The Know-It-All

April 16, 2014 Humor, Memoir, non-fiction 26

28116Title: The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
Author: Susan Gloss
Source: PaperBack Swap
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: I thought A.J. Jacobs might be too irreverent for me, so I was surprised to find his passion for knowledge and success both relatable and fascinating.

The Know-It-All is a classic stunt memoir, in which author A.J. Jacobs attempts to read the entire print version of the Encyclopedia Britannica… all 33,000 pages of it. Organized by letter, A.J. shares fun facts he learned in each section as well as words that were relevant to his life while he was reading. This included things relating to everything from his job to his attempts to have baby, from his drive to accomplish something to his relationship with his father. Along the way, he also explores the nature of intelligence, testing different definitions with activities like joining Mensa and auditioning for Jeopardy.

In retrospect, I probably should have known how much I was going to enjoy this. I love stunt memoirs and the only thing that could improve on that idea is having a bookish goal. However, the snarky title of this book and of A.J.’s other memoirs made me wonder if this would be a little too light and irreverent for me to enjoy. My negative feelings about pretty much all movies with Seth Rogen come to mind. I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent humor and thoughtful musings I found instead. In the end, I loved the way this book was presented and the content the author chose to include.

The encyclopedic organization was brilliant. It made me feel as though I was sharing in the author’s reading experience. As someone who loves reading non-fiction in part for the fun facts, I loved that he included some of the choicest tidbits from his reading. And as someone who loves non-fiction in part for the human element, I loved that the book included bits of A.J.’s personal life and how his life was impacted by his encyclopedia reading quest. Finally, as a lover of life-long learning, I empathized with A.J.s desire to know as much as he could. I also enjoyed his thoughtful musings on the nature of intelligence and thought the ways he tested it added some interesting action to the potentially dry task of reading an encyclopedia. The humor was occasionally repetitive, but otherwise spot on. I’d recommend this most highly to other lovers of fun facts, knowledge, and non-fiction.

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26 Responses to “The Know-It-All”

    • DoingDewey

      Haha, yeah, this is like fiction books about books in that it’s likely to appeal to anyone who loves the genre because it’s about the genre. I don’t know why I thought I might not like it because it was perfect for me 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I think that’s a great point! If something is funny, it’s more fun to tell other people about later, so I think I’m more likely to make a point of remembering it. I’m also likely to be paying more attention myself 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true! It sounded as though he was both surprised by how much he remembered and by how much he forgot. Basically, there was just a ton of information!

    • DoingDewey

      The organization seemed so contrived that I was initially concerned that it would be clever but not the best organization for the story. It actually worked really well though, because it was also chronological, and I liked the way it pulled me into the author’s experience.

  1. tanya

    I actually always think of you and AJ Jacobs as being on related journeys – you know, to learn it all. On the other had it seems like Jacobs goes on these year long projects and turns them into books quite regularly. I’m not sure if i like that or am jealous because i didn’t do it first.
    tanya recently posted…Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine LuiMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true there are definitely parallels! He embarked on his quest because he wasn’t using his knowledge from school and wanted to be mentally challenged, while I’m trying to become more of a generalist as a small rebellion against the specialization demanded by grad school, but we both share a love of knowledge. I’m jealous I didn’t think of this first! I’m not sure I’d like to upend my life as much as he does for each of his stunts, but it sounds like fun in theory.

    • DoingDewey

      I actually also have The Year of Living Biblically on my shelves, so hopefully will both enjoy Jacobs’s other books as much as our first reads 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I think that was the best thing about it 🙂 Narrative non-fiction and humorous non-fiction are my favorites.

    • DoingDewey

      I’d also be interested in Drop Dead Healthy! I’m sure we could all be a little healthier and this book was so entertaining, I’m sure I’d enjoy more by Jacobs 🙂