I found one of the coolest books at the little used bookstore near me while browsing during lunch: Memoirs of a Breton Peasant, by Jean-Marie Déguigner. I can hardly do it justice, so I will just quote the book-flap copy.
A fascinating document of a fantastic life, Memoirs of a Breton Peasant reads like an adventure novel and bristles with the curiosity and vigor of an alert, opinionated autodidact from the very lowest level of society. Déguigner is unique not only for being a literate peasant, but also for his skepticism regarding the church; his interest in science, astronomy and languages; and for his keen -- often caustic -- observations of the world and people around him.
Born to landless farmers in Brittainy in 1834, the young Déguigner was sent out several times a week to beg for the family's food. After spending some of his adolescent years as a cowherd and a domestic speaking only Breton, he left the province as a soldier, avid for knowledge of the vast world. He taught himself Latin, then French, then Italian and Spanish; he read history, philosophy, politics and literature. He was sent to fight in the Crimean war, he served as an attendant at Emperor Napolean III's coronation, he supported Italy's liberation struggle, and was deployed to defend the ill-fated puppet-emperor Maximillian in Mexico. After his return home, Déguigner worked as a farmer and tabacconist before falling back into dire poverty. Throughout the tale, his freethinking, almost anarchistic views put him ahead of his time, and often (sadly, for him) out of step with his fellows.
Memoirs of a Breton Peasant is drawn from Déguigner's voluminous notebooks, recently discovered in a grandniece's cupboard in Brittany.
Okay, so the first part talks the book up a bit, but having read the first part... it really /is/ almost that good a read. This is really a cool book. :)