Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Know-It-All

This morning I completed the latest of my "morning reading" books. Regular readers of this blog will know I read every morning before work...about 30-45 minutes depending on if I have to drop off my son at school or not. Here in summer time I seem to be getting almost an hour each morning so I tend to finish up the books a bit faster. And no, I can't seem to adjust my sleep cycle so that I get an extra 15-30 minutes of sleep each day. I'm funny that way.

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs is subtitled, "One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World." This is actually his first majorly successful book to be published but a few months ago I read his second big book, The Year of Living Biblically. I liked it so much I just had to go buy this one as well. Mr Jacobs is a humorist and excels at describing what it's like when a "normal man" is put in abnormal circumstances. In this book, he decides to read the entire Encyclopedia Britanica, all 22 volumes of the 2002 edition. He points out the obvious: reading tons of unrelated facts does not lead to wisdom per se but it does lead to numerous interesting anecdotes. And it's amazing how often seemingly unrelated people and events really are a huge spider web.

However, this is not a book that simply crams trivia into a collection nor is it a summary of the Britanica. Rather this is a memoir. We get to experience what the author experiences during the course of his reading: over a year's worth of time spent reading millions of words on facts both common and obscure. He takes time to describe his visits to various people and institutions commonly associated with "intelligence" including Mensa meetings, an interview with Alex Trebek of "Jeopardy", a visit and day of work at the actual Britanica offices, as well as his successful attempt to become a contestant on "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" and the amusing result.

Along the way we see the author's evolving relationship with his father, his wife, his brother-in-law and a host of quirky relatives and aquaintances. We feel his agony as he and his wife strive to conceive a child and rejoice when it finally happens. We laugh with him when he inserts trivia in casual conversations only to be the victim of rolling eyebrows. Haven't we all been there? And when he finally completes his quest and reads the last entry in the last volume we feel the same sense of accomplishment juxtaposed with the disappointment of it all being over and the overwhelming feeling of "What now?" This book has mass appeal and deserves the positive reviews it has received. And it's also the type of book that you can read just a little bit at a time if you are so inclined. peruse my shelves for the next book in my morning reading program. Since I usually spend more days/weeks with these books I like to think it over instead of just pulling something off the shelf to read next. So you'll just have to be surprised when I blog about it in a couple of months :)

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire