From Publishers Weekly
Imagine, the original Berserkers were "savage Norse soldiers" of the Middle Ages who went into battle stark naked! Or consider the Etruscan habit of writing in "boustrophedon style." Intrigued? Well, either hunker down with your own Encyclopædia Britannica
, or buy Esquire
editor Jacobs's memoir of the year he spent reading all 32 volumes of the 2002 edition—that's 33,000 pages with some 44 million words. Jacobs set out on this delightfully eccentric endeavor attempting to become the "smartest person in the world," although he agrees smart doesn't mean wise. Apart from the sheer pleasure of scaling a major intellectual mountain, Jacobs figured reading the encyclopedia from beginning to end would fill some gaps in his formal education and greatly increase his "quirkiness factor." Reading alphabetically through whole topics he never knew existed meant he'd accumulate huge quantities of trivia to insert into conversations with unsuspecting victims. As his wife shunned him and cocktail party guests edged away, Jacobs started testing his knowledge in a hilarious series of humiliating adventures: hobnobbing at Mensa meetings, shuffling off to chess houses, trying out for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, visiting his old prep school, even competing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
. Indeed, one of the book's strongest parts is its laugh-out-loud humor. Jacobs's ability to juxtapose his quirky, sardonic wit with oddball trivia make this one of the season's most unusual books.
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This clever book stems from the author's herculean effort to read every volume of the majestic Encyclopaedia Britannica
, that erudite guide to all knowledge in the brief century before the Internet became the fountainhead of all truth, objective and subjective. Jacobs turns his quest for intellectual enlightenment into alphabetically ordered, humorous ruminations on all persons and events of his life, subverting Mortimer Adler's ecumenical achievement into nothing more than an organizing principle for A. J. Jacobs' autobiography. Most entries are short, but some run to several pages of witty recollection of his family or an encounter with a favorite high-school teacher. Jacobs' cultural references will be familiar to anyone with common knowledge of current television and music celebrities. Plenty of good fun pours out of this prose, but Jacobs' Britannica
-incited quest to become the smartest person in the world assumes that command of data is the mark of education rather than any sharply honed critical faculties. Mark KnoblauchCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved