Education of a Wandering Man

Education of a Wandering Man

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From his decision to leave school at fifteen to roam the world, to his recollections of life as a hobo on the Southern Pacific Railroad, as a cattle skinner in Texas, as a merchant seaman in Singapore and the West Indies, and as an itinerant bare-knuckled prizefighter across small-town America, here is Louis L'Amour's memoir of his lifelong love affair with learning—from books, from yondering, and from some remarkable men and women—that shaped him as a storyteller and as a man. Like classic L'Amour fiction, Education of a Wandering Man mixes authentic frontier drama—such as the author's desperate efforts to survive a sudden two-day trek across the blazing Mojave desert—with true-life characters like Shanghai waterfront toughs, desert prospectors, and cowboys whom Louis L'Amour met while traveling the globe. At last, in his own words, this is a story of a one-of-a-kind life lived to the fullest . . . a life that inspired the books that will forever enable us to relive our glorious frontier heritage.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553286526
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/1990
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 80,717
Product dimensions: 4.18(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.77(d)
Lexile: 1150L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Our foremost storyteller of the American West, Louis L’Amour has thrilled a nation by chronicling the adventures of the brave men and woman who settled the frontier. There are more than three hundred million copies of his books in print around the world.

Date of Birth:

March 22, 1908

Date of Death:

June 10, 1988

Place of Birth:

Jamestown, North Dakota



Read an Excerpt


IT WAS MAY 14. In a few days my class back in Jamestown, North Dakota would be graduating from high school, and I was in Singapore.

The date is one of the few I know from those knockabout years, simply because I had the good sense to write it on the inside cover of a book I bought at the shop of Muhammed Dulfakir on the corner of High Street. The book was Kipling’s Departmental Ditties, and my reason for buying it was that I had forgotten a line or two from a poem I liked to recite, “The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House.”

During those years I often recited poetry in bunkhouses in mining or lumber camps, and in ship’s fo’c’sles. It was usually the verse of Robert W. Service or Rudyard Kipling, but there was a lot of poetry floating around written for, and often by, the kind of men we were, occasionally printed but usually passed from memory to memory.

On that day several of my shipmates had gathered around a table or two in the Maypole Bar, a place no doubt long forgotten. Such men as “Hans, the blue-eyed Dane” of Kipling’s poem would have known it, and probably British soldiers stationed in town. It was a nondescript bar, convenient to the waterfront.

This is not the story of how I came to be in Singapore. That will be told elsewhere. This is a story of an adventure in education, pursued not under the best of conditions. The idea of education has been tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a newsstand.

Today you can buy the Dialogues of Plato for less than you would spend on a fifth of whiskey, or Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for the price of a cheap shirt. You can buy a fair beginning of an education in any bookstore with a good stock of paperback books for less than you would spend on a week’s supply of gasoline.

Often I hear people say they do not have time to read. That’s absolute nonsense. In the one year during which I kept that kind of record, I read twenty-five books while waiting for people. In offices, applying for jobs, waiting to see a dentist, waiting in a restaurant for friends, many such places. I read on buses, trains, and planes. If one really wants to learn, one has to decide what is important. Spending an evening on the town? Attending a ball game? Or learning something that can be with you your life long?

Byron’s Don Juan I read on an Arab dhow sailing north from Aden up the Red Sea to Port Tewfik on the Suez Canal. Boswell’s Life of Samuel Jackson I read while broke and on the beach in San Pedro. In Singapore, I came upon a copy of The Annals and Antiquities of Rajahstan by James Tod. It was in the library of a sort of YMCA for seamen, the name of which I’ve forgotten but which any British sailor of the time would remember, for the British had established them in many ports, for sailors ashore.

At that time I could no more than skim the James Tod book, reading only a few chapters before I was off to sea again. But a few years ago I located a secondhand copy in a bookstore in Greenwich Village and it now rests on a shelf in my own library, a source for several planned books.

A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with a determination.

My life may not be great to others, but to me it has been one of steady progression, never dull, often exciting, often hungry, tired, and lonely, but always learning. Somewhere back down the years I decided, or my nature decided for me, that I would be a teller of stories.

Decisions had to be made and there was nobody but me to make them. My course altered a number of times but never deviated from the destination I had decided upon. Whether this was altogether a matter of choice I do not know. Perhaps my early reading and the storytelling at home had preconditioned me for the role I adopted.

Somewhere along the line I had fallen in love with learning, and it became a lifelong romance. Early on I discovered it was fun to follow along the byways of history to find those treasures that await any searcher. It may be that all later decisions followed naturally from that first one.

One thing has always been true: That book or that person who can give me an idea or a new slant on an old idea is my friend.

And there have been many such.

Right here I wish to say that what follows is not an autobiography, although no doubt these materials are a piece of the final picture, which I hope to undertake later.

As can be guessed from the title, this book is about education, but not education in the accepted sense. No man or woman has a greater appreciation for schools than I, although few have spent less time in them. No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself.

If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, easy of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction.

Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness.

No one can “get” an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, methods of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue.

In the United States we have concentrated tremendous sums of money on the educational plant, seemingly with the idea that the right number of buildings will turn out the right number of graduates. Yet the teachers who actually instruct the future citizens of our country are more often than not miserably paid. If in the future we find ourselves with a lot of fourth-rate citizens, we have only ourselves to blame.

Education depends on the quality of the teacher, not the site or beauty of the buildings—nor, I might add, does it depend on the winning record of the football team, and I like football.

It is constantly reiterated that education begins in the home, as indeed it does, but what is often forgotten is that morality begins in the home also.

It also begins in the car seat, where many a budding criminal career is born when the child not only watches his parent repeatedly break traffic laws, but hears him lie about it when caught. The example is not, supposedly, expected to influence the child.

My own education, which is the one I know most about, has been haphazard, a hit-and-miss affair that was and continues to be thoroughly delightful.

I came into the world with two priceless advantages: good health and a love of learning. When I left school at the age of fifteen I was halfway through the tenth grade. I left for two reasons, economic necessity being the first of them. More important was that school was interfering with my education.

Due to circumstances, it was essential that I go to work and try to support myself. This was no sacrifice, for it had been uppermost in my mind for some time. Several factors contributed to my discontent.

My first job was as messenger boy for the Western Union, a good job for a boy in my hometown. I got the job when I was twelve, and it was in the telegraph office that I first began to type. I cannot say that I learned to type–I began with two fingers and work with them still. It has been called the hunt-and-peck system, but over the years my fingers have become so used to the typewriter that I hunt very little and peck a lot.

Also, I was growing rapidly. At twelve I was the size of most other boys; at thirteen and a half I was my present height, which is six feet and one inch. The very effort of growing left me often tired. Through the first six grades my own grades were good, always at the top or close to the top. As a matter of fact, I was usually second, third, or fourth in the class, except in math. In my sixth grade, where we had a teacher who loved math, I several times made an A, or what corresponded to it.

Moving into the seventh grade, I discovered I had several compulsory subjects in which I considered myself qualified, at least to the extent provided by the school text. It was essential that I take a semester of ancient history, and I had already done much reading in the area.

I wished to skip the subject and take modern history, of which I knew very little. I also wished to skip general science and take chemistry. At the time I had helped build several crystal radio sets and had done some electroplating. At the library I had read from books on botany and geology.

Actually, the book on general science I read in the city library was much better, as well as much more interesting, than the school text, but the rules made no provisions for exceptions. I did not look forward to spending time studying subjects already covered.

Ours was a family in which everybody was constantly reading, and where literature, politics, history, and the events of the prize ring were discussed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We grew up with the names of H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, John L. Sullivan, Bob Fitzsimmons, and Jack Dempsey as familiar to us as those of our own family, right along with Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Sitting Bull, and Crazy House.

The Apache wars of which I was to write later occurred far away to the southwest, but the Sioux were close by. They had killed and scalped my own great-grandfather while he was with the Sibley command, pursuing the Santee Sioux out across Dakota in the aftermath of the bloody Little Crow massacre of 1862.

My education in domestic and foreign affairs began at home. My sister Edna was attending Jamestown College, and my two older brothers and a second sister were in school, constantly discussing and arguing about schoolwork, reciting poetry, and talking of books they were reading.

How many books we had in our home I do not remember, and doubt if anyone ever counted. We had collections of Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, and Emerson, as well as the Stoddard lectures on travel. All of us had library cards, and they were always in use. Reading was as natural to us as breathing.

When I moved on from children’s books and fairy tales, one of the first books I read was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

I had begun reading earlier than most, because my sister Emmy Lou, no doubt to keep me from bothering her, decided it was easier to teach me to read stories to myself rather than to read them to me, as she had been doing.

What books I read immediately after that, or their progression, I do not remember, but certainly they were for a time the simplest of children’s books. I do know that when I was in the fifth grade my father told me he would give me a three-volume History of the World if I would read it. The books had come as a premium with a subscription to Collier’s magazine, if I recall correctly. For the next few months, when my father came home I would sit on his knee and tell him what I had read during the day.

The books had a buff binding, a good many pictures, and fairly large print, so they must have been very general indeed.

Other books remembered from those years were Black Beauty, a similar book about a dog called Beautiful Joe (who was not beautiful at all), Little Lord Fauntleroy, Pilgrim’s Progress (which I found very dull), John Halifax, Gentleman, and two old favorites, Cudjo’s Cave and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come.

My older brothers had left behind a dozen Horatio Alger novels, which I read, but I remember only three titles: Brave and Bold, Do and Dare, and Jed, the Poorhouse Boy.

About the same time, I read at least a dozen novels by G. A. Henty, a British author. The only two recalled offhand were The Lion of the North, about Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and With Clive in India. Aside from teaching much more about aspects of history studied in school, they provided at least a passing familiarity with events our schools did not touch upon. These deepened my interest in history and brought not questions but rather a desire to know more about what actually happened and why.

Historical novels are, without question, the best way of teaching history, for they offer the human stories behind the events and leave the reader with a desire to know more. Due to such books, and later reading, I found that no matter what country I visited or whom I met, I knew something of the history or romance of the country, or about a person’s homeland.

My father, who was a veterinarian working mostly with horses and cattle, was a great storyteller. In small towns in those days nearly every public official had some other business, and my father was at various times a deputy sheriff, a policeman, a Juvenile Commissioner, and for many years was alderman of the First Ward, the largest in the city. At one time he even ran for mayor but was defeated by a good friend.

He told stories of his boyhood in the lumber woods, of a pet bear and deer he owned, of a Huron Indian boy with whom he played. My mother, too, told stories, usually of her relatives in Minnesota or of her father, a veteran of the Civil and Indian Wars who lived with us when I was very small.

Supposedly I was too young to remember him well, but often when we were alone he drew diagrams on a slate and told me how the great battles of history were fought, and about some of his own wars. I should not have remembered, but years later I could draw a diagram of how the Battle of Cannae was won, and I did not study that until later.

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Education of a Wandering Man 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It¿s been many a years since I have enjoyed and learned from a book as much as I have this masterpiece. Not only is the book a marvelous source and guide to an avid reader, but in Addition, it is sheer delight and an easy, interesting and inspiring read. Although I have finished reading this book just a few days ago, I am about to reread it yet once more.
nules on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was assigned reading for some English class or other. I think the teacher chose well. Anyway, it¿s an excellent book. Louis L'Amour had an interesting life. This book definitely helps to inspire one to read more.
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is not an autobiography nor, despite the subtitle, much of a memoir and Mr. L'Amour states that right up front on pages 2 and 3. To some extent, I wish it had been, for Mr. L'Amour has clearly led quite an exciting life and most of the interesting bits he chooses to defer for another day. What it intends is "a story of an adventure in education." Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much adventure in it that story. It starts well with some of his days as a hobo and his introduction to the Little Blue Book series of classics, then segues into a stint as a solitary mine assessor when there was nothing to do but work and read books left behind at the mine by a schoolteacher. However, as the book progresses and his life (presumably) becomes less adventurous, much of the content becomes "I wanted to know about Africa, so I read these five books; I wanted to know about frontier settlers, so I read these eight books." This isn't all unfortunate, as I shall talk about below, but, on the whole, I don't think the book delivered on its promise of adventure.I also think that Mr. L'Amour missed out on a great opportunity. A college professor of mine once said that everything you write needs to answer the question, "So what?" What I would have loved here¿and what is conspicuously absent¿is any reflection on what the books meant to him, how they affected his thoughts and beliefs, what impact their content had on his life.A real biography about Mr. L'Amour would be a book worth trying. Hobo, sailor in the Far East, miner, soldier, boxer, author, lumberman¿there's a lot of interesting life there. However, I could never escape the feeling in this particular book that what we were getting was not just "here's my life," but a carefully cultivated picture—perhaps a character out of one of his own novels: tall, handsome, laconic, self-reliant, moral, brave, competent with his fists yet intellectual and compassionate. There is just a bit too much artifice in lines like "I have known hunger of the belly kind many times over, but I have known a worse hunger: the need to know and learn." Of course, it is understandable that an autobiographer would want to present himself in a light he finds appealing. However, in this case, it sat at odds with his decided air of ingenuousness. I find myself asking, would a frank and forthright cowboy really spend much time making sure I believed him to be frank and forthright?The value of this book lies almost as a reference work. Mr. L'Amour will pick a topic and give you his summary of the books he found most valuable on the topic. Interested in Turkestan? W. Bartold, Howorth, Pan-Ku b and Burton Watson. Want to know about the Apaches?...try Major John G. Bourke and John C. Cremony. I don't see this as a book I will ever reread. However, I do see it as a book I might consult, for there were many topics he mentioned that I would find interesting. At the end of the volume, he gathers much of his reading into a series of lists that might be seen as his analog of a Boxall 1001 list of books¿a L'Amour 731.I have to be interested in a person who can talk about his favorite World War I literature as The Case of Sergeant Grischa and All Quiet on the Western Front and then immediately move to Burrough's The Mastermind of Mars. It fits my own eclectic/eccentric reading tastes. However, I wish we'd had more in this book¿more of the life stories, more of the man, more of the adventure in education.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A memoir of a lifelong love affair with learning and books. Self-taught through both experience and reading Louis L'amour's account of his life is a unique journey that I found uplifting. His list of books he read in the 1930s is a good reference for any life-long reader.
lamour on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This man really did live a life that his heroes live in his fiction. The chapter that describes his two day walk across the Mojave Desert with only a can of peaches for survival is worth the price of the book alone. A wonderful read.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First of all, I'm not one of L'Amour's big fans. I've read a few of his books over the years, but was never a rabid reader of westerns. I much enjoyed his novel, Hondo - one of his early successes - but didn't continue to follow him that closely. But since I knew he was one of the most popular and best-selling writers in American for forty-some years - and still sells a lot of books since his death more than twenty years ago - the idea of a "memoir" from this guy intrigued me. And it started out pretty well, telling a bit about his boyhood and first jobs and a life-long love affair with books. But then it just seemed he kind of lost his way, blathering on in a not very organized way about all the books he had read in his life and how our approach to history here in America was skewed and incomplete. Then he told small bits and pieces of his life on the road and at sea, visits to the Far East and other exotic places. But details, personal and other, are few and far between. It seemed he didn't want to give away anything very personal about his life. He dwelled way too long on how he had educated himself by reading - encyclopedically. And I love books too, so this should have been interesting, but in the end I found it simply boring and bland, and skimmed the last hundred pages or so, looking for some nuggets about L'Amour himself. He did serve in WWII, but he glosses over this in a few scant pages with almost no details at all, as if it were no more than an inconvenient interruption. So the book stayed boring. This book was published after L'Amour died, and I can't help wondering if he would have published it himself. Because, as all of his readers and fans know, he was a much MUCH better writer than this book demonstrates. If you want to read - and appreciate - Louis L'Amour, read his westerns. They are some of the best in the genre - up there with Zane Grey, Luke Short and (later) Elmer Kelton. Unfortunately, this so-called "memoir" is not worth the time.
BookAngel_a on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book, L'Amour tells the story of how books gave him the education he didn't get in school. For personal and economic reasons (this was during the depression) he had to leave school and home and become a wandering worker - earning money wherever he could. He had an appetite for books and knowledge - so he decided to educate himself by reading anything he could get his hands on. He often gave up food so he could read more books.When he finally was able to settle down, he focused his reading on specific topics that he wanted to learn about. He eventually became a successful author because he took time to learn of what he was writing. You'll not find historical errors in his books! Since he read voraciously, he learned what does and does not work in successful writing.He says the greatest compliment he wanted was for someone to read his books and say "Yes, that's how it really was."He realizes his education was unorthodox, and he says he wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but it worked very well for him.Anyone who loves "books about books" will probably enjoy this memoir. He doesn't go into details that most memoirs do...such as how he met his wife, what fighting in WWII was like, the birth of his children, etc, but instead he focuses on the books he was reading while he was having certain adventures - and what those books taught him.
dickcraig on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book started my practice of writing down every book I have read.
Bill_Masom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read a lot of his novels when a young boy, my older brother I think still owns them all. What had always struck me about his stories was the fact that even though they were fiction, they felt true. And as he says in his book, they are basically true, the stories happened, just maybe not exactly the way it was written, but somewhere and at sometime, it did happen.What I really enjoyed about this is that he read for the same reason I do. To learn. And lke him, my reading wanders, from History, to Biography, Classics, Plays, even some poetry, and all points inbetween. Wherever the mood strikes, or an oppertune book presents itself.I have learned much, and each time I read a book, it usually sparks an interest to read more about the subject, the times. the people, or person, or events mentioned, but not fully covered by the present book. Then I make a note and try to hunt a book down that will help fill in the gaps. Sometimes I am lucky, but other times I am still looking.
quilted_kat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my new favorite book. I'm not much into reading Westerns, and as such was not previously familiar with L'Amour's work. But this book really spoke to me as a fellow bibliophile.L'Amour was largely self-educated. He believed that you should read; read anything, read everything, Read while you are waiting for the bus or waiting in line. It doesn't matter what you start reading, only that you are reading.This is a book following his travels as a young man through a multitude of professions (not, as so many have said, to research his writing, but because he had to eat.) and climates, and the books and education he found for himself along the way.I especially love the bibliographies at then end of the lists he kept after 1930 of every book he read.Read this book. It's intellectual, but written on a down-to-earth level that anyone will enjoy. Just read it, damnit!
Helm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very entertaining work that details many of the events that obviously influenced the author's later works. Also includes a listing of books read by the author during his "yondering years". This list itself serves as a good body of recommended reading.
jcwords on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found L'Amour's autobiographical account of his education very inspiring. No matter how you feel about westerns, you'll find that L'Amour is a master storyteller. His vast reading informs his writing, and makes it far richer than average genre fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L'Amour is my favorite book. L'Amour is a masterful storyteller and this book takes us through his intellectual journey. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about the intellectual voyage of one of our greatest writers.
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"A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with a determination." Thus begins Louis L'Amour's Education of a Wandering Man, which details L'Amour's autodidactic pursuits. L'Amour's work is a treasure. His writing displays the kind of storytelling that infuses his novels, but here he explains what L'Amour discusses not only his own work, but the writers who most influenced him. In fact, the majority of this book is about his reading life. He believes that a good writer begins life as an avid reader, and that to read broadly is what makes someone a good storyteller. In this, his most personal book ever, L'Amour writes of growing up in Jamestown, North Dakota, of the parents who instilled in him a love of the printed and spoken word, and of his decision to leave school at fifteen to make the world his classroom. While his contemporaries attended high school, L'Amour skinned cattle in Texas, worked as a circus roustabout and a mine caretaker, won small-town prizefighting exhibitions, hoboed across Texas on the Southern Pacific, and shipped out to the West Indies, England, and Singapore as a merchant seaman. Wherever he wandered, his pockets were always bulging with books. Ever both teacher and storyteller, Louis L'Amour makes his education our education, in a book filled with glorious asides on everything from hobo culture to the fate of Butch Cassidy. Here is a testament-part memoir, part reflection-in which the author bequeaths to us a most wonderful legacy of the "education of a wandering man": a life lived to the fullest through the never-ending quest for knowledge For an educator, what more could a teacher want from a student-one who is accountable and takes control of their own learning as seen by the following quotes: p. 3 - Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well one must live with awareness. - No one can 'get' an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with the methods of study and research, methods of pressuring an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue. p.4 - Education depends on the quality of the teacher, not the site or beauty of the buildings - nor, I might add, does it depend on the winning record of the football team, and I like football p. 74 - Acquiring an education has many aspects, of which school is only one, and the present approach is, I believe the wrong one. Without claiming to have all of the answers, I can only express my feeling that our methods of instruction do much to hamper learning. Our approach is pedestrian. We teach a child to creep when he should be running; education becomes a task rather than excitement (a means to an end when there should never be an end). Yet each of us can remember one or two teachers who made learning an adventure, which it surely is. p. 74 - Personally, I believe children should be taught to see, to observe, and to subject what they have seen to analysis, and this in the earliest grades. p. 74 - Very young children will often learn a difficult subject easily unless someone tells them that is 'hard'. (I fear this is contagious and also spreads through peer relationships) p. 75 - I studied purely for the love of learning, wanting to know and understand. For a writer, of course, everything
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russell threet More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. After reading his books for years it wa nice to see the background he came from.
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