Napoleon Hill (October 26, 1883 – November 8, 1970) was an American author in the area of the new thought movement who was one of the earliest producers of the modern genre of personal-success literature. He is widely considered to be one of the great writers on success. His most famous work, Think and Grow Rich (1937), is one of the best-selling books of all time (at the time of Hill’s death in 1970, Think and Grow Rich had sold 20 million copies). Hill’s works examined the power of personal beliefs, and the role they play in personal success. He became an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933 to 1936. “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve” is one of Hill’s hallmark expressions. How achievement actually occurs, and a formula for it that puts success in reach of the average person, were the focal points of Hill’s books.
According to his official biographer, Tom Butler-Bowdon, Napoleon Hill was born in a one-room cabin near the Appalachian town of Pound, in Southwest Virginia. Hill’s mother died when he was nine years old, and his father remarried two years later. At the age of 13, Hill began writing as a “mountain reporter” for small-town newspapers in the area of Wise County, Virginia. He later used his earnings as a reporter to enter law school, but soon he had to withdraw for financial reasons.
Hill considered the turning point in his life to have occurred in the year 1908 with his assignment, as part of a series of articles about famous and successful men, to interview the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. At the time, Carnegie was one of the most powerful men in the world. Hill discovered that Carnegie believed that the process of success could be outlined in a simple formula that anyone would be able to understand and achieve. Impressed with Hill, Carnegie asked him if he was up to the task of putting together this information, to interview or analyze over 500 successful men and women, many of them millionaires, in order to discover and publish this formula for success.
As part of his research, Hill claimed to have interviewed many of the most successful people of the time in the United States. In the acknowledgments section of his 1928 multi-volume work The Law of Success, Hill listed 45 of those studied by him during the previous twenty years, “the majority of these men at close range, in person”, like the three to whom the book set was dedicated, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Edwin C. Barnes, an associate of Thomas Edison. Carnegie had given Hill a letter of introduction to Ford, who introduced Hill to Alexander Graham Bell, Elmer R. Gates, Thomas Edison, and Luther Burbank. According to the publishers, Ralston University Press (Meriden, Conn.), endorsements for the publishing of The Law of Success were sent by a number of them, including William H. Taft, Cyrus H. K. Curtis, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, E.M. Statler, Edward W. Bok, and John D. Rockefeller. The list in the acknowledgments also includes, among those of them personally interviewed by Hill, Rufus A. Ayers, John Burroughs, Harvey Samuel Firestone, Elbert H. Gary, James J. Hill, George Safford Parker, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles M. Schwab, Frank A. Vanderlip, John Wanamaker, F. W. Woolworth, Daniel Thew Wright, and William Wrigley, Jr. Hill was also an advisor to two presidents of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
As a result of Hill’s studies via Carnegie’s introductions, the Philosophy of Achievement was offered as a formula for rags-to-riches success by Hill and Carnegie, published initially in 1928 as the multi-volume study course The Law of Success. For this first edition, Hill had rewritten his previous 1925 manuscript, also recently released in 2011. The Achievement formula was detailed further and published in home-study courses, including the seventeen-volume “Mental Dynamite” series until 1941.
Hill later called his personal success teachings “The Philosophy of Achievement”, and he considered freedom, democracy, capitalism, and harmony to be important contributing elements to this philosophy. Hill claimed throughout his writings that without these foundations upon which to build, successful personal achievements were not possible. He contrasted his philosophy with others’ and thought that the Achievement Philosophy was superior. He felt that it was responsible for the success Americans enjoyed for the better part of two centuries. Negative emotions such as fear, selfishness, etc., had no part to play in his philosophy. Hill considered those emotions to be the source of failure for unsuccessful people.
The secret of achievement was tantalizingly offered to readers of Think and Grow Rich, but Hill felt readers would benefit most if they discovered it for themselves. Although most readers feel that he never explicitly identified this secret, he offers these words about 20 pages into the book: If you truly desire money so keenly that your desire is an obsession, you will have no difficulty in convincing yourself that you will acquire it. The object is to want money, and to be so determined to have it that you convince yourself that you will have it. . . You may as well know, right here, that you can never have riches in great quantities unless you work yourself into a white heat of desire for money, and actually believe you will possess it. However, Napoleon Hill also states at the introduction that the secret that the ‘canny, lovable old Scotsman carelessly tossed it into my mind’ (Andrew Carnegie) was also the same secret that Manuel L. Quezon (then Resident Commissioner of the Philippine Islands) was inspi
ed by to ‘gain freedom for his people, and went on to lead them as its first president.’ And although a burning desire for money is mentioned throughout the book, it would be both presumptuous and folly to presume it is this which is the secret that Hill refers to, especially since the ‘secret’ is far more effective if realised by the reader when they are ready for it. Napoleon Hill resolves the secret at the end of his book The Law of Success: it is the The Golden Rule. Only by working harmoniously in co-operation with other individuals or groups of individuals and thus creating value and benefit for them will create sustainable achievement for oneself.
He presented the idea of a “Definite Major Purpose” as a challenge to his readers in order to make them ask themselves, “In what do I truly believe?” According to Hill, 98% of people had few or no firm beliefs, and this alone put true success firmly out of their reach.
One of Hill’s most moving stories was about his own son, Blair. He tells how his son was an inspiration to him, because although Blair was born without ears, without any normal hearing organs at all, even though his doctor told Hill that his son would neither be able to hear nor speak, Blair grew up to be able to hear and speak almost normally. Hill tells how his son, in his last year of college, picked up the manuscript of chapter two of Think and Grow Rich, discovered Hill’s secret for himself and went on to be an inspiration for hundreds and thousands of people who could not hear or speak.
From 1952 to 1962, Hill taught his Philosophy of Personal Achievement – Lectures on “Science of Success” in association with W. Clement Stone. In 1960, Hill and Stone co-authored the book, Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude. Norman Vincent Peale stated “These two men [Hill and Stone] have the rare gift of inspiring and helping people…In fact, I owe them both a personal debt of gratitude for the helpful guidance I have received from their writings.”
Think and Grow Rich remains the top seller of Napoleon Hill’s books – a perennial best-seller after 70 years (Business Week Magazine’s Best-Seller List ranked Think and Grow Rich as the sixth best-selling paperback business book 70 years after it was first published). Think and Grow Rich is listed in John C. Maxwell’s A Lifetime “Must Read” Books List.
Hill’s numerous books have sold millions of copies, showing that the secret of achievement is still highly sought-after by many today. Hill dealt with many controversial subjects through his writings including racism, slavery, oppression, failure, revolution, war and poverty. Persevering and then succeeding in spite of these obstacles using the Philosophy of Achievement, Hill stated, was the responsibility of every human.
Today’s philosophy-of-success teachers still use the research formulas taught by Hill to expand their students’ knowledge of personal development.
Napoleon Hill – Think And Grow Rich
Napoleon Hill – The Law Of Success
Napoleon Hill – Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude
Napoleon Hill – The Road To Riches: 13 Keys To Success
Napoleon Hill – Outwitting The Devil: The Secret To Freedom And Succes
Napoleon Hill – Napoleon Hill’s Keys To Success: The 17 Principles Of Personal Achievement
Napoleon Hill – Think And Grow Rich The 21st Century Edition
Napoleon Hill – How To Prosper In Hard Times
Napoleon Hill – The Science Of Personal Achievement
Napoleon Hill – Your Right To Be Rich