Review and discussion of Think and Grow Rich
Howdy internet friend and welcome back to my blog! In this long post I am going to be writing about a book I just finished last weekened and have been writing about frequently over the past six months or so, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Originally this was just going to be a simple post about the book and the philosophy it describes. However, when I was doing research yesterday it turns out that there is something important to discuss first. It inspired the following question, which this essay is first going to interrogate before going on to discuss the book. That questions is, “is there still benefit in a philosophy that helps you, even if it was invented by a con artist?”1
That seems a strange question
As mentioned above, I was not planning on addressing this question at all. I was just doing a little research on the author of the book and I started with his Wikipedia page, as that is usually a prudent place to begin research.2 If I have piqued your interest you can check it out for yourself, you will see that today Oliver Napoleon Hill is a somewhat controversial figure. His wikipedia page (at the time of writing. It is possible that fans of Napoleon Hill have come and changed the page to remove this information) indicates that he was accused of fraud and modern historians dispute many of his stories, including some of the most important claims. Some of those disputed claims include meeting Andrew Carnegie (the man who Hill alleges gave him the challenge that led to him writing the book in the first place) as well as claims around being an attorney.
Another article is even more bleak. “The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time” asserts that, “Napoleon Hill is the most famous conmany you’ve probably never heard of.”3 Author Matt Novak is harshly critical of the genre of self-help and describes the influence of Hill on everyone from Tony Robbins and Normal Vincent Peale to the 2006 sensation The Secret, which Novak claims is based on concepts essentially plagiarized from Think and Grow Rich.4
Ultimately Novak writes, “… if the lessons in Hill’s writings ‘work’ for some people, I say good for them. I’m not here to say that there’s nothing to be learned from Hill’s writings…. But the real story behind Napoleon Hill’s life is long past due.”
After spending time thinking about it over the last twelve or so hours, I think this is ultimately the conclusion I have to come to as well. Regardless of whether or not Napoleon Hill was a flim-flam artist, that doesn’t discount the benefit people can find from his writing. Whether he was an upstanding businessman and Presidential advisor or a con who ran grifts from one coast to the other, neither really matters if he provides a philosophy that allows people to improve their lives in meaningful and life-changing ways.
When I begin to address the philosophy for success in greater detail below, please do keep in mind that all my research indicates that Napoleon Hill was perhaps a somewhat disreputable businessman. He was frequently associated with people who ended up in trouble with the law while he disappeared to another state. There were a number of times throughout his career where he found himself either fleeing the law or losing his fortune. Perhaps this is why Think and Grow Rich insists that one always look for some lesson or kernel of knowledge in failure. If you managed to learn from something every time you fail, then perhaps in a way you never really fail at all? It’s also possible that Napoleon Hill had plenty of failures to learn from.
Turning back to ethical question, even the most important assertion in Think and Grow Rich may not have been true. Hill claimed he met Andrew Carnegie who gave him the idea for his book and challenged him to spend twenty years interviewing and researching all of the greatest achievers alive. According to Hill he got a letter of introduction from Carnegie to some of the other famous leaders he claimed to interview in the book, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Charles Schwab. Andrew Carnegie biographer David Nasaw indicated that he, “found no evidence of any sort that Carnegie and Hill ever met.”5
If Carnegie and Hill never met, how could Carnegie have introduced him to Edison, Ford, and Alexander Graham Bell? As I kept reading the Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, things got worse and worse. While his wikipedia page said he was married three times, it turns out that number may have been more like five or more. I don’t have any problem with people remarrying, but according to court records obtained in the Untold story, he was also cruel and abusive to his second wife and their first child. The Untold Story indicated he abandoned all his children at one time or another, and even the strange comment section of the Untold story website had no response to these claims of cruelty and neglect.
Instead of meeting Carnegie in 1908, between domestic disputes, divorce, and fraudulent business deals involving lumber, Hill more likely spent most of that year trying to evade debt collectors and legal authorities.6
There were times when parts and sections of Think and Grow Rich felt a bit like multi-level marketing and some of the book just felt too good to be true. After I learned about the connection with the The Secret I was beginning to see a bit more perhaps why I was so motivated and inspired by Think and Grow Rich. In other plots The Untold Story accuses Hill of using his various schemes to sell books and magazines, so it should come as no great surprise that there are many times when it feels like you are reading a sales pitch after you’ve already bought the book. My dad used to tell me, “when you’ve made the sale, stop selling.” However, Think and Grow Rich frequently feels like one long sales pitch after you’ve already said “yes” in buying the book.
Think and Grow Rich review
When I woke up this morning ready to write this article, I was going to talk about how valuable I thought the book was. I was ready to look pass all the scams it appears Napoleon Hill ran during his lifetime. However, the more I read the article, the more I realized that I couldn’t give Think and Grow Rich the glowing review I had originally intended. However that isn’t just because of everything I’ve written so far. It’s because of an even more important fact about the book that I haven’t mentioned yet.
Napoleon Hill did not write Think and Grow Rich alone
For me, this is where the story gets really interesting and is the reason I am still recommending Think and Grow Rich. According to The Untold Story I’ve been quoting above, as well as his wikipedia page, Napoleon Hill wrote his famous book with extensive help from Rosa Lee Beeland. To read the untold story, you would begin to get a picture of very sloppy writing before “Nap” (as he was called from a young age) was able to get his act together thanks to the writing and editing help/work of Rosa Lee.
There is another reason that I am still planning to hesitantly recommend Think and Grow Rich - because of a prenuptual agreement all the royalty from the book went to Rosa Lee after the couple divorced a few years after Think and Grow Rich was first published.
If you are thinking by this point, “I would be much more interested in reading a book by Rosa Lee, because Napoleon sounds kind of like a monster” well you are in luck! She wrote a book that would eventually be published in 1940 called, “How To Attract Men and Money - An intimate revelation for Women past eighteen. With some facts Men ought to know – especially those who wish to stage a come-back after experiencing defeat.” While I haven’t read it yet (Amazon says our copy should be here next week) I have a feeling that this book will be even better than Think and Grow Rich - honestly with a title like that, how could it not? Be on the lookout for a future review of that book in the months to come.
Valuable takeaways from Think and Grow Rich
As I’ve mentioned before in this article, there was much from Think and Grow Rich that was both beneficial and worth recommending. There are three things that immediately come to mind as being valuable that I want to write about. Those are the mastermind group, the imaginary council, and the plan for success. I will talk about each of these ideas in reverse order (just for fun) and I hope that you will find some value from them as well.
In Think and Grow Rich the author(s) never explicitly tell you what the secret to success is. It is up for you, dear reader, to figure it out. This is brilliant because if you are never told exactly what the secret it, you can’t ever be proven wrong! On a more concrete level, it causes the reader to try and dig deeper in the book than they might otherwise normally do to try and figure out what the secret is. As a storytelling strategy it is absolutely brilliant and something I plan to use myself going forward. Returning to the point, if there was any one secret that could be extract from the book, for me it is a single-minded focus and burning desire for something that is a surefire way to succeed in life. We are told in Think and Grow Rich that we should spend time thinking about what we want most to accomplish in life and then every day imagine that we already have it. This single-minded focus on one goal and a constant drive to achieve it seem to be an intuitive way to achieve success (and many people claim to have used this method to do just that). I’ve made a goal for myself to accomplish by forty and if I do, I will write about it and confirm that the secret I think I uncovered was accurate. Regardless, I believe that spending time thinking about what you want to achieve and investing time every day to achieve it seems to be a sure-fire recipe for success in my mind. In my career it has worked for me to this point, and I imagine if I keep it up I will continue to experience success. This next point to discuss I mentioned in my weekly update post, but it has proven to be tremendously helpful so far.
If you read the weekly update, you might remember the section that I describe “My Imaginary Council” and in this section I describe something from Think and Grow Rich that has been really powerful for me. Every night before bed I close my eyes and imagine that I am at a home we’ve bought in a snowy place and every night I get to select any number of people from all of time (past and present, I don’t invite any people from the future, although I may do so later) and they act as my council. I start every meeting by asking each member an important question or about something that I want their advice on. So far my council includes Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Dennis Ritchie, Paul Goodman, and the only living member, Emerson Fittipaldi. I invited Dennis Ritchie to ask him about the best way to learn programming and he asked to keep coming back. You may be saying to yourself, “he asked to keep coming back”? Indeed he did, as the author(s) of Think and Grow Rich mention, after some time these council meetings started to feel real. In the first week I began experiencing it myself. One of the greatest benefits of the council is that, since they are all in your head, they can ask you really hard questions and help you look at what you did during your day with an outside perspective. You could hold your council meetings in the morning, I suppose, but for me one of the benefits is being able to look at how my day went and ask the council for their thoughts. If you aren’t sure about this one, I would suggest thinking about some of the people you look up to most from history and imagine what it would be like to spend time with them every day for a week. Then realize that since it is in your imagine, you can absolutely do this too! You could even do it right now if you wanted. If you want to do a bit more digging, research the lives of your council members individually so you have an idea of what they might be like. Watch videos if they were alive during the time of video, or audio recordings if they were alive during that era. If you think this is a dumb idea and want to stop, I’ll understand. However, if you find it to be really valuable, just give me, Napoleon Hill, and Rosa Lee Beeland props when you tell other people about it!
Last but most certainly not least is the mastermind group. This is a really important idea that I took from the book, and essentially the mastermind is what happens when you get three or more people (although there is no upper limit, you probably want no more than six in your mastermind) and fire yourselves up beforehand (Think and Grow Rich suggests that sexual energy is best here, but I am not going to take a stance on how you fire yourself up and leave that up to your own discretion) and then get together to focus on a single problem. When three (or more) people in a fired up state all start thinking and talking about the same thing at the same time, they are create a “mastermind” group that is smarter than any individual in the group. Hill and Beeland describe this in the context of Henry Ford, who (lacking significant formal education) gathered a group of really smart men (and unfortunately it was only men) who knew things he didn’t. An accountant, a lawyer, an engineer - all these could come together to form a mastermind and help come up with ideas that were previously thought to be impossible. Ford demanded a V8 engine that engineers told him was impossible, but he demanded it and eventually got it.
I tried to qualify each of these benefits to say which was best, but I can’t. I think all three are really great and I wouldn’t say any one is better than any others. Each has individual strengths and benefits that make them all worth considering. Some feel like bigger risks than others. However, fortune favors the bold and while I found the most benefit from the most far-out idea your mileage may vary.
I know this essay has been back and forth, but that’s been my reaction to learning more about Napoleon Hill as well. It makes senes to learn that other “self-help gurus” were inspired by and took the message of Think and Grow Rich and it came as no great surprise to me that The Secret was more or less “liberated” from it as well. Ultimately I decided that it is important to have and tell the whole story about Napoleon Hill, as best I’ve been able to learn the story. If you feel a little voice in the back of your head telling you as you are reading the book, “this sounds too good to be true” - that voice is usually right. However, maybe that voice is wrong and Hill and Beeland were right after all? If I end up being worth ten million dollars and can retire by the time I’m forty then I will be persuaded that Hill and Beeland were right and will write a blog post all about it. I guess you will have to check back in 2024 and if I’ve retired I’ll update this post to say that (I/Hill/Beeman) was right. ;)
Finally, thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope you liked it! You can check out the previous post here and you can find the next post here. I hope you have a great day and a nice weekend!
- I am not implying that I believe that Napoleon Hill was a con man. However, there is evidence that indicates he was a more controversial figure than his title of one of the top-ten best selling self-help authors of all time might lead you to believe. [return]
- One really great place to start research on Wikipedia pages are the footnotes! You’ve probably noticed by now that I (and many other academically-trained historians) love footnotes! [return]
- You can find that article here [return]
- This also explains to my why my wife said that she thought Think and Grow Rich sounded an awful lot like The Secret [return]
- This quote came from the same article in footnote #2. Carnegie’s biographer went on to say, “let me put it this way. I found no evidence that the book [Think and Grow Rich] was authentic.” [return]
- This is also a reference to The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill [return]