Saturday, January 13, 2007

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

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

by A. J. Jacobs

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I was down in Portland at Powell's City of Books - more on that later - and bought the most fantastic book. It is A. J. Jacobs' book 'The Know It All - One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World'. How could I resist?

Basically, A.J. Jacobs is a Brown University educated editor at Esquire magazine; he decides to take up a quest of his father's, which is to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from start to finish (no skipping! no skimming!). The book consists of A.J. summarizing interesting points from the encyclopaedia for us, and relating them to his own life. This sounds like it could be dry, but was actually laugh-out-loud funny. I'd be sitting at home on the couch with Dave as he watches the hockey game and all of a sudden, I'm bellowing out these loud HA HA HAs! I had no control! I could be in the gym on the cross trainer, reading, and without any notice - HA HA HA! It got a bit embarrassing. But Jacobs writes in such a way that these hilarious moments sneak up behind you, and before you know it - HA HA HA, out loud.

I laughed a lot, and I learned a lot. Did you know, for example, that the first Encyclopaedia Britannica had only a few lines on drama, but 39 pages on horse diseases? That's my kind of book! Or that dalmation dogs are the only dogs that produce uric acid in their urine, thereby making their urine extremely similar to humans? Useful information if you've been on the failing end of a drug test lately... But I digress.

Jacobs also did some growing through his quest, as he and his wife struggle with infertility, Jacobs tries to get into Mensa, he and his father try to understand each other, Jacobs interviews the font of all knowledge (Alex Trebek), and he and his many relatives (including an especially difficult brother-in-law by the name of Eric) learn to get along just a little bit better. Jacobs even gets onto the game show 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'; his hope, of course, is that his new-found knowledge will stick with him long enough to make him some cash.

Like any good book, this one made me want to read more. I even considered, briefly, going out and reading the Encyclopaedia myself. But I quickly came to my senses. I'll leave that sort of thing to the experts like Jacobs.

This book gets an A+++ from me.

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