Lincoln was an entirely self-taught man. Exercising incomparable drive and determination, he was a voracious reader who used literature to transcend his circumstances. Seen with a book under his arm at all times, Lincoln devoured Aesop’s Fables and the works of Shakespeare, reading them so many times he could recite entire passages from memory.
Prior to being elected a U.S. Congressman in his thirties, he learned the trades of boatman, clerk, merchant, postmaster, surveyor and country lawyer. He pored over newspapers, and taught himself English grammar, geometry and trigonometry. “In a time when young men were apprenticed to practicing lawyers while learning the law, Lincoln studied with nobody,” Kearns Goodwin wrote. Instead, he read and re-read borrowed law books until he understood them thoroughly.
“Life was a school to him and he was always studying and mastering every subject before him,” Kearns Goodwin wrote. He later told a student seeking advice, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”