Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Know-It-All - AJ Jacobs

The Good:The title's a little long but this chronicles the journey of AJ Jacobs, a man who sets out to read the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica. AJ felt he needed to brush up on his world knowledge, believing his education at an Ivy League school (Brown University) was out of date.

As you might not be aware, the Brittanica version contains 33,000 pages and 44 million words. I picked this book up because I have a minor obsession with trivia. The book is organized alphabetically but interspersed with interesting tidbits. For example, did you know that a "haboob" is a hot wind in the Sahara Desert, or that an "oyster" can apparently change its sex depending on water temperature or that Rene Descartes had a thing for women with crossed eyes? Jacobs incorporates comedy and real life with his quest for knowledge. A decision that keeps you entertained from beginning to end.

He`s fighting jealousy of his father, a lawyer who tried reading the Brittanica but stopped somewhere around "Borneo", which by the way is an island in the Malay Archipelago and his brother-in-law, Eric, a literal smartass who likes rubbing his intelligence in Jacobs' face.

The Bad: It was difficult to believe some of the situations Jacobs was involved in and put himself in. They seemed to fit so perfectly into the story and alphabetical style of the book, I wondered whether he hadn't taken some poetic license with the truth. For example, under the word "Christmas" he diverges into the office Christmas party. I think some liberty was taken with the timeline. And some moments, like the Mensa meetings were uncomfortable to read because I felt embarrassed for Jacobs, as if I'd walked in on him on the toilet.

Rating: 3.5/5

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