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Book Review: The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs

I just finished A.J. Jacobs The Know-it-All, the story of his (successful) attempt to read through the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The book is both memoir and trivia book. Set up like an encyclopedia, going from A to Z, we are let into Jacobs� life. We see his struggles with his father and the difficulties of trying to get pregnant.

Jacobs writes with a witty and understated humor. His comments are wry and always have a touch of the macabre in them. His gift for metaphor and seeing the connection between the facts he has learned give cohesiveness to all his trivia facts. It is his story, the story of his struggles and fears, phobias and compulsions. He wants to know things, and the reader identifies with him.

His agnosticism is troubling, and his liberalism obvious. His favorite scapegoats are George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, and others of their ilk. He is an equal opportunity offender in finding Jean-Paul Sartre ridiculous. He uses foul language and likes to dwell on the sexual morass of history, but this is outweighed by both his witticism and his attempts at learning.

His vignettes of his attempts to use his newfound knowledge are particularly amusing. The often blank looks on others faces, and his wife’s eventual “$1-per-fact” jar show us how unappreciated the knowledgeable are. We follow his attempts to join MENSA, compete on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and meet Alex Trebek. He has lived collectors of facts most fervent desires in these few pages.

This book is a journey of self-discovery, of learning both who he is, what he can do, and what he values most in his life. At times he is sappy and silly, at others a soul-searcher and philosophical wanderer, but always he is witty.

I enjoyed the book because I felt deep connections to his love of knowledge and search for wisdom. I would recommend this to anyone who thirsts after knowledge.

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