The Know-It-All is from A. J. Jacobs, who followed this book up with The Year of Living Biblically, which I loved. This book, not so much.
The premise of the book is simple: Jacobs set out to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a year. Throughout the book, I kept getting the feeling that Jacobs is a neurotic, self-absorbed, whining editor of a shallow magazine. As he marches toward completing his task, he tries repeatedly to show off his new knowledge, and always–always–is shown up by someone (usually his father or brother-in-law). It seems that every time he tries to insert an unknown factoid into a conversation, he gets a “what the hell is wrong with this guy” look. He even gets on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? He botches it. He always seems to be looking for the approval of his dad (the author of twenty-four super technical law books and purveyor of complex practical jokes). I found myself, much like the author in his quest to read the encyclopedia, longing for the experience to be over.
The book is almost a play-by-play of Jacob’s trek through EB. He writes little blurbs about articles he finds interesting or disturbing. He writes larger sections on articles that somehow intersect with his life. He also interjects little weird factoids in the midst of a narrative section (like when he’s talking to his wife or in a meeting with co-workers) that are cute in the beginning, but had me wanting to rip my hair out by the end.
I still recommend this book because most people will find this book entertaining. There are some good laughs in it. Overall, though, it came off as a little egotistical and annoying to me. If you want to experience something in a similar vein–person does something for a set amount of time and then writes or makes a film about it–skip this and try 30 Days (the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock, who’s well-know for his documentary on McDonald’s Food, Super Size Me).