The Know-It-All

17th March 2006 at 00:00
The Know-It-All By AJ Jacobs Arrow Books pound;7.99

Blackboard chalk isn't made from chalk. A dragonfly can eat its own weight in 30 minutes. The racoon washes its food before eating it. Eskimos and Zulus are adept ventriloquists. And Queen Victoria hated knocking (people had to scratch at her door). She also had a bustle that played "God save the Queen" whenever she sat down.

This book is a mine of similarly useless information, culled from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Indeed, it's a fiendishly simple and cheeky concept. "AJ" (as he likes to be known) set about reading the entire encyclopaedia from a-ack (Ancient East Asian music) to Zywiec (a Polish town known for its breweries), copied out the quirky bits and punctuated them with musings about his own ignorance, his wife's developing annoyance at his desire to share his new-found knowledge and their attempts to have a baby ("Elephant copulation lasts 20 seconds. That should make a lot of men feel better").

The results are contagious. I must just tell you this: Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott who wrote Little Women, started several schools in which miscreant pupils were made to punish their teachers. His idea was to instil a sense of guilt in the errant child. Interesting, isn't it?

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