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

Part memoir, part Cliff’s Notes to every topic under the sun, The Know-It-All is about the year I spent reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z (or, more precisely, from a-ak to zywiec). All forty-four million words of it. The book is many things: First, it’s a compendium of the funniest, most fascinating, and most profound facts I uncovered-from the history of canned laughter to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s obsessive-compulsive behavior to female spies in the Civil War. Second, it is a search for meaning and wisdom among that ocean of facts. Third, it’s a memoir of my eccentric, knowledge-loving family. (My dad, for instance, holds the world record for the most number of footnotes in a law review article: 5,435.) And finally, it is a series of adventures to test the limits of intelligence. I competed in a crossword-puzzle tournament, went on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and attended a Mensa convention. And if that’s not enough, it’s a mere 1.4 pounds, as opposed to the Britannica’s 128 pounds. That’s my summary, anyway. Though I kind of like the way The Philadelphia Inquirer put it, since I can’t say the things they say without looking like a self-promoting putz. Well, more of one, anyway. “The Know-It-All has to be one of the most entertaining and informative book reports in existence. It is charming, humorous, instructive, fascinating, even kind of inspirational. But Jacobs’ book is more than that. He puts it all into the context of his life, and a text that could have been utterly dry winds up charming us with Jacobs’ honesty and vulnerability. Jacobs is courageous enough to risk looking stupid by sharing his quirks and insecurities . . . and he wins the gambit. He comes across as nothing short of endearing.”

Reviews

A.J. Jacobs turns the act of reading the entire Britannica into a hilarious memoir. . . . It’s the stunt of the book itself that allows the funny, touching memoir to be so stuffed with nutritious bits of trivia that you feel smart for reading it. –Time

Jacobs’ ability to juxtapose his quirky, sardonic wit with oddball trivia makes this one of the season’s most unusual books. –Publishers Weekly

Tender . . . Entertaining . . . This book really does seek a working definition of what it means to be smart. –Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Sidesplitting. –Time Out New York

The Know-It-All is a hilarious book and quite an impressive achievement. I’ve always said, why doesn’t someone put out a less complete version of the encyclopedia? Well done, A.J. –Jon Stewart, Host of The Daily Show and New York Times bestselling author of America (The Book)

Hilarious… –Premiere

The Know-It-All has to be one of the most entertaining and informative book reports in existence. It is charming, humorous, instructive, fascinating, even kind of inspirational. But Jacobs’ book is more than that. He puts it all into the context of his life, and a text that could have been utterly dry winds up charming us with Jacobs’ honesty and vulnerability. Jacobs is courageous enough to risk looking stupid by sharing his quirks and insecurities . . . and he wins the gambit. He comes across as nothing short of endearing. –The Philadelphia Inquirer

Hilarious… –New York Post

Whatever genius it took to turn the weighty task of reading the entire encyclopedia into such an entertaining frolic of a book, my bet is that Jacobs had it all along. –Entertainment Weekly

A.J. Jacobs’ story of his quest is one of the year’s funniest books. –Indionapolis Star

Inspired and inspiring… –Vanity Fair

The Know-It-All is a clever, wise book. –Vancouver Sun