Think and Grow Rich

Think and Grow Rich (1937) by Napoleon Hill

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With one or two notable exceptions, the writers of successful self-help books seem far more likely to have been born with fire in their bellies than silver spoons in their mouths. It’s primarily those with the drive to overcome their early disadvantages that learn the secrets of success. Napoleon Hill was born in a one-room log cabin in Pound, a small Appalacian town in southwest Virginia, but from an early age he harboured dreams of becoming an influential city lawyer.  As he later wrote: ‘Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.’ At fifteen he became a ‘mountain reporter’ for a small local newspaper, and banked his earnings until he had enough to secure admission to a law school. The money ran out long before he’d completed the course, but at least he’d laid down a marker and taken the first step towards the attainment of his childhood goal.

Hill was determined to be a high achiever, and started writing regularly for a magazine called Success. This gave him the excuse to seek an interview with Andrew Carnegie, who was then one of the world’s riches and most influential men. This was an exceedingly lucky

break, because steel magnate was a philanthropist who not only wanted to share his wealth, but also wanted to find ways of helping others to find their own way to acquire riches and success. He thought that the enthusiastic, and super-confident, young reporter might help him achieve that end. So he invited him to stay for a few days on his estate, to give him time to test his mettle and see if he could help him formulate a programme which to help people achieve their full potential. With the tycoon’s blessing and sponsorship, Hill agreed to devote the next twenty years of his life studying the secrets of success. With the help of introductions provided by his patron, he interviewed all the eminent figures of his day, from Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell to George Eastman, Henry Ford, John D Rockefeller, F.W. Woolworth and Theodore Roosevelt. The end result was a massive, eight-volume instruction manual called The Law of Success. The book was written under their joint names and offered a complete formula for bringing about a rags-to-riches transformation. Business tycoons were eager to acknowledge the debt they owed to this seminal work, which was believed to have played a major role in fuelling America’s spectacular commercial growth at the onset of the nineteenth century. F.W. Woolworth claimed that without the book’s advice he would’nt have succeeded in building his vast chain of department stores. William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate, was equally effusive in his praise, letting the world know that he owed the authors ‘whatever success I may have obtained.’

When Andrew Carnegie died, soon after the end of the First World War, Hill went on to develop his own career. He qualified as an attorney, became active in politics, and then served as an expert White House adviser, first as President Woodrow Wilson’s public relation’s consultant, and then as writer of the ‘fireside chats’ that Franklin D.  Roosevelt gave on the radio in the early days of the Great Depression. During this time he was still writing management books and co-publishing a magazine called Success Unlimited It was then, when the American economy was still in the economic doldrums, that he decided to recycle the material from his earlier rags-to-riches interviews under the title Think and Grow Rich. Unsure of the reception it would receive, the initial print run was limited to just five thousand copies. But the book hit the zeitgeist of the post-depression era and went on to sell over thirty million copies. Failure stems from a negative attitude of fear, timidity and selfishness, the book pronounced. Success will come as an inevitable reward to those who identify their goals and work steadily and persistently towards their accomplishment. Pursue your dreams. Never worry if your friends think you’re crazy, Hill advised, citing the time when Marconi was carrying out experiments on radio transmission and his friends marched him off to a mental hospital because he was having delusive thoughts about sending ‘messages through the air.’

The book is packed with words of encouragement and practical guidance. ‘Don’t wait, the time will never be just right’. ‘Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.’ ‘Edison failed 10,000 times before he made the electric light. Do not be discouraged if you fail a few times.’ ‘Fears are nothing more than a state of mind.’ The full text of the first edition is now in the public domain and can be downloaded from the Internet, but the modern editions are worth purchasing since they’re more topical, punchy and user friendly.

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