//The Know It All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World//. Book by A.J. Jacobs.
The author reads 100% of the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica from A to Z and sums up his experience in this amusing little paperback. Not oddly, although he gains a small amount of raw academic information, most of the knowledge he does gain from this little endeavor is not from the Good Books themselves but rather from the reactions of others as he repeatedly seeks validation, encouragement, or even just acknowledgment. That’s understandable, given an entire year of every free moment spent with one’s nose in the books. So although this makes the knowledge gained not exist as much for it’s own sake (rather, it’s being gained just so the author can feel validated), still, a lot of what he does just seems, well, stupid. For example, he read an extensive article on chess, complete with some pointers and tips on good chess strategy, and decides to test out his newly-acquired chess skills by playing against an experienced player. Actually, just a kid in a chess club. Result? Quick loss, as one would expect. You don’t learn chess by reading about it, you learn by practicing it. Same things goes for just about everything else the author attempts, although he doesn’t fail in as obvious or spectacular ways.
What sort of knowledge, wisdom, insight, etc. does the author actually gain? Simply what I said, what we already know, but for which a demonstration or two can’t hurt: that there is no substitute for experience. That people don’t, for the most part, even respect “raw” knowledge, especially when it’s presented with the seeming attitude of just trying to show off.
Anyway, after reading this, I don’t have all that much respect for the author. (He spends the entire book talking about his failures, so some component of this is perhaps an unconscious perception I can’t help.) His one major achievement is that he did successfully read the encyclopedia, but for what? If anything, this book was entertaining, but that’s about it. Quick, fun read.