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Publisher's Summary

Early in his career, A.J. Jacobs put his Ivy League education to work at Entertainment Weekly. He emerged five years later knowing which stars have fake boobs, which stars have toupees, which have both, and not much else. This realization led Jacobs on a life-changing quest: to read the entire contents of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, all 33,000 pages, all 44 million words.

The mission began in October 2002, with the word "a-ak". The word launches hilarious misadventures through 32 volumes, as Jacobs accumulates useful and less-so knowledge, and along the way finds a deep connection with his father, examines the nature of knowledge vs. intelligence, and learns how to be rather annoying at cocktail parties.

The Know-It-All is an ingenious, mightily entertaining memoir of one man's intellect, neuroses, and obsessions, and a soul-searching, ultimately touching struggle between the obsessive quest for factual knowledge and the undeniable gift of hard-won wisdom.

©2004 A.J. Jacobs; (P)2004 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

"One of the book's strongest parts is its laugh-out-loud humor." (Publishers Weekly)
"Sidesplitting." (Time Out New York)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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Bigger waste of time than actually reading the Encyclopedia Britannica

Not interesting at all. Boring account of a man that no one would aspire to be as he reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and his family, friends, and world renowned academics make fun of him. He lists random facts from the Britannica along the way but not in a way that you would remember any of them. Do yourself a favor and skip this one. I listened all the way through and wish I had cut my losses at the beginning.

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  • Brandon
  • MINERAL, VIRGINIA, United States
  • 07-11-15

It's a Journey, not a list of Facts

Jacobs takes us along on his journey through the alphabet, but it's not just a highlight real of the best facts in the Britannica. It's also about his experience. How the towering stack of completed books begins to grow, how he is able to apply his new knowledge, and the weird overlaps the articles have in his everyday life. Jacobs is funny, lovably neurotic, and much harder to put down than an actual encyclopedia..

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  • Lo
  • 02-20-15

Lover of Facts

If you don't enjoy random facts and learning, this book is definitely not for you... But I definitely loved it.

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just not that into this

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

just not for me.. who would like this? hmm... anyone who really loves woody allen monologues would be smitten with this work.

Any additional comments?

this book is that old friend who tries way too hard to be clever.. if you are yearning again for a long conversation with that friend, then you should get this book. if you are not, then you should pass.

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Hilarious and informative book!!

What made the experience of listening to The Know-It-All the most enjoyable?

The smart wit, and Geoffrey Cantor's narration was on point! I was laughing so hard my roommates thought I was crying hah!

What other book might you compare The Know-It-All to and why?

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner for writing style and wit. But I only read Geography, never listened to it.

What about Geoffrey Cantor’s performance did you like?

His animation is great, and his accents cracked me up!! AJ Jacobs is an incredible and hilarious writer, and Cantor's delivery really did the audiobook justice!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Oh yeah, I could NOT get enough. And now all my friends are on board with it, it only took a few minutes of listening for them to get hooked!

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Great story

What did you like about this audiobook?

It was an enjoyable story that also taught me some tidbits - would recommend

How has the book increased your interest in the subject matter?

Not that I plan to read the entire Britannica it does continue to make me interested in facts

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  • Mel
  • Raleigh, NC, United States
  • 04-14-13

Very "Sedarisian"

Very David Sedarisian and quite Bill Bryson-esque.

My normal "reads" are crime and covert-ops espionage so the occasional side venture to humor are always welcomed. The narrator here even sounds like David Sedaris who I always felt is a long lost son of Woody Allen.

Great travel choice with the family. Maybe a few hours longer than necessary but easy to leave and come back to without having to recall any plot lines or characters..... there is no plot or characters.

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Fun Book. Fantastic Narrator

Promising idea. I wasn't sure you can actually get a whole book out of it, but apparently you can. It's really just as the summary suggests, guy reads the Encyclopedia Britannica, gives all kinds of interesting facts that he reads about, along with personal stories, and his journey to become smarter.
Interesting read. I've listened to the audio version of the book on Audible, and the narrator is the best narrator I've listened to. he made the book a joy to listen to.

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  • gita
  • United States
  • 07-22-12

Brilliant & Funny, what a great book!!

What did you love best about The Know-It-All?

The wonderful mix of learning & humor, the author is fantastic, and the man reading the book is the Best! He is one with the words, my favorite book of the decade.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Know-It-All?

When I finished, I had to start lisening to it again, so much I wanted to remember.

Which character – as performed by Geoffrey Cantor – was your favorite?

He did them all OUTSTANDING.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?


  • Overall
  • Katy
  • DeKalb, IL, United States
  • 12-17-10

Slugging my way through it

Listening to this book is very similar to the authors experience with reading the encyclopedia-sometimes interesting, but a lot of useless knowledge and way too much name dropping. A.J. clearly comes from a family of privilege, so it's not so much "average man tries to rise above" as it is "Well educated and pampered guy spends weekends at his parents in the Hamptons being a little bit obnoxious"
I really wanted to like this book....I really did, but it's just not doing it for me.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful