I recently read The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. It’s a book about how mass movements evolve. With a lot of historical examples, the book explains the patterns and common threads among them. It’s an insightful book and reading it was a great learning experience for me.
What I’d like to share with you here is not the content of the book, though. Instead, I’d like to share with you about the author.
You see, I didn’t know about Eric Hoffer before. But I imagined he must be a famous professor from a well-known university. I mean, what else could explain the depth of his insights? The True Believer is an influential book. Here is how Wikipedia put it:
The first and best-known of Hoffer’s books, The True Believer has been published in twenty-three editions between 1951 and 2002. He later touched upon similar themes in other works. Prominent leaders and social commentators who have remarked publicly about their interest in the book include American President Dwight D. Eisenhower as well as American Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary R. Clinton.
Hoffer was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983! With that kind of impact, it’s safe to assume that Hoffer was a famous professor, right?
Well, I was stunned when I learned who he was.
Far from being a professor with a doctorate, he didn’t have any formal schooling! That’s right, he had no formal education at all. Guess what his occupation was? He was a longshoreman. It was hard physical labor at the docks and that was his job. Even after the publication of The True Believer in 1951, he still worked as a longshoreman until 1964.
So how could he do it? How could he write such an insightful book despite his background?
The answer is self-education. Hoffer is a great example of the power of self-education. His life shows that self-education is transformational. It has the power to transform you if you are serious about it.
Here is how Britannica explains Hoffer’s self-education:
Hoffer’s family was of modest means, and his early life was marked by hardship. A fall at the age of 7 left him partially blind until he was 15, when his eyesight returned. With the recovery of vision, Hoffer began to read voraciously. His mother had died when he was a child, and, when his father died in 1920, Hoffer, penniless, decided to go to California. For the next 23 years he found jobs as a migrant farm worker and a manual labourer; throughout this time he never stopped reading or lost his love of books, the only possessions he carried from job to job. He joined the longshoreman’s union in 1943 so that he could work only a few days a week and spend the rest of the time reading and writing.
Did you see how serious he was about his self-education? He made a determined effort for it. That’s why he became the man he was.
Self-education is powerful. But it’s up to you to tap into its power. Are you willing to do what it takes? If Hoffer could go that far despite his background, I believe there is no excuse for you and me.