The most Famous Autodidacts who Shocked the World

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It is a topic of arguments that who are the top autodidacts or self-taught person alive or long gone in the past. There is one common thing about the greatest learners is that they have achieved their wisdom by themselves or self-taught. While going through history, a list of the most famous autodidacts list can be created. Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Adolf Hitler, Booker T. Washington are some of the most famous self-learners of history. If we talk about present or modern days, the most famous autodidacts might include, Paul Keating, Julian Assange, and Bill Gates. 

Qualities of Autodidacts

It is not so easy to be an autodidact. It requires intrinsic motivation, great passion for learning something and most importantly self-determination. If we look around we will surely find at least one person who has acquired tremendous knowledge of a particular field by self-learning. Self-learners not only born with the qualities but also can be created. So let’s adopt some of these qualities or habits of autodidacts that they follow on a regular basis to achieve their goals. Some of these qualities might include-

  • Seeking personal renewal to better yourself every day.
  • Leveraging own experience.
  • The practice of immersion into the direction of the goal.
  • Be open-minded.
  • Break up your long term big goal into short term multiple small goals.
  • Embrace the complexity in the way to achieving a goal and turn it into opportunity.
  • Build resilience.
  • Learn for life also, not only for finances.         

With the regular practice of above-mentioned tactics and so on, one can definitely achieve goals and acquire knowledge of the field of his choice. Let’s go through the life and qualities of some of the most famous autodidacts of all time. 

Booker T. Washington

self taught person

Booker T. Washington was the most famous and influential African American of 19th and 20th century. He was born on April 5, 1856, in Virginia. His mother, Jane was an enslaved woman and he never knew his father’s identity, he said. His mother only allowed him to go to school after too much preying and begging provided he would work from 4:00 AM – 9:00 AM in a local salt works every day before going to class. 

He also worked in a coal mine where he heard two workers talking about Hampton Institute and he moved to join the institute. Brigadier General Samuel Chapman, owner of the institute influenced by the wisdom of Washington and later invited him to join the institute as a teacher in 1879. In 1881, at the age of 25 years, he became the principal of the institute and served until he died in 1915. 

120 years later, the recent 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama also attended the Institute. Washington had a great sense of humor. At a ceremony where he had awarded with the honorary master’s degree from Harvard University, he said ““I feel like a huckleberry in a bowl of milk.” On October 16, 1901, Booker was invited by the then president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt to dinner with him at White House. 

Washington published 2 autobiographies, first in 1900, named ‘The Story of My Life and Work’ and a year later second, named ‘Up from Slavery’

Leonardo Da Vinci

famous autodidacts

Who is behind the most famous painting ‘The Mona Lisa’? One of the most famous autodidacts, Leonardo Da Vinci is the creator of the painting. This oil painting is painted on wood is of Mona Lisa, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, as it is said. The original painting size is 77×53 cm and is owned by the Government of France. Some historians believe that it is a self-portrait of Leonardo the Vinci himself. 

Leonardo was taught writing, reading, and basic mathematics for calculations but he did not receive any formal education. He practiced and sharpened his artistry skills for a decade or so under the apprenticeship of Andrea del Verrocchio of Florence. Da Vinci was a mostly self-taught person. He loved nature and science simultaneously and had a great interest in anatomy.  He invented 65 Feet long mechanical bat.

Adolf Hitler

autodidacts examples

Known as the most ruthless Nazi leader of Germany of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler was one of the most powerful leaders of Germany who was leading the Nazi party. He was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 after the victory of Nazi party in a series of elections. Hitler made the most of political discontent, economic woes and many other burning issues of that time. He smashed the democratic institutions of the nation and created a war-like situation for the sole ownership of a particular race, called Aryan race. 

After gathering enough power, Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and it leads to  World War II. The question arose here why did the situation take place in a country that was on top in science, art, literature, and architecture, a nation that was following democratic rule and a free press at that old time?  The answer is it was a consequence of World War I. He launched the campaign of making the world free of Jews that resulted in the death of Jewish counting to approx six million. 

About his personal life, born in 1889, he lost his parents (father Alois in 1903 and mother Klara in 1908) and dropped out of school before attaining the age 18 years. He was twice rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna. In Vienna, he came into contact with Nazi leaders and started his political career. He ruled as a dictator until he died in 1945. He committed suicide by shooting himself. Hitler’s literature is well known as ‘Mein Kampf’ (My Struggle). Another book was ‘The Zweites Buch’.

Julian Assange


One of the greatest representations of autodidacts of modern time is Julian Paul Assange, an Australian writer, editor, publisher and activist born on July 3, 1971. He is well known for founding WikiLeaks in 2006, a multi-national library and media organization for over the last 15 years. He is highly skilled in coding and hacking. 

Assange was born in Queensland, Australia to Christine Ann Hawkins and John Shipton. His parents were a visual artist and a builder (an anti-war activist) respectively. His parents got separated before his birth and his mother took care of him. After a year of his birth, his mother remarried to Brett Assange, an actor. Julian regarded him as his father by adopting Assange as his surname. 

He attended many schools but never completed a degree. He started programming and coding at the age of 16 when he got his first computer.  His high IQ made him master in hacking. The international attention turned towards Wikileaks when it published a series of secret leaks of the US Army. Assange is known for publishing videos of war crimes and other confidential documents.

Bill Gates

self made people

Popularly known as the American Business Magnet, the full name of Bill Gates is William Henry Gates III. He is a business tycoon, technologist and most of the above a philanthropist. He was born to William H. Gates II, a Seattle Attorney and Marry Gates, a school teacher in 1955 in Seattle, Washington. His family encouraged his interest in computers. He dropped out of college and started working on his plan of Microsoft with his childhood friend Paul Allen.  He with his friend founded Micro-Soft in 1975 in Albuquerque and later in 1976 changed its name to Microsoft. 

Microsoft was shifted to Washington State in 1979. The company launched its first windows, Windows 1.0 in 1985. In 2000, he became Chief Software Architect and in 2008 he left his daily job at Microsoft. In 2014, he started serving as a technology advisor in Microsoft as he stepped down as a chairman. 

Talking about his personal life, he grew up with his two sisters and married to Melinda French in 1994. The couple established a charitable foundation in the year 2000 named ‘Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’. Today, Bill and Melinda Gates both co-chair the foundation. His father William H. Gates II is also a co-chair of the foundation. The family is giving its wealth to society by doing noble works. Bill fond of reading books and every now and then, he recommends various books to read in many interviews. 

We have discussed only a few autodidacts here, the list is quite long. There are some qualities common in these self-learners. Everyone is unique in this world but still, by adopting these qualities, we can achieve our goals and make a good impact on society.         


Hi , I am a computer engineering graduate and a professional Digital Marketing Expert.

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