I first read Louis L’Amour’s autobiography, The Education of a Wandering Man, in 1998. At the time all I knew of this author was that he wrote historical fiction, mostly Western novels. I had a close friend at work and he knew I loved to read, and he did too. At lunch, we would often discuss our reading. He was probably a little irritated that he loved L’Amour’s Westerns and I also, and probably especially, that didn’t seem to think they were very important. He told me that if I would read the autobiography that I would understand? I did and it really motivated me. It was a great book.
I did eventually learned to appreciate the Westerns and have read a lot of them. His autobiography, in comparison to so many of his other good books, really shows that a person’s real life history is hard to beat. I am sure that many would agree, it is his finest book.
The story told of his dropping out of school at age 15. He became a wandering young man. He first became a hobo on the Southern Pacific Railroad, then a Cattle Skinner in Texas. He even became a world traveler, merchant seaman, based in Singapore. He made a living anyway he could. He worked as a hired hand, cowboy, and even as a prize fighter. He traveled the rails. He lived in hobo camps and listening to the men around the fires in the evening. Being on the move like he was must have helped him become a natural storyteller.
When you read a story like this you don’t expect to have so many of the old classic’s discussed. During these years of traveling, Louis read everything he could find. He educated himself. He learned from the masters in those books about the questions that have been discussed over centuries. His love affair with the books was real.
He always carried books with him in his travels. He would work a little and then always buy a book or two, if he could. What he bought was a regular part of the story along with what he was reading. One summer he spent alone three months in the mountains living in an old shack while taking care of cattle. The shack had been used in prior years by those doing the same summer job. He found a sack of old books under some wood. He wrote about his adventures during that time, and about the books. The books were classic’s. Today they would also be called part of the Great Books. They consisted of Aristotle, Plato and others. Having the adventure in the West, running side by side with the sequence of reading and writing about the very well-known books, was certainly a unique plot line for this book.
His story is a good lesson on being a reader first, and then a writer. L’Amour was a reader. He had an appetite for reading that seemed to never be satisfied.
He served in World War II and after the war started writing novels. One of his first was the novel "Hondo". It became a movie and John Wayne was the star.
L’Amour died at age 80, in 1988. At that time he was considered one of the world’s most popular writers probably having sold more than $200,000,000 in books.
You might ask, “what is the point of bringing up Louis L’Amour and this book”?. He, as much as anyone, shows that readers can be high school drop outs or very educated people. It is surprising who it is that is a reader. Readers learn a lot because of their passion. They through their passion become self-educated. They become someone different, though their reading. They re-invent themselves.