Reading the Encyclopedia
My online pal, Lisa, has recommended some darned good books, among them today’s book, The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (©2004), by A J Jacobs.
Jacobs is an editor at Esquire, and his book is about his adventures whilst reading the Encyclopedia Britannica – the entire thing, from a-ak to zywiec.
Years ago my Uncle Bill read the World Book Encyclopedia. Gratifying as that might have been for Uncle Bill, it was pretty hard on the rest of the family as the months went by and we listened to descriptions of the Antilles, world currencies, the Hapsburg dynasty, oospores, and the Thirty Years War.
I think it was from Uncle Bill that I learned the meaning of syzygy. I no longer remember what syzygy is, but there was a brief moment in about 1953 when I wowed the entire Long Plain Elementary School third and fourth grades with the depth of my astronomical knowledge.
Jacobs has a lighter touch than Uncle Bill and a charmingly self-deprecating sense of humor. His decision to prove how smart he was by joining Mensa, his attempts to incorporate his new-found knowledge into his daily conversations, and his ill-fated appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire are exceedingly droll.
And darned if I didn’t learn a few things. The French horn is from Germany. Softwood is often harder than hardwood. Catgut is made from sheepgut. (Whew! Miss Woodhouse was really glad to hear about that.) Starfish are not fish. And Charles Darwin, Henry VIII, Edgar Allan Poe, Sergey Rachmaninoff, and H G Wells all married their cousins.