EB. If I’d rated based only on the content of the book, I would have given it a 3.5 or a 4.

However, I disliked the author’s immaturity. Sometimes it felt like it was written for an audience of teenagers, but like, how many teenagers did he think were going to read a book about the encyclopedia? And I don’t know if he was exaggerating (I really hope he was!), but all the other “characters” appearing in this book (his family and friends) are such a collection of insufferable pretentious pricks, I can’t even! I wanted to pick up his brother-and-law and use him to beat up his cousin!

His whole objective in doing the challenge itself often got lost. He said it was for a general love of learning, but so often he wrote about how mad he got when someone around him knew more about a topic than he did, and how much he wanted to show them up. Once again, it felt immature.

Finally, I have some issues about the editing. There were a lot of typos. Some innocent and just inattention typos (“prents” instead of “parents,” “diety” instead of “deity”), but some spelling mistake in facts he gave us that should have been checked before they were printed (“Gretsky” instead of “Gretzky,” “Avogrado” instead of “Avogadro”). That, and the fact that he gave two “anecdotes” that I know for a fact were false (one about a Friends episode, another about Einstein’s marriage) made me wonder how many other things in the book were also only true-ish.

Many years ago, I read another of his books, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and loved it, but as I was basically a teen back then, I’m wondering now if it really was as funny as I remember it or if like this one it was just a humour destined for a younger generation of readers.

Also, I have to mention that I finished this “quest to become the smartest person in the world” on the day Stephen Hawking passed away. The irony was not lost on me.


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6432 comments Ellie wrote: "One year, AJ Jacobs throws himself the challenge of reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, from A-ak to Zywiec, all 44 million words of it. This is classified as an autobiography because the ..."

I really like your review of this one. I kinda feel like I don't need to read the book.

As a child, I used to have grandiose "ambitions" like reading the whole dictionary. Not sure I ever got past Abacus. So I can relate to someone doing this, but sounds like he might have had to exaggerate other aspects of his life and of the project to make it more interesting . . .because, as you point out, there's a limited audience for books about the encyclopedia. An antiquated concept at this point.


message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments I love the concept. Sounds wonderful. I love words and weird people and challenges, but your review turns me off. Thanks for the great review.


Mary B | 105 comments I like this one, but then again I am proudly immature. :)

I thought it was a humorous journey to discover what "intelligence" means.


Tessa (FutureAuthor23) | 229 comments I read this so long ago I don't remember feeling the author was immature. But I enjoyed it. At least 3.5 stars from what I can remember


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