the omnididact’s tale

Alex Beam writes in his column at the Boston Globe:

A new microgenre of what passes for literature has appeared on the scene: the omnididact’s tale.

Perhaps because everyone feels so stupid, we witness the impulse to get smarter, preferably by reading one book. A tongue-in-cheek version of this quest unfolds in A.J. Jacobs’s recent outing, ”The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.” The New York Times called Jacobs’s journey through the 44-million-word Encyclopedia Britannica ”mesmerizingly uninformative.”

The widely admired Bill Bryson swung at a similar pitch not so long ago, in ”A Short History of Nearly Everything.” The casual observer might be forgiven for confusing Bryson’s self-described ”intellectual odyssey of a lifetime” with science writer Timothy Ferris’s ”The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report,” a book that purported to ”summarize what we know about the cosmos and how we know it.”

More here.