Friday, March 17, 2006


The Know It All, A J Jacobs, Simon & Schuster, 2004, 369pp

I first heard of this book last year when it was being reviewed everywhere, it seemed, and not too favorably. After a particularly snarky review in The New York Times Book Review, Mr Jacobs wrote a letter defending himself. I was so impressed by the letter that I decided to read the book. I really enjoyed it.

Jacobs, at the age of 35, determined to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. His book is a memoir of the experience, which took him about a year, reading several hours a day while holding down his job as an editor at Esquire Magazine and being a good husband to his wife. Naturally, just the idea of this project appealed to me.

Each chapter is a letter of the alphabet. He comments on some of the entries read, on how the project works in his life and on what he is learning as well as its relationship to him and his life. His career has always been journalism, more precisely pop journalism, so he writes in that breezy, sound-bite style. He is also capable of being hilarious and I laughed out loud hundreds of times while reading.

AJ and his wife have been trying without success to conceive their first child, so that story is in there along with his competitive relationship with his father, his brother-in-law, and a few others to be the smartest person in the world. Then there are his field trips: he checks out Mensa, a group for high IQ people; visits the Britannica headquarters; interviews the MC of Jeopardy; etc.

It is all very entertaining and informative but the best part is his growth as a person and his development of a worldview, which is decidedly a step up from editor at Esquire.

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