Book Review: Education Of A Wandering Man

Education Of A Wandering Man, a memoir by Louis L’Amour


As someone who is slightly familiar with the novels of Louis L’Amour, which are genre works but well beloved by those who are even casual fans of frontier literature [1], I was intrigued to see that my library had a copy of his memoir, which of course I requested to read.  And in reading this book I must say that I appreciate the author far more than I did before.  To be sure, I appreciated in my own limited acquaintance with the author’s works previously his sound and unconventional study of history to add depth and verisimilitude to his stories, but reading his memoir gives one even more respect for the seriousness with which he took self-education.  Louis L’Amour never graduated from high school, never set foot on a college campus, and spent much of his youth working as an itinerant blue collar worker of one kind or another, and yet he managed to educate himself through a rigorous plan of self-education that he shares with the reader.  As someone who deeply loves reading, I was impressed with both the scope and depth of the author’s reading and his discussion of the importance of reading.

In a bit more than 200 pages, completed shortly before the author’s death, L’Amour takes the reader on a look at his early life and young adulthood and shows how it was that he managed to acquire an impressive education informally.  He quit school as a teenager and went to work, developing a reputation for his willingness to face loneliness and to seek a broad amount of experience that included supervising a mine, being a messenger for Western Union, and working for several years in the merchant marine, as well as time spent as a logistics officer in World War II.  The author talks about his love of curiosity, his fondness for classic works as well as the history and literature of world cultures, and how he honed a love for stories as well as the shady underworld of the places he happened to visit.  He speaks of his amateur boxing, at which he was reasonably proficient, and the sort of concerns (including his avoidance of tawdry sexuality and his interests in ecology) that informed his voluminous writing.  Perhaps most interesting of all, he talks about his writing and how he developed it as a habit through short stories and book reviews before his longer fiction career was established.

This memoir is important for several reasons.  For one, it provides an actual list of the author’s reading for several years, which is wide-ranging in its scope and impressive in its depth.  For another, the book is a look inside the life and habits that made L’Amour’s writing such a blend of compelling stories, intriguing historical research, and thoughtful attention to matters of culture and environment.  Perhaps even more relevant than all of this is the way that the author provides a cost-effective but effort-intensive way for people to educate themselves through a commitment to reading and travel and being an observant person who enjoys the stories of others and is hungry for learning and knowledge.  None of the ways that L’Amour gained his education are without value, and those who do not find conventional education fulfilling even as it becomes increasingly expensive would do well to see in reading, travel, work, and conversation a fulfilling sort of education for a wandering person who wants to know where and how it is best to put one’s roots down.  This is definitely a book that should be much more read and serves as an example of self-education that would benefit many in our contemporary world.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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