The Know-It-All

Posted May 12, 2012 by Tara in Challenges /// 7 Comments

I want to do my own version of this cover with the encyclopedias from the media center. Except I’d fall over.

The Know-it-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
by AJ Jacobs
Simon and Schuster
Purchased on my Nook
[#40 in my 75 book challenge]

In this adult non-fiction book, AJ Jacobs decides to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in one year. He divides the book by letter of the alphbet, highlighting interesting information and entries as he reads. As a personal backdrop to the reading task, Jacobs also tells what’s happening in his life during that time: trying to start a family with his wife, his lifelong journey with intelligence and knowledge, and his attempt to win lots of money of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. It tells a story, but it takes a long time to get there.

Know-It-All has been a marathon, not a sprint. It is actually one of the first books I purchased on my Nook when I bought it at the beginning of 2011. I was so excited, and I genuinely enjoyed the reading. But I just couldn’t devour it like I do with other books.

It took me longer to read this than it took AJ Jacobs to read the ENTIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BRITTANICA. But I did it.

Though there are funny bits and interesting bits and personal bits, it’s really just a Cliff’s Notes of the encyclopedia. Reading it at night, I tended to fall asleep after a few pages. This book was awesome for improving my sleep patterns! Mostly, though, I can’t remember much of that I read.

After this, I try another Jacobs book. I will give A Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible a go, because I hear it’s better than this one. Plus, Jacobs uses Kevin Roose, his intern and author of The Unlikely Disciple (my favorite book I read in 2011!), as his biblical slave. I’m intrigued.

FINAL GRADE:  D  Look, Jacobs did a great job with this. He really did. But it’s too much and too slow. I love adult non-fiction, but this book wore me out. I don’t know how to suggest improvement, since my grade is based on my reading experience moreso than the actual quality of what Jacobs wrote. Maybe it’s more the type of book you skim. I will note that many of my friends (both in real life and on Goodreads) gave this one decent ratings. Maybe I’m just a slowpoke, or YA has made me lose my attention span. Either way, I can’t give it a C because it doesn’t stand up to the other books I gave C’s to.



Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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7 responses to “The Know-It-All

  1. caityrosey

    I liked his most recent book about getting healthy far better than I liked the Year of Living Biblically.

  2. Kudos to you for being honest with your grade on this one, Miss Anderson! Yes, I have heard raves about the Jacobs’ book on living Biblically for a year!

  3. Although I did end up enjoying this a lot, I can completely see where you’re coming from. It was a ton of information to absorb and the fun facts could make the pacing of the bits about his life seem slow. I’d also like to get to A Year of Living Biblically, which hopefully will be even better 🙂

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