The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

28 08 2017

So a bloke decides he wants to become more intelligent, and so gets all 33,000 pages of the 2002 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and sets out to read them in the space of the year.

Seemed like quite a Gormanesque style of challenge, which I always enjoy, so when my friend picked up on my enjoyment of the idea, she got it for my birthday – perfect!

The book is structured so that you’re always under the subheading of one of the articles he’s decided to tell you about, but often he’ll go off on a tangent, and sometimes a full blown life anecdote.

We learn that he and his wife are struggling to conceive and follow that part of his life, alongside all his attempts to show off his new found knowledge. This includes applying to MENSA, auditioning for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, trying an evening on a college debate teamand even pointing out an error in one of the articles!

He also lists things he thinks you can do to make you more likely to get into the “EB” as he affectionately calls it, things like getting beheaded, being a botanist, etc. He also keeps lists on his computer of ironic facts he discovers, people who married their cousins, all sorts of things.

He spends several hours each morning and evening reading, and so tries out a speed reading course to see if that will help, and later on does admit to skim-reading some of the heftier stuff, though he does pledge to read every word of Q! He also gets to go on a tour of the Britannica office and have a go at editing an article (given his full time job is an editor at a magazine, this is less shocking than it initially sounds!).

It was like reading a short, chatty version of the encyclopaedia – I learnt a few things, not many that will stick (a problem he also found as he went through it!), but interesting at the time. There wasn’t much of a dramatic climax or anything, I thought he might struggle to keep pace, but that didn’t seem to be an issue, but it was fun to just learn and get to know him at the same time. Definitely will try some of his other books!