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Know-It-All -- Writer's Poke #339

A.J. Jacobs is a humorous gimmick writer that tackles absurd topics and takes them to their logical extreme conclusions.
The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Be the Smartest Person in the World was the first book of his that I discovered. To accomplish his task, Jacobs spent a year reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. His book captures the experience of reading entry after entry, and he shares some of the more unusual items of interest he picked up while reading, as the blurb on notes, “33,000 pages, 44 million words, 10 billion years of history.” He also describes the attitudes and reactions of friends and family. Seems as though a lot of people thought Jacobs was a bit nuts attempting to accomplish this task. After all, who sits down to read an entire encyclopedia?

Jacobs continues to crank out rather silly “life experience” books; they all seem rather artificial, because he assigns himself some weird task, and then he writes about it. In one book, he attempts to live a Biblical life, literally. In another book, he pretends that life is one long series of experiments, attempting to live like George Washington, to experience life as a woman, etc. In his latest book scheduled for an early 2012 release, he attempts to attain the perfect physical body. Judging by the author’s photo on the book’s cover, that one will be a real hoot, for sure.

In all honesty, though, who wouldn’t want to know everything? Who wouldn’t want to have the perfect body? And for that matter, who wouldn’t be curious to know what it’s like to experience life as the opposite gender? But part of Jacobs’ premise, too, is that attempting these extraordinary achievements is goofy, or at least only for the uber-obsessed. When we see someone with a body-builder’s physic, instead of describing them as “a perfect specimen,” don’t we generally label them as a “freak”? Likewise, calling someone a “know-it-all” isn’t exactly a compliment. Perhaps we’re just trying to comfort ourselves in our own averageness?

If you could dedicate one year to doing something outside the norm of your daily life, what would you most like to accomplish? What do you think you might learn from the experience?

“Never despise small beginnings, and don’t belittle your own accomplishments. Remember them and use them as inspiration as you go on to the next thing. When you venture outside your comfort zone, wherever the starting point may be, it’s kind of a big deal.” – Chris Guillebeau


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