The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs follows the author’s attempt to become the self-proclaimed smartest man in the world by reading all 33,000 pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The book is a fairly light-hearted read with summarized encyclopedic facts intermingled with autobiographical material and the author’s general thoughts on certain subjects. Each chapter in the book represents one letter of the alphabet and follows Jacobs’ progress through the entire EB.
The premise for this book has lots of potential to be both funny and informative, and I had high expectations when I began reading. Perhaps too high. The book has many humorous spots, and the author doesn’t overdo the autobiographical portions, so reading flows nicely. However, I reached the end of the book without much of a feeling of satisfaction. I think Jacobs did not take full advantage of all the places that this book could have gone. I felt like the book was overly cautious, unwilling to explore the author’s own thoughts and emotions too deeply. This watered-down feeling followed me as I read from chapter A to chapter XYZ. Jacobs makes some self-discoveries and provides a few fun insights, but maturity is lacking. At some points the author’s tone is rather self-pitying, and I don’t enjoy books that whine.
Overall, the book is mostly fun, and it does have several sections that made me laugh. I think the author just didn’t go far enough, and it leaves the book feeling thin and unfinished.
Rated: High. Jacobs’ writing style is fun and sometimes witty, but his tenure as the editor of Esquire and other pop culture publications makes itself known with far too many instances of the “f” word and a few other expletives throughout. There are descriptions of sex/human anatomy that are immature and unnecessarily crass. Now that I think about it, this book would be much more at home if you chopped it up into individual chapters and ran it as a monthly article in a pop magazine. As a stand-alone book it just doesn’t hold up very well.