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THE KNOW-IT-ALL

ONE MAN’S HUMBLE QUEST TO BECOME THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE WORLD

Doubtlessly more enjoyable than reading the EB itself, with lots of arcane nuggets readers can casually drop on the...

Esquire editor Jacobs (The Two Kings, not reviewed) squares off against all 32 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and returns to his corner in comic triumph.

“In the years since graduating college, I began a long, slow slide into dumbness,” he writes of the intellectual swan dive he hoped to reverse by tackling all 33,000-pages worth of the EB. Jacobs moved through it like a combine, harvesting a great swath of general knowledge—all general knowledge: “If my goal is to know everything, I can’t discriminate, even against obscure Teutonic landmarks.” The bite-sized entries suited a man “who grew up with Peter Gabriel videos, who has the attention span of a gnat on methamphetamines.” Yet the task required attention, like removing a splinter, he ruefully notes. Then again, the task is lightened here (often humorously and certainly ad infinitum) by Jacobs’s ability to self-reference a good number of the choice selections he presents, from atrophy to chess, rock tripe to year. He takes pleasing swipes at the EB’s deadpan seriousness: there will be no Tom Cruise entry, and in the 2002 edition’s grudging acknowledgement of Madonna’s existence, “you could tell the editors wrote the entry while wearing one of those sterile full-body suits people use when containing an Ebola outbreak.” Of course, Jacobs couldn’t help but try to insinuate his latest strange fact into everyday conversations, which typically ground them to an abrupt halt, and he tenders ways in which you, too, can gain an entry: get beheaded, for instance, or become a botanist, win a Nobel Prize, become a liturgical vestment. It is all enormous fun, educational even, and let’s hope that Esquire gets a cut of the deservedly juicy royalties, since Jacobs appears to have read much of the encyclopedia on the job.

Doubtlessly more enjoyable than reading the EB itself, with lots of arcane nuggets readers can casually drop on the unsuspecting like sacks of flour from a great height.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5060-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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