The Man Who Read the Entire Encyclopedia Britannica and Failed to "Win Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?"

Arnold Stephens Jacobs, Jr. — commonly known as A. J. Jacobs — is a journalist, author and lecturer best known for writing about his lifestyle experiments. In one of his experiments, he read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He even wrote a book about it — The Know It All: One Man’s Quest To Become the Smartest Person in the World. The book spent eight weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, but some have said it’s “corny, juvenile and smug.” He was even invited to appear as a contestant on the trivia series Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Jacobs opted not to emphasize his encyclopedia reading. "I didn't want Meredith to say, 'Well, Encyclopedia Boy, are you going to win the million?’” As a matter of fact, he didn’t win. His $32,000 question required him to know what an erythrocyte was. Stumped, he called Eric the Arch-Nemesis, one of his three candidates for the actual world's smartest person. Although Eric had been a biochem major, he didn't know that erythrocytes were red blood cells. Worse, Jacobs had already read the entry on erythrocytes, but had completely forgotten it. This inability to retain all 44 million words of the Britannica is a subject of much consternation for Jacobs. To his relief, when he journeyed into the Britannica's Chicago headquarters, he discovered that not even the editor-in-chief knew every fact in his 33,000-page production. For his next project, some have suggested Jacobs read the Oxford English Dictionary. "It's actually longer than the Britannica: 60 million words versus the wimpy 44 million in the Britannica, but I've decided my next project is to watch all the Police Academy movies."