Book Report: The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs (2004)

Book coverThis book was the last I read completely on my vacation. It’s 360+ pages, which meant it would take some time regardless. But my interest and enthusiasm waned for the book as I went on. As a matter of fact, I found a bookmark that might have been mine about forty percent of the way through (at the start of the letter H), which means I might have already tried to read this book and then threw it back sometime in the past.

To sum up: The subtitle for the book is One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. The author decides sometime in the middle of his fourth decade (that is, about 35) to read the entire contents of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So the thumbnail description sounds interesting. The chapters are based on letters of the alphabet, and there are “entries” with a word or phrase from the encyclopedia that leads to a paragraph, a story, or something from the author.

However, the book really is more a memoir of a yuppie editor of a magazine (Esquire), the child of well-to-do parents who lives with his wife in an apartment in New York City, during the year where he read the encyclopedia, travelled and visited his parents’ home in the Hamptons (several times), reminiscences of travel to Europe (several times), and the difficulty of having a baby and dealing with a brother-in-law who’s more talented and perhaps smarter than the author. It’s almost like reading a Woody Allen film except that there are parts where the author drops trivia into conversation (sometimes annoying the people he’s talking with). This last bit is one of the redeeming features to me.

I was getting a bit annoyed with it about the time I got to the letter H (where the bookmark was), but I powered through because I didn’t have any more appealing books (at the time) on vacation.

So the book falls deeply into the “Not my bag, baby,” realm. Which is a shame because the topic could have, but I get the sense the fellow read the entire encyclopedia to get a book out of it. I’m always a little down on books where it seems the author does something just to write the book. It’s like a literary selfie.

And on a side note, in this volume circa 2004, the author takes a number of shots at George W. Bush, of course, but also Donald Trump. I wonder what he’s made of 2016 so far, but not enough to look at what he’s written since this book.