October 3, 2004

Irritating best-seller formula.

Joe Queenan hilariously slams A. J. Jacobs' "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World." Queenan seems perhaps jealous that he didn't think up this formula for cranking out a $25 Simon & Schuster product: "drift through the encyclopedia [Britannica, which you claim to have read cover-to-cover], yank out an entry, tear open his Industrial-Strength Comedy Handbook and jerry-build a lame wisecrack." Queenan is particularly annoyed by the way Jacobs reports amazing facts seemingly unaware that "educated people" have heard it before (e.g., Marat was killed in his bathtub): "Jacobs constantly seeks to bedazzle the reader with his latest shocking discoveries, unaware that things he perceives as riveting arcana are common knowledge in many quarters."

In Jacobs' defense, let me say, there is always someone who hasn't heard history's fascinating facts yet. This might be a great book for a young reader, assuming they can stomach the cornball humor.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner also flags this review, noting Queenan's strange aversion to Entertainment Weekly and the reformatting of the print version of the NYT Book review to drop the line about the reviewer's background (which he finds interesting in Queenan's particular case).

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