Arnold Stephen Jacobs Jr., commonly called A.J. Jacobs (born March 20, 1968) is an American journalist, author, and lecturer best known for writing about his lifestyle experiments. He is an editor at large for Esquire and has worked for the Antioch Daily Ledger and Entertainment Weekly.

A. J. Jacobs
Jacobs in April 2009
Born (1968-03-20) March 20, 1968 (age 56)
Notable credit(s)The Know-It-All,
The Year of Living Biblically
TitleEditor at Large, Esquire magazine
SpouseJulie Schoenberg

Early life


Jacobs was born in New York City to secular Jewish parents[1] Arnold Jacobs Sr., a lawyer, and Ellen Kheel. He has one sister, Beryl Jacobs. He was educated at The Dalton School and Brown University.[2][3]



Jacobs has said that he sees his life as a series of experiments in which he immerses himself in a project or lifestyle, for better or worse, then writes about what he learned.[4] The genre is often called immersion journalism or "stunt journalism".[5][6]

In one of these experiments ("stunts") Jacobs read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica, which he wrote about in his book, The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (2004). In the book, he also chronicles his personal life along with various endeavors like joining Mensa. The book spent eight weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.[7] NPR's Weekend Edition ran a series of segments featuring the unusual facts Jacobs learned in each letter.[8] Jacobs also wrote a column for Mental Floss magazine describing the highlights of each volume.[9] The book received positive reviews in The New York Times,[10] Time magazine[11] and USA Today.[12] However, Joe Queenan panned it in the New York Times Book Review. Queenan called the book "corny, juvenile, smug, tired" and "interminable" and characterized Jacobs as "a prime example of that curiously modern innovation: the pedigreed simpleton."[13] Four months later, Jacobs responded in an essay entitled “I Am Not a Jackass”.[14]

In 2005 Jacobs out-sourced his life to India such that personal assistants would do everything for him from answering his e-mails, reading his children good-night stories, and arguing with his wife. Jacobs wrote about it in an Esquire article called "My Outsourced Life" (2005).[15] The article was excerpted in The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.[16] Jacobs also talked about his outsourcing experiences on a Moth storytelling podcast.[17]

In another experiment Jacobs wrote an article for Esquire called "I Think You're Fat" (2007),[18] about the experiment he conducted with Radical Honesty, a lifestyle of total truth-telling promoted by Virginia therapist Brad Blanton, whom Jacobs interviewed for the article.

Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2007) chronicles his experiment to live for one year according to all the moral codes expressed in the Bible, including stoning adulterers, blowing a shofar at the beginning of every month, and refraining from trimming the corners of his facial hair (which he followed by not trimming his facial hair at all). The book spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list,[19] and Jacobs gave a TED talk about what he learned during the project.[20] In May 2017, CBS Television picked up a TV series based on the book.[21] It was originally renamed By the Book for television, but later changed to Living Biblically.

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment (2009) is a series of first person essays about his experiences with various guides for human behavior, including thanking everyone for the morning cup of coffee.[22]

Jacobs is the author of The Two Kings: Elvis and Jesus (1994), an irreverent comedic comparison of Elvis Presley and Jesus; and America Off-Line (1996).

In his book Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection (2012), he explores different ways humans can bring their bodies to peak health, from diet to exercise.[5] He wrote the book while walking on a treadmill.[23] Jacobs gave a related TED talk about this health quest entitled "How Healthy Living Nearly Killed Me".[24]

From 2011 to 2012, Jacobs wrote the "Extreme Health" column for Esquire magazine, covering such topics as high-intensity interval training[25] and the quantified self. Since 2012, he has written the "Modern Problems" advice column for mental floss magazine. The column compares modern day life to the horrors of the past.[26]

As of May 2013, Jacobs writes a weekly advice column for called "My Huddled Masses".[27] The column is crowdsourced to Jacobs's 100,000 Facebook followers, who give etiquette and love advice.[28][29] He also writes the regular feature "Obituaries" for Esquire, which consists of satirical death notices for cultural trends, such as American hegemony.[30]

On June 6, 2015, Jacobs hosted the Global Family Reunion at the New York Hall of Science.[31] Satellite events were held in Salt Lake City, Utah (in partnership with FamilySearch;[32][33] Cleveland, Ohio (at the Western Reserve Historical Society;[34] Zionsville, Indiana;[35] and Independence, Missouri (at the Midwest Genealogy Center).[36] His project aimed to connect as many people as possible to the global family tree at and WikiTree, and the event was planned to be the largest family reunion in history. His experience planning and hosting the event is documented in his 2017 book It's All Relative.

On December 5, 2016, Gimlet Media announced Jacobs as the host of Twice Removed, a podcast focused on genealogy. In June 2016, Gimlet announced that the podcast would not be renewed for a second season.

Jacobs' April 2022 book The Puzzler reframes global issues as puzzles.[37][38]

In September, 2022, The New York Times published a story by Jacobs detailing a 1988 kayaking excursion in which he and his sister were lost overnight in the waterways of Glacier Bay National Park.[39] They were eventually saved by an unknown group of campers on Kidney Island and a search seaplane rented by their father.

Personal life


Jacobs is married to Julie Schoenberg and has three sons: Jasper Kheel Jacobs (born March 11, 2004)[40] and twins Zane and Lucas Jacobs (born August 24, 2006).[41][42]

Jacobs is a first cousin, once removed, of the legal scholar Cass Sunstein.[43]

Jacobs is a member of Giving What We Can and pledges 10% of lifelong earnings to charity. He donates to the Against Malaria Foundation and other effective altruism organizations.




  • Jacobs, A. J. (1994). The two kings : Jesus and Elvis. Bantam Books. ISBN 9780553373752.
  • 1996. America Off-Line: The Complete Outernet Starter Kit ISBN 978-0836224337
  • 2003. Esquire Presents: What It Feels Like ISBN 978-1416599081
  • 2005. The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World ISBN 978-0743250627
  • 2007. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2007) ISBN 978-0743291477
  • 2010. The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment ISBN 1439104999
  • 2012. Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection ISBN 978-1416599081
  • 2017. It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree ISBN 978-1476734491
  • 2018. Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey ISBN 978-1501119927
  • 2022. The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life ISBN 978-0593136713
  • 2024. The Year of Living Constitutionally[44]

Essays and reporting



  1. ^ Jacobs, A J. "The Year of Living Biblically". Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Nonfiction Writing in the World: Our Sources of Inspiration and Nonfiction Beyond Brown | English Department". Archived from the original on 2019-04-12. Retrieved 2019-04-12.
  3. ^ Queenan, Joe (2004-10-03). "'The Know-It-All': A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-12.
  4. ^ A. J. Jacobs: My year of living biblically. TED video. Filmed December 2007.
  5. ^ a b "Print: One Man's Journey Into Stunt Books", Mathew Honan, Wired, July 28, 2010.
  6. ^ By the Book, By HANNA ROSIN, Published: October 14, 2007
  7. ^ "The New York Times > Books > Best-Seller Lists > Paperback Nonfiction". The New York Times. 2014-04-10. Archived from the original on 2014-04-10. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
  8. ^ "NPR Search". NPR. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  9. ^ AJ, Jacobs (23 October 2007). "Guest Blog-star: AJ Jacobs!". mental_floss. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (20 September 2004). "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Walking, Wisecracking Encyclopedia". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  11. ^ Stein, Joel (4 October 2004). "The Know-Everything Party". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on January 27, 2008. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  12. ^ Blais, Jacqueline (1 December 2004). "If you really must know, these smart reads are for you". USA Today. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  13. ^ Queenan, Joe (3 October 2004). "A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  14. ^ Jacobs, AJ (13 February 2005). "I am not a Jackass". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  15. ^ "My Outsourced Life" Archived June 18, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Esquire, September 1, 2005
  16. ^ Ferris, Timothy. "Outsourcing Life". Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  17. ^ Jacobs, AJ (30 June 2011). "The Moth Presents AJ Jacobs: My Outsourced Life". The Moth. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  18. ^ "I Think You're Fat", Esquire, July 24, 2007
  19. ^ "Paperback Best Sellers: Nonfiction". The New York Times. 11 January 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  20. ^ Jacobs, AJ (17 July 2008). "AJ Jacobs: My Year of Living Biblically". TED. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  21. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (2017-05-12). "'Living Biblically' Comedy Picked Up To Series By CBS, Renamed As 'By The Book'". Deadline. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  22. ^ "A.J. Jacobs On Being Thankful – Blog". Joe Coffee Company. 2018-11-21. Retrieved 2020-09-10.
  23. ^ Minzesheimer, Bob (9 April 2012). "Author takes on his body in quest to be 'Drop Dead Healthy'". USA Today. Archived from the original on 28 June 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  24. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "How healthy living nearly killed me". TED. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  25. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "The Case Against Jogging". Esquire. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  26. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "AJ Jacobs Can Solve all Your Modern Problems". mental_floss. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  27. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "My Huddled Masses: Crowdsourced Life Guidance". Esquire. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  28. ^ Jacobs, AJ (23 May 2013). "Crowdsourced Advice with Author A.J. Jacobs". Boing Boing. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  29. ^ Chaey, Christina. "Dear Abbys: A New Esquire Column Sources Life Advice From 100,000 People". Fast Company. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  30. ^ "Esquire Search". Esquire. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  31. ^ "Global Family Reunion".
  32. ^ Leonard, Wendy (2015-06-06). "Salt Lake City joins Global Family Reunion, celebrating family history". KSL.
  33. ^ Sorenson, Yvonne (2015-05-15). "The Global Family Reunion Block Party at the Family History Library". FamilySearch Blog. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  34. ^ "Global Family Reunion". Western Reserve Historical Society.
  35. ^ Ambrogi, Mark (2015-06-10). "Visitors research roots during Global Family Reunion". Current. Zionsville, Indiana. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  36. ^ Newill, Cody (2015-06-08). "Midwest Genealogy Center Promotes Family History At Global Family Reunion Event". KCUR. Retrieved 2023-08-14.
  37. ^ "AJ Jacobs on following the whole Bible, a life of self-experimentation, and reframing global problems as puzzles". 80,000 Hours. Retrieved 2020-09-10.
  38. ^ Triola, Cate (2022-03-01). "The Puzzler: One Man's Quest To Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life". Library Journal.
  39. ^ Jacobs, A. J. (2022-09-18). "Sending Out an S.O.S." The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-09-18.
  40. ^ Jacobs, A.J. The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. (2004) Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. p. 371.
  41. ^ Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Bibically (2007) Simon & Schuster. p. 314-316.
  42. ^ Jacobs, A.J. (28 April 2016). "The Maximum Good: One Man's Quest to Master the Art of Donating". Esquire. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  43. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "Cass Sunstein and Samantha Power: Fun Couple of the 21st Century". Esquire. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  44. ^ Dickerson, John (2024-05-05). "A.J. Jacobs on "The Year of Living Constitutionally" - CBS News". Retrieved 2024-05-06.
  45. ^ Jacobs, AJ (1 September 2005). "My Outsourced Life". Esquire. Archived from the original on 3 July 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  46. ^ Jacobs, AJ (24 July 2007). "I Think You're Fat". Esquire.
  47. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "My Life as a Hot Woman". Esquire. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  48. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "The 9:10 to Crazyland". Esquire. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  49. ^ Jacobs, AJ (27 July 2012). "How to Blurb and Blurb and Blurb". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  50. ^ Jacobs, AJ. "Overly Documented Life". Esquire. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  51. ^ Jacobs, AJ (20 April 2013). "Grading the MOOC Universe". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 June 2013.