The Know-It-All is a classic stunt memoir, in which author A.J. Jacobs attempts to read the entire print version of the Encyclopedia Britannica… all 33,000 pages of it. Organized by letter, A.J. shares fun facts he learned in each section as well as words that were relevant to his life while he was reading. This included things relating to everything from his job to his attempts to have baby, from his drive to accomplish something to his relationship with his father. Along the way, he also explores the nature of intelligence, testing different definitions with activities like joining Mensa and auditioning for Jeopardy.
In retrospect, I probably should have known how much I was going to enjoy this. I love stunt memoirs and the only thing that could improve on that idea is having a bookish goal. However, the snarky title of this book and of A.J.’s other memoirs made me wonder if this would be a little too light and irreverent for me to enjoy. My negative feelings about pretty much all movies with Seth Rogen come to mind. I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent humor and thoughtful musings I found instead. In the end, I loved the way this book was presented and the content the author chose to include.
The encyclopedic organization was brilliant. It made me feel as though I was sharing in the author’s reading experience. As someone who loves reading non-fiction in part for the fun facts, I loved that he included some of the choicest tidbits from his reading. And as someone who loves non-fiction in part for the human element, I loved that the book included bits of A.J.’s personal life and how his life was impacted by his encyclopedia reading quest. Finally, as a lover of life-long learning, I empathized with A.J.s desire to know as much as he could. I also enjoyed his thoughtful musings on the nature of intelligence and thought the ways he tested it added some interesting action to the potentially dry task of reading an encyclopedia. The humor was occasionally repetitive, but otherwise spot on. I’d recommend this most highly to other lovers of fun facts, knowledge, and non-fiction.This review first published on Doing Dewey.