“Britannica and I”


Britannica & ich” is the book I am currently reading. Original title: The “Know-It-All“. It is about A. J. Jacobs who tries to become the smartest man on world and starts reading the entire Britannica: 33.000 pages, 65.000 articles , 24.000 illustrations, 32 books with a weight of 2 kilogramm per book, 44 million words.
This endeavour takes him 15 month of his life. He forces himself to read everything whether he is interested in or not and to stay in the strict alphabetic sequence the Britannica is organized after.
While he also tries to memorize everything he soon realizes that even with this immense knowledge ( called intelligence in this German translation of the book; I actually don’t agree that much knowledge and intelligence are the same thing ) he fails in

  • winning a crossword competition because he did not focus on learning place names with only 2 letters or nouns with four letters and many vowels. And because of the irritating cough of the woman sitting next to him.
  • being chosen for “Who wants to be a millionaire” since he simply fails the casting procedure for this TV show, may be because he might have the wrong face. ( May be he still will make it, I am just at letter “S” in the book )
  • inflating an air mattress when friends come to visit his place

And his wife starts calling herself a “encyclopedia widow”.
The book is written in a very humorous way, but discusses also some of the articles he is going through in Britannica, thus the reader learns a small subset of what A. J. Jacobs is learning and starts feeling smart as well.

Let’s see: Wikipedia has 1.841.762 articles today ( in English language, only 600.075 in German language ). Being optimistic and assuming I would life 40 more years I would have to read 126 articles per day. According to the alphabetic index of Wikipedia I actually would have to start with an article about the number “0” ( wow, this is a long article already !), followed by an article about the national emergency number in Australia ( this article is not so long ). Since Wikipedia also deals with acronyms under “Aa” I would have to start with an article about Argentina’s largest airline (Aerolíneas Argentinas, quiet comprehensive article ), followed by an article about the largest airline in the world in terms of passenger-miles transported ( American Airlines ; a very comprehensive article), followed by Air America, an airline operated by the CIA, followed by the first non-airline article about an American railroad (Ann Arbor Railroad ). It would continue like this until “Aaron Fox“, the last entry under “Aa” about a music professor and guitarist ( this one is real short, only some seconds needed to read it ), would continue with “Ab” (Ab is a Dutch name, but does not have an extra article; first article here is about a steam locomotive class built for New Zealand ), to “AZ Village” ( actually Arizona Village in Arizona ), the last entry under “Az”, now followed by “A ” entries like “A & C Black“, a British book publishing company, to “Bank of America (BA)”, first article under “B”, and so on, until I would reach “zZz“, a Dutch band from Amsterdam, which is not really the last one. It is followed by “Z“, the atomic number, also known as the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom, followed by some more articles starting with “Z “, until I finally would reach “Zadruga” ( a type of rural community historically common among South Slavics people ) and hopefully still would be alive ( without really understanding why “Zadruga” comes after “zZz” ).

Anyhow, this endeavour would have to work against a moving target. How many articles will be there in Wikipedia in the year 2047 ? And how would I keep track on what has been added after I went through a particular letter ?

I guess I better keep my fingers away from this adventure and better focus on playing squash as long as I can and may be golf a little later.

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