A Book Recommendation and Brief Reflection: Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar by James Marcus Bach

The office for the company I work for has a large selection of edgy, anti-authority education books. I picked up this one yesterday and read most of it last night. It’s pretty short (191 pages) and, unlike most education books I come across, has little to say about schools other than to dismiss them almost entirely. They’re not for me, chimes Bach.

Instead, Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar is a manifesto for self-education, and it’s tremendously persuasive. Bach outlines much of the reasoning and the methods of learning only what matters to you. His utter dismissal of institutional education is infectious.

This topic resonates with me strongly. During my later years of college, I grew so weary of school and homework that I would flat out skip some assignments. I became disgusted at the inordinate value placed on grades; there are other measures of competency. (Yet, the pressure from all around to focus on them pushed me into a state of drifting and constant frustration.)

More directly to the point of the book, many of the meaningful things I’ve done have been self-taught (or mentored) and self-practiced. I teach myself how to write by reading good writers and writing tons and tons of (mostly) garbage. I teach myself web design and content management by running small, barely-visited websites. My business and leadership practice has come not from institutional education but perserverance at a few small opportunities, like the position I have now.

I say all of this not to toot my own horn; I don’t claim to be a good writer, web designer, or businessman. But these skills and hobbies provide me a ton of value and happiness. Along with a handful of other passions, they’ve nourished my soul and my brain. I also know that, if I persevere on these skills with techniques outlined by Bach, I’ll get better and better at these and whatever else I decide to pursue.

Bach clearly has both an immense desire for self-improvement and an unstoppable drive to satiate that hunger. The book glosses a bit too much over what magnitude of effort his no-institution lifestyle takes (perhaps focused mental labor is so natural to him that he fails to see how someone wouldn’t want to — or be able to — spend hundreds of hours on self-guided projects). It also drills the metaphor of buccaneer and self-learner to exhaustion, though I do respect his desire to develop a brand.

Yet, I recommend Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar to just about anyone who wants to hear a different take on learning from what they’ve heard from parents and teachers. I’ve developed many suspicions and vague impressions about the advantages of self-education and disadvantages of institutional learning since graduating high school. James Marcus Bach verbalizes and defends those notions here.

I don’t agree with its every point, but Bach’s book is a wake-up call.

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

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