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Books: Leisure reading

'The Know-It-All'

By A. J. Jacobs

Simon & Schuster, $25.

Subtitled, "One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World," this book is a satirical memoir of "one man's intellect, neuroses and obsessions" and the predictable struggle we all pursue for both factual knowledge and wisdom.

In fact, what Jacobs has done is challenge himself to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. The people in his life discourage him from doing so, calling it a waste of time, but Jacobs prevails — then he shares in this book some of the strangest and funniest facts he has found. Comedian Jon Stewart said, "I've always said, why doesn't someone put out a less complete version of the encyclopedia?"

That's essentially a description of the book — except for the story of how he did it — along with trying to join Mensa and win a spot on "Jeopardy." An example is Jacobs' comment on baldness: "In the elevator up to work, I stood behind an Asian man who happened to be bald. That's odd, I thought to myself. According to the encyclopedia, baldness in Asians is rare. It's rare in Asians and Native Americans. I guess what we have here is one of the unlucky few Asians who couldn't hold on to his follicles. I feel like giving him my condolences." — Dennis Lythgoe

'Da Vinci Decoded'

By Michael J. Gelb

Delacorte, $18.

Taking advantage of the continuing popularity of Dan Brown's best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code," Gelb has written this book, subtitled "Discovering the Spiritual Secrets of Leonardo's Seven Principles."

The essence of the book is an examination of those principles — curiosita (seek the truth), demostrazione (take responsibility), sensazione (sharpen awareness), sfumato (engage the shadow) arte/scienza (cultivate balance), corporalita (nurture integration) and connessione (practice love). Gelb tries to explain how they can be used to "draw closer to the divine essence within ourselves."

Calling Da Vinci "a profoundly original thinker," Gelb attempts to elaborate on the great man's writings. Although this is a textbookish approach with its boxes, lists and overt self-conscious attempts to connect the ideas of an earlier age to modern life, there are some interesting things in it — almost all of them by Da Vinci rather than Gelb. — Dennis Lythgoe

'Shopaholic & Sister'

By Sophie Kinsella

Dial Press, $23.

Kinsella is a former financial journalist who struck gold when she wrote "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and a series of sequels.

This latest tells of Becky Bloomwood going on an expensive around-the-world honeymoon where she picks up a few souvenirs — two truckloads. So her husband Luke insists she go on a budget when they return home. Not only that, she has lost her best friend, Suze.

The only thing that brightens her outlook is the announcement from her parents that she has a long-lost sister. She is thrilled because she is sure her sister will be an amiable companion on shopping sprees — but she finds that Jessica hates shopping.

The style of writing is breathless and exuberant but often funny. — Dennis Lythgoe