The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest To Become the Smartest Person in the World
By A.J. Jacobs

(Simon and Schuster, 386 pages)

If life is indeed the sum of its miscellany, then journalist A.J. Jacobs makes a fair case for a sacrificial calculator bonfire. Mining the memoir trend for a uniquely methodical point of entry, Jacobs takes a geeky plunge into the musty leather binding of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, deftly scouring its 33,000 pages for an alphabetically organized word-association game. But is it interesting? Well, that depends on your tolerance for the Harper's Index. Jacobs, a self-proclaimed pop-culture victim, drunk on captioned soundbites of disposable celebrity, presents the arduous task as something of a comfy-chair Crime and Punishment, slowly devolving into an anecdotal show-off in social situations and thoroughly annoying his wife. And, in the process, the reader. By the letter "n," the nudge-nudging of bourgeois classification wears predictably thin: "'Neat's-foot oil: This is a pale yellow oil derived from boiling the feet of cattle.' Good Lord. I'm trying to eat an apricot fruit roll here." Seinfeld has left the building.


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