THE KNOW-IT-ALL: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

A. J. Jacobs, Author . Simon & Schuster $25 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7432-5060-3

Imagine, the original Berserkers were "savage Norse soldiers" of the Middle Ages who went into battle stark naked! Or consider the Etruscan habit of writing in "boustrophedon style." Intrigued? Well, either hunker down with your own Encyclopædia Britannica , or buy Esquire editor Jacobs's memoir of the year he spent reading all 32 volumes of the 2002 edition—that's 33,000 pages with some 44 million words. Jacobs set out on this delightfully eccentric endeavor attempting to become the "smartest person in the world," although he agrees smart doesn't mean wise. Apart from the sheer pleasure of scaling a major intellectual mountain, Jacobs figured reading the encyclopedia from beginning to end would fill some gaps in his formal education and greatly increase his "quirkiness factor." Reading alphabetically through whole topics he never knew existed meant he'd accumulate huge quantities of trivia to insert into conversations with unsuspecting victims. As his wife shunned him and cocktail party guests edged away, Jacobs started testing his knowledge in a hilarious series of humiliating adventures: hobnobbing at Mensa meetings, shuffling off to chess houses, trying out for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, visiting his old prep school, even competing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire . Indeed, one of the book's strongest parts is its laugh-out-loud humor. Jacobs's ability to juxtapose his quirky, sardonic wit with oddball trivia make this one of the season's most unusual books. Agent, Sloan Harris. (Oct.)

Forecast: NPR listeners have heard Jacobs interviewed in about a dozen segments since he started this reading project, and will be eager to lay hands on the book.

Reviewed on: 07/12/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 386 pages - 978-0-09-948174-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-56511-905-5
Compact Disc - 465 pages - 978-1-56511-908-6
Paperback - 389 pages - 978-0-7432-5062-7
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-7432-7260-5
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-4070-9733-6
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