Sunday, December 27, 2009

Now Reading: The Know-It-All

A.J. Jacobs used to think he was the smartest kid in the world. Then he grew up and became a writer and editor for pop culture magazines like Entertainment Weekly and Esquire and started feeling like he had lost his thirst for knowledge. So what did he do? He decided to read through the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Y'know, a little light reading.

And thus begins Jacobs's memoir The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. Outrageously funny-- I literally laughed out loud all the way through the book-- and by turns sweet, intelligent, and wise, Jacobs mixes telling about what he is reading-- the memoir is, like the encyclopedia, organized alphabetically-- and what is going on in his life outside the reading material. This includes personal things, like his and his wife's struggle to get pregnant as well as Jacobs's own lingering issues with his father, and tangential quests for knowledge. During the course of this experience, Jacobs applies to Mensa, tries out for Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and meets to discuss the pursuit of knowledge with some of the smartest people in the world. These interviews included Alex Trebek, an intelligence expert, the founder of several of the highest-IQ clubs, and a five-time Jeopardy champion, among others. Each individual has a different perspective on the pursuit of knowledge-- some think Jacobs is wasting his time reading the encyclopedia, others think it could be a good thing-- but on several points, there is general agreement:

1) There is more than one type of intelligence.
2) Knowledge comes from everywhere, the encyclopedia is only one source.
3) The pursuit of knowledge is, in general, a very good and noble thing.

Those are ideas that I can get behind, for sure. As a life-long bookworm and as someone who loves learning, I can appreciate Jacobs's quest-- although I'm not sure I would be able to do it. However, there is something to be said for that kind of thirst for knowledge-- something that more people could stand to have these days, in my opinion. Bottom line-- The Know-It-All is a humor book, to be sure. But at the same time it manages to be fall-out-of-your-chair witty, it makes you think and even passes on a few intellectual tidbits along the way. Well worth the read.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

I started reading one of Jacobs' other books (The Year of Living Biblically) in Barnes and Noble the other day. Didn't get very far, but the short amount I read was very interesting and well written. Sounds like this book is too. Maybe its time to make a stop over at Politics and Prose....