The Know-It-All

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The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
The know it all.jpg
Cover to The Know it All...
Author A. J. Jacobs
Country United states
Language English
Subject Encyclopædia Britannica
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
Pages 386 pp
ISBN 0-7432-5060-5
OCLC 55067170
031 22
LC Class AE5.E44 J33 2004

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World is a book by Esquire editor A. J. Jacobs, published in 2004.

It recounts his experience of reading the entire Encyclopædia Britannica; all 32 volumes of the 2002 edition, extending to over 33,000 pages with some 44 million words. He set out on this endeavour to become the "smartest person in the world". The book is organized alphabetically in encyclopedia format and recounts both interesting facts from the encyclopedia and the author's experiences.

It was a New York Times Best-Seller.[1]


The satirist P.J. O'Rourke said of it: "The Know-It-All is a terrific book. It's a lot shorter than the encyclopedia, and funnier, and you'll remember more of it. Plus, if it falls off the shelf onto your head, you'll live."

In addition to the generally positive reviews, there was one particularly harsh review, published by Joe Queenan in The New York Times Book Review, in which Queenan attacks Jacobs. Jacobs responded in a Times rebuttal (published February 13, 2005), pointing out that "the ridiculously hyperbolic subtitle might have been a tip-off" of the book's ironic tone that must have been missed by Queenan. Jacobs's response to Queenan's review — though expressing hurt feelings, bewilderment toward Queenan's outrage, and the opinion that Queenan had become journalism's version of a schoolyard bully — is written in a humorous tone just as the book itself is (See New York Times, February 13, 2005).[citation needed]

Similar feats[edit]

A.J. Jacobs was not the first to read the entire Britannica. The earliest recorded example was Fath Ali, who upon becoming the Shah of Persia in 1797, was given a gift of the 3rd edition of the Britannica. After reading all of its 18 volumes, the Shah extended his royal title to include "Most Formidable Lord and Master of the Encyclopædia Britannica".[2] Roughly a century later, Amos Urban Shirk, an American businessman, read the entire 23-volume 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica over a period of four years. He then went on to read the entire 14th edition, spending on average three hours per night.

For a fictional example, see The Red-Headed League, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which a man is hired to copy out the Britannica by hand - for no other reason (at least apparently) than his red hair.

In 2008, Ammon Shea published his account of reading the complete Oxford English Dictionary.[3]


  • A.J. Jacobs (2004). The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. ISBN 0-7432-5060-5.


  1. ^ Dust jacket of The Year of Living Biblically, a later book also by A.J. Jacobs
  2. ^ Banquet at Guildhall in the City of London, Tuesday 15 October 1968: Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Encyclopædia Britannica and the 25th Anniversary of the Honorable William Benton as its Chairman and Publisher. United Kingdom: Encyclopædia Britannica International, Ltd. 1968. 
  3. ^ Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. New York City: Perigee (Penguin Group) 2008, ISBN 978-0-399-53398-3