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

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

Charming . . . endearing . . . the book’s facts will provide enough anecdotes to perk up conversations and weather the season’s social events. More substantially, The Know-It-All belongs to the category of literary expeditions whose chief reward is their nudging toward a fantastic, heretofore forbidding, work. –The Washington Post

Frequently funny and sometimes downright hilarious, but this is also an unexpectedly moving book. –The Daily Mail

I fell in love with this book on page one and I have laughed out loud on every page since. With his hilarious Britannica-fed insights on life, A.J. Jacobs uncovers the profound by way of the trivial. The Know-It-All is endlessly entertaining. Genius, pure. –Mary Roach, New York Times bestselling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

This book, which guarantees almost a guffaw on every page. is is so intriguing I abandoned Bill Clinton's "My Life" on Page 773, just as Ms. Lewinsky strolled into the book. –The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina)

[A] witty, seredipitous Cook’s tour of human knowledge…It’s beach reading for smart people… –St. Louis Post-Distpatch

A very entertaining tribute to the joys of learning… –The (London) Independent on Sunday

It’s a pleasure to read—and you might learn something. –Psychology Today

Jacobs weaves in contemporary culture and stories from his life -- a winsome combination that makes this book, oddly enough, a page turner. –USA Today