Art of Manliness has a terrific post up on 25 Self-Made Men, from Ralph Lauren (who definitely didn't grow up playing polo) to Clarence Thomas to Larry Ellison to P. Diddy. The story I was most surprised by, though was that of politician Harry Reid. Whatever you think of his politics, it's kind of stunning to know where he rose from.
"Reid was born in the tiny, abandoned mining town of Searchlight, Nevada: population 200. His father was a miner and alcoholic who possessed only an elementary school education. His mother took in laundry from local brothels to help the family make ends meet. The family lived in a house with two rooms and an outhouse. As a youth, Reid was rough around the edges and loved to use his fists, whether competing as an amateur boxer or taking part in an impromptu rumble in the streets. Yet he overcame this auspicious start, graduating from Utah State University and attending law school at George Washington University. In order to support his family during law school, Reid would go to class during the day and work as a security guard at night."
More on Reid and others at Art of Manliness. Thanks Mu!