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Can anyone come up with the names (or a hint to get the names) of stories or movies where somebody tries to become smart by reading the encyclopedia?  (Not counting A.J. Jacobs.)  


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 16th, 2015 02:32 am (UTC)
So, um, not that I remember this useless bit of pop trivia or anything, but there's an episode of Friends where Joey tries to become smart by reading volume V of the encyclopedia, I think it was. He fails.
Nov. 16th, 2015 12:52 pm (UTC)
Perfect. Thanks.
Nov. 16th, 2015 02:46 am (UTC)
There are probably a few books where E Brown goes to the library to look things up. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclopedia_Brown
Nov. 16th, 2015 02:59 am (UTC)
Jabez Wilson has to copy it out in "The Red-Headed League". Doesn't get far.
Nov. 16th, 2015 04:00 am (UTC)
In O. Henry's "Handbook of Hymen" (http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1015/) one of the characters studies "Herkimer's Handbook of Indispensable Information" and puts it to good use.

Jerome's protagonist of "Three Men in a Boat" (https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/jerome/jerome_k/three/chapter1.html) reads through the medical encyclopedia and finds himself afflicted with almost everything in it.

In Stephenson's "Seveneves" one of the characters is Sonar Taxlaw, a walking volume of Britannica she's memorised.
Nov. 16th, 2015 08:58 pm (UTC)
Is it a volume of the EB that goes from Sonar to Tax Law?
Nov. 16th, 2015 08:59 pm (UTC)
Certainly is.
Rodger Cunningham
Nov. 18th, 2015 02:05 pm (UTC)
My corresponding volume (1960) is Sordello to Texas.
Nov. 18th, 2015 05:15 pm (UTC)
And mine (1941) is Sord to Textile, though the first article is indeed on Sordello.
Nov. 16th, 2015 09:41 am (UTC)
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858) by Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the sources of "The Red-Headed League":

The talk ran upon mountains. He was wonderfully well acquainted with the leading facts about the Andes, the Apennines, and the Appalachians; he had nothing in particular to say about Ararat, Ben Nevis, and various other mountains that were mentioned. By and by some Revolutionary anecdote came up, and he showed singular familiarity with the lives of the Adamses, and gave many details relating to Major André. A point of Natural History being suggested, he gave an excellent account of the air-bladder of fishes. He was very full upon the subject of agriculture, but retired from the conversation when horticulture was introduced in the discussion. So he seemed well acquainted with the geology of anthracite, but did not pretend to know anything of other kinds of coal. There was something so odd about the extent and limitations of his knowledge, that I suspected all at once what might be the meaning of it, and waited till I got an opportunity.—Have you seen the “New American Cyclopædia?” said I.—I have, he replied; I received an early copy.—How far does it go?—He turned red, and answered,—To Araguay.—Oh, said I to myself,—not quite so far as Ararat;—that is the reason he knew nothing about it; but he must have read all the rest straight through, and, if he can remember what is in this volume until he has read all those that are to come, he will know more than I ever thought he would.
Nov. 16th, 2015 12:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much! Completely unknown to me, though I know the Red-headed League and should have thought of it in this context.
Nov. 25th, 2015 12:38 pm (UTC)
Sounds like an inspiration for Bertrand Russell on Aldous Huxley:

"It was the only book that ever influenced Huxley. You could always tell by his conversation which volume he'd been reading. One day it would be Alps, Andes and Appennines, and the next it would be the Himalayas and the Hippocratic Oath."

Flaubert's Bouvard and Pecuchet are working in the same territory as your interest, though whether they actually read the Encylopaedia or not I forget.

And in real life there's Randolph Churchill taking Waugh's bet to read the entire Bible in a fortnight, prompting Churchill's summation "Isn't God a shit!"

- matthew davis
Nov. 25th, 2015 12:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much. Great stuff.
Rodger Cunningham
Nov. 16th, 2015 02:09 pm (UTC)
I saw a real-life case. In the reading room of the IU Library (now the Wells), some decades ago, I used to see in the evenings a thirtyish fellow in work clothes and boots, assiduously taking notes out of an encyclopedia. Once when he stepped out for a minute, I took a peek. He was copying out various facts with dates next to them a couple of years in the future. I assume that on that date, he was going to memorize that fact.
Nov. 16th, 2015 02:22 pm (UTC)

Tarzan teaches himself French from books, though maybe a dictionary rather than encyclopedia, if that counts.

Nov. 16th, 2015 05:24 pm (UTC)
I don't think you can start a "learning from the encyclopedia" thread without mentioning the greatest encyclopedia-themed film of all times, Stanwyck's and Cooper's BALL OF FIRE:

Nov. 16th, 2015 08:56 pm (UTC)
A while ago I posted on Facebook looking for the movie in which Gary Cooper and an encyclopedia and a quiz show all featured. It turned out I was mixing up this one with Ronald Colman in Champagne for Caesar, in which Colman as a shy retiring scholar with a funny name (why do smart and educated people in the movies always have funny names?) goes on a quiz show where contestants dress up as their specialty -- he goes dressed as an encyclopedia. So I'm glad now to have them disentangled!
Nov. 22nd, 2015 10:23 pm (UTC)
IMDb's "I Need to Know" message board can be good for movie questions like the one about a movie with an encyclopedia and quiz show.

Regarding stories or movies where someone tries to become smart by reading the entire encyclopedia - you might search the Internet for "Has Read The Dictionary YKTTW Discussion" (YKTTW="You know, that thing where..."). The dictionary seems more common as a trope than the encyclopedia. I'd link the webpage but I've had trouble posting links here before for some reason. The comments there are actually worth reading as some have additional examples to contribute.

Not exactly what you're looking for, but from The Simpsons (and quoted on the referenced webpage):
"[Steven Wright:] I finally got around to reading the dictionary. Turns out the zebra did it."
Nov. 17th, 2015 12:14 am (UTC)
Cassandra in I Capture The Castle reads volumes of one in the bath.
Nov. 17th, 2015 03:45 pm (UTC)
Nov. 20th, 2015 02:31 am (UTC)
David Foster Wallace's short story "Little Expressionless Animals" in the book "Girl With Curious Hair."
Nov. 20th, 2015 12:45 pm (UTC)
Johnny 5
Short Circuit!
Dec. 22nd, 2015 09:02 pm (UTC)
A scene from Dr. No flashed in my mind where Honey Ryder says she has read the encyclopedia up to a specific letter, T perhaps, and that she knows more than a lot of people. Maybe the book Dr. No contains more about it.
Dec. 22nd, 2015 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much, though my need for bits like that is now over -- my article on the E.B. will b in Harpers in Feb and is already in galleys. This would have been one to use, though.
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