A.J. Jacobs' Quest to Become the 'Smartest Guy in the World'
The Most Recent Conversation with A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs is attempting to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Photo: Julie Jacobs
February 2004 -- A.J. Jacobs, a senior editor at Esquire magazine, is on a quest to become the smartest guy in the world. In his efforts to improve himself, he's read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z. Jacobs plans to share his newfound knowledge in a forthcoming book, The Know It All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Guy in the World. Jacobs says he might even challenge a Nobel laureate to a game of Trivial Pursuit.
In an ongoing series of interviews on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, Jacobs shares some of the more interesting tidbits he's gleaned from his encyclopedic adventures.
Jacobs completes his 33,000-page journey through 75,000 articles. He learns a little bit about the eating habits of Emile Zola and our friends the zombies.
Feb. 7, 2004
U, V and W
Jacobs knocks off the letters U, V and W, compiling odd information about White House security and American Gothic painter Grant Wood.
Dec. 27, 2003
Unusual facts continue to pop up. Jacobs just finished "T," where he found under "theater" that mimes used to perform live executions on stage.
Nov. 29, 2003
Sex Through the Ages
"S" claims more entries in the Encyclopaedia Britannica than any other letter -- many dealing with the topic of sex. From the speedy copulation habits of elephants, to randy King Solomon and the misguided contraceptive measures of the Middle Ages, Jacobs reveals the amusing details.
Oct. 18, 2003
Razors and Revolution
In his adventures under the letter "R," Jacobs learns of the curious origins of the humble razor. Prehistoric men resorted to shark teeth and clamshells to tame their beards, while Egyptians preferred theirs made of solid gold. Later, a socialist businessman used profits from his razor business to fund his revolutionary tracts. And Jacobs also tells of the many attempts to assassinate Russian mystic Rasputin.
Aug. 16, 2003
Of Proust and Pastry
In his classic book Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust recounts the story of how biting into a madeleine prompted a rush of memories that inspired him to write. But under the letter "P," Jacobs learns that in truth, the magical memory cookie was actually a dry piece of toast known as a rusk cracker. And pastries don't just prompt books; as Jacob tells it, they've also been credited with starting at least one war, as have pigs and beer.
June 21, 2003
Food, Sex and the Pyramids
Jacobs reveals the secret lives and histories of two common foods that fall under the letter "O" -- oysters and olive oil. Oysters, it turns out, can change their sex from male to female and back again, depending on water temperature. And olive oil played a vital role in the building of the Egyptian pyramids.
May 3, 2003
Knowing Latin Could Save Your Life
Nearly halfway through the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Jacobs has made it to the letter "L." Among the facts he's learned: A knowledge of Latin saved the life of playwright Ben Jonson, and King Louis XIV of France may have possessed the first biological weapons.
March 29, 2003
Fame Through Beheading
For those aiming to be written up one day in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Jacobs offers a word of advice: The surest way to end up in the immense reference work is to get beheaded.
Jan. 25, 2003
Fun Facts Up to the Letter 'D'
Jacobs regales NPR's Scott Simon with tales of the nudist origins of the word "berserk," the history of canned laughter and the financial woes of Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe.
Dec. 21, 2002
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
Jacobs is a senior editor at Esquire magazine.