Motivational Book Club #3 – Think & Grow Rich


Think & Grow Rich
by Napoleon Hill (1883-1970)

In a nutshell:
Why you should read this author: Napoleon Hill was a smaller, whiter Oprah Winfrey. He talked to over 500 incredibly rich and successful people for this book, and knew the value of story… not just information.

Why you want to read it: Hill pioneered the idea of a mastermind group, where you get like-minded, driven people together in regular meetings and brainstorm. He also writes about deciding where you want to go. Both of these principles have been discussed ad naseum in the last 80 years, but it’s good to go back to the beginning and take a look at why this book is crazy popular (70 million plus copies sold worldwide)! Yes, everyone from Dust-bowl survivors in the 30s to coke-snorting Amway salesman in the 80s embraced this book like a child with lice-infested teddy bear, but it’s not just about greed. It’s a solid analysis of how we need to adjust our mindset for prosperity and success.

The Great Depression was a huge suck-fest for the world economy. It started October 29, 1929 in the US and went so long and hard that people aren’t even sure exactly when it stopped (late 30s/early 40s). During that time, Napoleon Hill wrote this motivational classic and sold over 70 million copies worldwide at the suggestion of super rich guy, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was one of the few guys with huge wealth who looked at the Great Depression and thought “somebody’s got to write a book with the key to success so I don’t have to walk down the street looking at these poor, miserable sons of bitches again.” I don’t really know what Carnegie was thinking, but he did tell Hill to write the book, Think and Grow Rich, which went on to become a personal development classic.

Here’s where the confusion starts for people in this century. How the hell are “thoughts things??” He’s just trying to say that “belief”or a “definite goal” is a lot more concrete than we realize. Now, we all have jumped aboard that train, but back then, the notion of going from broke to wealthy was not at all common. And all great stories of success start with the “thought.” Hill explains with the story of a broke guy named Edwin Barnes who wanted to work with inventor Thomas Edison. He hopped a freight train to Orange, NJ, and – went on to meet the inventor, and showed Edison his determination. He got a crappy job… which led to better, and eventually a gig selling dictation machines that made him rich. Great story. And Hill goes on to tell us a few more stories in this chapter (he really packs the book with these motivational tales). He explains that you can’t give up when things seem a bit tough (or “Palin” it – as we say in my house). He tells of a couple guys (the Darbys) who bought equipment to mine for gold. They did pretty well, but then the vein of gold disappeared. No more gold. They sold the machines to a junk man. The junk man called an expert who told him that the Darby’s had, apparently stopped mining just 3 feet from more gold. The junk man started back mining and struck it rich. Darby used this painful lesson to become a very successful insurance salesman. He would never again stop “three feet from gold” or… never take no for an answer. Hill goes on to tell us stories about a little black girl who was ordered by her mom to collect 50 cents from one of the Darbys. Darby was going to beat her (this was the 20s… at the time, even non-cops were assholes to black kids), but she stood firm and he was taken aback by her determination. Anyway, lots of stories. But the essence was, come up with a plan, show determination, don’t use the word “impossible… and be the master of your own fate. It’s old school stuff, complete with wacky semi-metaphorical stuff about “magnetizing your brain with dominant thoughts.” With all we know now, is this stuff horse-shit? Or is it really the seminal knowledge of re-wiring your brain for success? Let’s read on.


Burning desire. Step 1 of Hill’s 13 steps to Think & Grow Rich. Who would possible argue that desire isn’t super important… even mandatory to success? Duh. But look at you. You are flame-less. You don’t ignite those burning desires. You retreat to the couch eating cheese-puffs or surf the net. Hill reflects back on the story of Barnes. He had a burning desire to work with Edison and would stop at nothing (riding a freight train really sucks… try it). He didn’t “hope” to work with the guy, he was going to fucking work with Edison or die trying. Hill reminds us of a military leader long ago who sailed with his men to the shores of a powerful enemy country (it was Spanish conquerer Hernan Cortes landing on the Yucatan Peninsula, but Hill doesn’t mention that – maybe because the incredibly bloody conquering of Mexico was a shitty goal). Anyway Cortes unloaded soldiers and equipment and prepared for battle. He told his men, “oh, do me a favor and burn all the boats that carried us.” They burned their only opportunity for retreat. If they didn’t win, they were screwed! So… they won. That’s how Hill suggests we live our lives. If you want to be rich and successful, you have to be obsessed. But not obsessed in that douchebag way where you want a private jet and a hot tub that fits 23 Victoria’s Secret models. You have to have some kind of definite plan that includes some kind of service to others. Hill breaks it down in six steps.

1. Pick an amount of money you want. If you are vague and say, “one billion dollars!” you are an idiot. Do some research, and really explore a figure that incorporates the lifestyle you seek.
2. What are you going to give to the world to get that cash? An app that helps men find goats to marry? Is that really going to get you the money from item #1? Again, do a little research on that.
3. Establish a definite date for when you plan on getting the money from item #1. This sounds like real wackadoodle stuff. Why do you need a date? Can’t I just work toward my goal and hope I cash out ASAP. Well, yes, that’s what you are doing. But this is all part of seeing the success in your mind and making the dream concrete. Hill is psyching you up. Don’t fight it.
4. Create a plan… be detailed about it. Start right away.
5. Write a clear, concise statement of the amount, due date, and plan for how you will achieve this. The idea here is, you are committing this to paper and that – again – keeps your brain focused and believing this stuff is going to happen.
6. Read your written statement aloud each day. When you wake up, mid-day and before going to bed. Visualize yourself achieving your goal.

Okay, Hill is clearly getting into the psychological tricks of creative visualization, and they can work. But they can also make you hate yourself. At this point, a lot of people imagine staring at a mirror announcing they are “getting filthy rich and then cleaning that filth with a money bath.” We hate that guy. And if we are that guy, we hate who we’ve become. So what’s the answer?

Go back to the premise. Build a desire however you can. All your heroes who succeeded dreamed, hoped, wished… then they got to planning, visualizing and doing it. You have to do both… and you have to psyche yourself up or else you’ll go back to being that guy who sits on the couch eating cheese puffs. Someone thought of the design for a skyscraper before the skyscraper was built. Hill goes back to telling us about Edison, who had 10,000 failures in trying to make an electric lamp… until he saw his dream for us to be able to go to Ikea and buy one for $14.99. It’s easy to buy a lamp at Ikea; really, really hard to invent the first one. Edison had some bad starts, struggled, fucked over Tesla, and went through very bad days. Then found his hidden source of strength thanks to his burning desire… and got to put the fire out on the candles, and turn a lamp on.


In this chapter, Hill explains that Faith is the “head chemist of the mind” and can be created through repeated instructions. We all know chemicals can be fun… and dangerous. So, as a life-long happy secularist, I view faith as being a pharmaceutical company that can save or ruin lives. The problem for me is, Faith is often the tool used by those who want you to believe in stuff that isn’t real. I once met a Hare Krishna, and had an in depth discussion with him about how damaging Christianity is to young homosexuals who were born attracted to men, and reach puberty being told it’s “evil.” The calm, sweet Eastern mystic told me gently, “it is.” I wasn’t sure I heard him right, so I asked that he clarify. Apparently Hare Krishna’s think that homosexuality is an abomination as well, and are much like other fundamentalist religious groups. So faith is a happy home for a lot of closed minded thoughts. But back to our pharmaceutical company… like Lance Armstrong winning multiple Tour de France’s, we need a burning desire to succeed… but we also are gonna need some drugs. Hill gives us the chemical formula for creating the belief in your mind that you will succeed.

Okay, so last chapter, we engaged in a bit of self-talk involving our chief aim (and potentially embarrassed ourselves als Stuart Smalley). Obviously that’s not enough. Let’s say you follow Hill’s instructions to repeat that “desire” every day. Do you really have the “faith” to believe you can make it happen? He basically created a 5 part mantra that involves promising yourself persistent action toward your goals, creative visualization, confidence building, and seeking wealth only when it benefits all parties! Read that last one again. Every douche bag who wants to make money at all costs is OUT. Hill demands you be fair. If you are going to be greedy and screw others to get your cash, Napoleon Hill is not ‘wit you!

In the end of the chapter, Hill talks about Charles Schwab getting rich by creating the United States Steel Corporation… a highly profitable business that was born in the mind of Schwab, and nursed with desire and faith. The question is, can YOU and I put down the X-Box controller and create a plan for that much wealth? I’m guessing Hell would say “heck yeah!” But there are 11 more steps.


Does Hill sow the seeds of the ineffective technique of visualizing yourself achieving the goal or the successful process of the goal?