Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review: Know It All (Book 12 out of 100)

s many of you know, I've become quite the A.J. Jacobs fan since reading his latest book Guinea Pig: My Life as an Experiment. I checked Know It All out of the library some weeks ago only to discover it had two problems. The first is that I had accidentally borrowed an abridged copy, and I do hate abridgments as a rule. The second and more problematic issue was that there was an nonredeemable scratch on disk five. Of course, the scratch happened at the crucial moment in the story when I wasn't sure how he survived being lost in the Alaskan wilderness as a teenager. Because I'm a curious person, I had to find out. My curiosity was keeping me awake at night. I set out to find the book in hopefully unabridged format through Torrents and other means. The only way I found to access it other than buying it was to join an audio book club. So, I did and I waited.

The books came late this week. The unabridged version of it all is 12 disks. I'm really glad I listened to the unabridged version because a bunch of things I really enjoyed were glossed over in the abridged version. These include Eric the brother-in-law who is an annoying person but his annoyance is made much less of in the abridged version, his crossword puzzle freak friend Jaimie, and the mention of his Buddhist high school English teacher Steve. I always knew that if you were a detail nut like me unabridged is definitely the way to go.

I love data just about as much as anyone on the Earth. My friend Robyn says I worship it. But, I have no desire to read the Encyclopedia. A.J. Jacobs did it for me. I simply listened and took notes on things I like to know about. I learned, for example, that Langston Houghes, noted black poet, was first discovered when he had the audacity to slip three poems under the plate of known poet Vachel Lindsay who I never heard of. The next day Lindsay's discovery was reported as "negro busboy poet". I wish I had the nerve to be that audacious. I can barely deal with grant committees.

I also learned that carrots are related to hemlock. Also, Sir Francis Bacon died pursuing knowledge. He wanted to see if snow delayed the spoilage of poultry. To that end, he bolted out of his carriage one day during a blizzard, caught a chill, and died of pneumonia.

I find all these facts interesting. But, A.J. also noted some facts I had no desire to know. For instance, the fact that the Encyclopedia Britannica deals with more animal mating rituals than any homosapien ought to know about. Much of royalty consists of small minded, greedy men overwhelmingly named Charles. And, that too top ways to get into the Encyclopedia are to become a eunuch or to create a font. I don't know why anyone would want to be the first one and what's the big deal with fonts?

My favorite Britannica fact is that a stereotype is a kind of printing plate in addition to being the more common usage which is an opinion of a group of people not based on fact. Next time I run into someone being stereotypical, I'm going to share this fact with them. I hope I don't get beat up.

I thought doing 100 poems in 100 days was difficult. It does not compare to reading the Encyclopedia. The 2002 complete set that Jacobs bought costs him $1,400.00. He said it arrived in three boxes each big enough to fill an air conditioner. This set of Britannica had 44 million words and when all the boxes were stacked on top of each other it was approximately the height of Danny DeVito, according to Jacobs

If you like weird facts, you'll like this book. If, like most of America, you have the attention span of a "gnat on methamphetamines" this book is for you because it changes subject every paragraph or two. However, I don't think that reading the Encyclopedia should be on anyone's agenda provided they have a well adjusted social life. Indeed, in the book, Jacobs wife Julie, calls herself an "Encyclopedia widow". My ex used to tell me I worked too much. Lucky she's not married to Jacobs! I give this book a 9.5 out of 10. I learned a lot. I've only hit the highlights here and my personal version of those. You should go and read it and discover your own. Let me know what you find.

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