a.j. jacobs

I recently found out one of my favorite non-fiction writers, A.J. Jacobs, will be speaking at the university I work at next month.  He’s the author of two hilarious and thought-provoking books, The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically.   

The Know-It-All chronicles Jacobs’ effort to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica — A to Z — in a year. For any fan of random trivia, this in itself is enough of a reason to read this book.  Although of course unable to discuss every entry, Jacobs does provide his thoughts on a few.  To open up the “D” chapter, he shares this insight:

dance — In a tribe on the island of Santa Maria, old men used to stand by with bows and arrows and shoot every dancer who made a mistake.  The perfect way to raise the stakes on American Idol.” 

But the book is more than a collection of facts (and witty commentary upon those facts).  It’s also a thoughtful investigation into what exactly intelligence is — the ability to win Jeopardy, or to join Mensa? — and a well-written memoir documenting not only his encyclopedia-reading, but his life throughout that year, including issues with family and the struggles he and his wife face in getting pregnant, that is touching at times and laugh-out-loud funny at others. 

In The Year of Living Biblically, he takes on an entirely different year-long project.  An agnostic man of Jewish heritage, Jacobs decides to explore spirituality by living out the laws of the Bible as literally as is practically possible.  This book has a slower start to it, as he explains his methodology and support system for this experiment, but his sincerity and humor as spends the next year wearing tassels, growing his beard, and avoiding fruit from young trees make this book just as compelling as The Know-It-All.  And as in The Know-It-All, there is more to the story than his basic objective.  Jacobs explores many religions on his search for a spiritual awakening, and his interaction with various spiritual leaders, as well as his own reflections, provide a depth and profundity that is well-balanced by the humor of lighter moments, such as the types of situations that arise when he refuses to lie…even just a little bit.   

The nature of these books — part research, part memoir, part journey of self-discovery — make them unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and I’d highly recommend both.  I’m really looking forward to hearing him speak; if A.J. Jacobs is half as funny in person as he is on the page, it’ll be a great evening. 

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~ by Molly on February 27, 2009.

One Response to “a.j. jacobs”

  1. I am completely in love with A.J. Jacobs and I am completely jealous of you.

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