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Tuesday, December 26

Is Knowledge Really Power?

I happened to pick up a copy of The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs on my last trip to the library. Ironically, Jacobs struck a nerve for me, which he surely didn't mean to do, but the entire reading choice lapsed into eternal irony as a result. The premise for his book is that after he finished his college years, he began to feel himself dumbing down in a way. He felt like he had gone from learning and expanding his cache of knowledge to a static state on the couch, absorbing the images flashing before him on TiVo. So, he ventures to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica to cure his bout of intellectual ague.

Well, I picked up Jacobs' book knowing only that it was the narrative of a man who had read the EB, hoping that this meant I could absorb all of his knowledge in a Cliffs Notes version of the intimidating volumes of knowledge. So, as I continue to drift through the chapters (all 26--each representing a letter of the alphabet), I'm seeing that this book has really benefitted me on several levels:

1. I'm not alone. I've realized that virtually all college-educated individuals go through the shock of feeling dumb after years of intellectual stimulation and usually follow that up with some stint of overcompensation.

2. Learning can be fun...and completely self-motivated. I was convinced that school was required to force one to continue progressing forward on the learning curve. This book has proven me wrong.

3. Books can make you laugh. I've laughed out loud more times that I care to admit in reading Jacobs' book. Just ask my downstairs neighbor.

4. Knowledge is nothing on its own. One of Jacobs' lessons and one that's hitting home for me as I move through the book is that simply taking in facts means absolutely nothing. Instead, the association of knowledge and the world at large is what brings wisdom to life.

5. Encyclopedias are eternally old. The information recorded in each edition of encyclopedias is outdated literally at publication. The times are what define the information and set the context. So, why aren't encyclopedias in the history section rather than reference?

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