Book Review Book Club Edition: The Know-It-All

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the WorldThe Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another book club selection, and since I miscalculated (the number of hours I’d be working the week prior), I did not finish the book before the club discussion. That was pretty sad.

However, since I’d gotten close to 60% of the way through the book ahead of time, I didn’t feel too much out of the loop during the discussion.

I really enjoyed this book. A few fellow book clubbers did not like the author of the book (I believe the descriptive term was “asshole”), but I really liked him.

The book revolved around AJ Jacobs’s quest to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from A-Z. Perhaps that appealed to me because I, too, have a love for encyclopedia reading (although I was stuck with the inferior World Book encyclopedias growing up). And perhaps it’s because I view myself as an occasionally poorly-adjusted person with tendencies towards aggrandized views of my own intelligence liberally sprinkled with just a bit of condescending pretension for good measure. I was, much like the author, much smarter when I was younger, and there are days when I worry that my gray matter is slowly leaking out of my ears, never to be used again.

Much like our last book club selection (Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S. Thompson; these two are not likely compared a lot), I enjoyed the way the narrative was woven. The author went through the salient facts he recalled (or, more likely, wrote down) in each section, and in some cases related that to his life, his parents and family, or his work.

The main story line was his quest to become a father, and I really liked how that was interspersed into the story throughout. I felt that he did a really good job referring to it often enough to keep us interested without overdoing it.

This book, more than any of the others we’ve read as a club, sparked some excellent discussion. We talked about the relationship between knowledge and wisdom; about our preferences for team vs individual sports; how we set and achieve goals, and what that means to us; and who we would invite to dinner along with AJ Jacobs and Alex Trebek (okay, that one was just me, and the answer is Stephen Colbert). I really wish that I had time (damn you grad school!) to sit down and read ye olde EB from cover to cover; I love facts and dates and stories of all the ways people can end up defenestrated, but alas! That is not likely to happen right now unless someone calls and offers me a book deal with a large enough advance to quit my job and devote myself to reading.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone with a love of learning and knowledge.

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