I'm slowly making my way through Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which illuminates the sharp mind of Abraham Lincoln.
Early on, Goodwin explores Lincoln the reader, a cemented identity far before he came a lawyer and then a fabled American president:
Books became his academy, his college. The printed word united his mind with the great minds of generations past. Relatives and neighbors recalled that he scoured the countryside for books and read every volume “he could lay his hands on."
Lincoln found true power in text, I think. His mind was one domain of his life in which he could control regardless of his unprivileged circumstance. Goodwin writes a few pages later:
What Lincoln lacked in preparation and guidance, he made up for with his daunting concentration, phenomenal memory, acute reasoning faculties, and interpretive penetration. Though untutored in the sciences and the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood them fully. “Get the books, and read and study them,” he told a law student seeking advice in 1855. It did not matter, he continued, whether the reading be done in a small town or a large city, by oneself or in the company of others. “The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places. . . . Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing."
At the time, "law school" meant apprenticing under a practicing lawyer. Lincoln just read the books. As I go through "rigors" of law school in the modern era, it's worth taking a moment and truly absorbing just how devoted Lincoln was before his rise to prominence. The advice Lincoln gave the law student -- "Get the books, and read and study them," -- is probably a good recipe for more than just law school (the full letter can be found here). I'm inspired by passionate readers and slowly, I'm awakening that part of my own identity and little tidbits like these add fuel to that fire to read carefully, widely, and well.