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Commentary: Think and Grow Rich

Think and Grow Rich
by Napoleon Hill (
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Think and Grow RichCommentary by Tom Butler-Bowden
In our culture, any book with the words 'rich' or 'success' in the title has a better than average chance of selling well; money and external achievement are basic to our time, as rank and honour were to the Middle Ages. A compelling title might explain initial rushes to buy a book, but in the last 60 years, the world has bought over 15 million copies of Think and Grow Rich. Why?

Hill refused to accept that success was the domain of luck or background or the gods, and wanted to provide a concrete plan for success that depended entirely on us. The book also sold because it was not simply Hill's dreamed-up ideas, but a distillation of the success secrets of hundreds of America's most successful men (not many female tycoons in the 1930s), beginning with his patron, steel baron Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie had given Hill letters of introduction to the likes of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and FW Woolworth, and he would spend 20 years synthesizing their experience and insights. Hill's mission was simply to know 'how the wealthy become that way', and the systematic approach to success became the eight-volume Law of Success (1928).

Think and Grow Rich (1937) is the condensed form of this larger work. The prose has a galloping energy to it. The early pages allude to a secret that the book contains but does not spell out. Hill suggests we 'stop for a moment when it presents itself, and turn down a glass, for that occasion will mark the most important turning point in your life'. Try to resist that! The book has no shadows or complications; it is philosophically clean, setting out the things 'which work', and leaving others, rightfully, to the realm of mystery.

Money and the spirit

Near the end of Think and Grow Rich, Hill admits that the main reason he wrote it was 'the fact that millions of men and women are paralyzed by the fear of poverty'. This was in the America of the 1930s, still scarred by the Depression, when most people were focused on avoiding poverty rather than getting rich. That Hill's book did not stop at poverty avoidance, but dared to be about becoming fabulously rich, may have forever classified it in some minds as a greed manual, but this is precisely what gave it its huge attraction.

The link between spiritual values and making money is something non-Americans may find difficult to take seriously or even comprehend, yet it is the very expression of American morality. Wealth creation is a product of mind, combining reasoning, imagination and tenacity. Hill understood that uniqueness, expressed in a refined idea or product, would always eventually meet with monetary reward.

The concept that all earned riches and achievement comes from the mind is commonplace now - it is the basis of the knowledge society/information age. Yet in 1937 Hill was already talking about 'brain capital' and the marketing of one's self as a provider of non-physical services. The sage-like qualities of the book are encapsulated in its title: 'Think and grow rich' is effectively the motto, not of Hill's, but of our era.


Hill relates the story of Edwin C Barnes, who arrived on Thomas Edison's doorstep one day and announced that he was going to be the inventor's business partner. He was given a minor job, but chose not to see himself as just another cog in the Edison business wheel, imagining himself as the inventor's silent partner. This he eventually did become. Barnes intuitively knew the success secret of willingness to burn all bridges, ensuring there is no retreat to a former, mediocre life. Definiteness of purpose always yields results, and Hill includes a six-step method, developed by Andrew Carnegie, for turning 'white-hot desires' into reality.

Hill counsels never to worry if others think your ideas are crazy. Marconi's friends took him to a mental hospital for believing that he could send 'messages through the air' (he invented radio). Hill's famous statement is: 'What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve', but his great insight is that no more effort is required to aim high in life than to accept an existence of misery and lack. He quotes the verse:

I worked for a menial's hire
Only to learn, dismayed
That any wage I had asked of Life
Life would have willingly paid

Infinite intelligence

A defining feature of this classic is its respect for the ineffable, being possibly the first of this century's prosperity classics to suggest that mental attunement with 'Infinite Intelligence' (the Universe, or God) is the source of wealth. Hill realized that consciousness was not confined to the brain; rather, the brain was an element of the great unified Mind. Therefore, to be open to this larger mind was to have access to all knowledge, power and creativity.

He mentions Edison's retreats to his basement where, in the absence of sound and light, he would simply 'receive' his ideas. A person receptive to this realm is likened to a pilot flying high above where normal people work and play. Such vision allows them to see beyond the strictures of regular space and time.

The subconscious and our connection to Infinite Intelligence

Napoleon HillHill illustrates the concept of Infinite Intelligence through analogy to a radio receiver. Just as we can receive important messages if we are tuned in, thoughts we hold about ourselves are effectively beamed out to the world through the subconscious, boomeranging back as our 'circumstances'. By understanding that our experiences matter only because of how we perceive them, and becoming the master of our own thoughts, we can control what filters into our subconscious. It becomes a better reflection of what we actually desire, and 'broadcasts' to the infinite realm clear messages of those desires. Since all thought tends to find its physical equivalent, we create the right conditions for manifesting our desires. This is why it is important to write down the exact figure of how much money we want to possess. This amount, once entrenched in our subconscious, is removed from the conscious mind and its doubts, and helps to shape our actions and decisions towards its realization.

The concept extends to prayer. Most people give up on prayer because it doesn't work for them, but Hill believed this to be essentially a failure of method. Whatever we seek through prayer has slim chances of eventuating if it is just a heartfelt wish, muttered through the conscious mind. What we desire cannot remain at this level - it must become part of our unconscious being, almost existing outside of us, for it to really have effect.

Final comments

This is a small taste of Hill. Other chapters cover faith, persistence, decision, procrastination and creating a mastermind of people around you. There is also the classic chapter, 'The mystery of sex transmutation', which argues that the energy behind all great achievement is sexual. Some of it may seem dubious and a great laugh, but if you think that 'real entrepreneurs' are above titles like Think and Grow Rich, you won't have to go far to be corrected. Multi-millionaires Dobbins and Pettman (The Ultimate Entrepreneur's Book) and real estate tycoon John McGrath (You Don't Have to Be Born Brilliant), with many others acknowledge Hill's work as a serious wealth-creating tool.

As readers will attest, the book goes beyond money. He makes an effort at the outset to define 'rich' in terms of quality friendships, family harmony, good work relationships and spiritual peace. Further, he warns us not to rely on position or force of authority, remarking that most great leaders began as excellent followers and that we have to learn how to serve before we can achieve.

Yet Hill's central idea, that the source of wealth is non-material, is yet to be fully appreciated - we still tend to worry about our level of education or amount of capital more than about intangible assets such as persistence, vision, and the ability to tap into the Infinite and shape the subconscious. Successful people are shy of attributing their wealth or influence to such 'spiritual' abilities, but Hill knew their importance. This is why his book continues to be read through decades of economic bust and boom. The source of wealth never ceases to flow and is outside of time.

© Tom Butler-Bowden 2011

This commentary is extracted from 50 Success Classics: Winning Wisdom For Work and Life From 50 Landmark Books (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London & Boston).


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