Napoleon Hill (October 26, 1883–November 8, 1970) was an American author who was one of the earliest producers of the modern genre of personal success literature. His most famous work, Think and Grow Rich, is one of the best-selling books of all time. Hill’s works examined the power of personal beliefs, and the role they play in personal success. “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 for the average person, were the focus of Hill’s books.
Life and works
According to his official biographer, Hill was born in poverty in a one-room cabin in the town of Pound in rural Wise County, Virginia. His mother died when he was ten years old. His father remarried two years later. At the age of 13, he began writing as a “mountain reporter” for small-town newspapers. He used his earnings as a reporter to enter law school, but soon had to withdraw for financial reasons. The turning point in his career is considered to have been in 1908 with his assignment, as part of a series of articles about famous men, to interview industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who at the time was one of the most powerful men in the world. Hill discovered that Carnegie believed that the process of success could be elaborated in a simple formula that could be duplicated by the average person. Impressed with Hill, Carnegie commissioned him (without pay and only offering to provide him with letters of reference) to interview 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 interviewed many of the most famous people of the time, including Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, George Eastman, Henry Ford, Elmer Gates, John D. Rockefeller, Charles M. Schwab, F.W. Woolworth, William Wrigley Jr., John Wanamaker, William Jennings Bryan, Joseph Stalin, Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Charles Allen Ward and Jennings Randolph. The project lasted over twenty years, during which Hill became an advisor to Carnegie. As a result of these studies, the Philosophy of Achievement was offered as a formula for rags-to-riches success by Hill and Carnegie, published initially in 1928 as a study course called, The Law of Success. The Achievement formula was detailed further and published in home-study courses, including the seventeen-volume “Mental Dynamite” series until 1941.
From 1919 to 1920, Hill was the editor and publisher of Hill’s Golden Rule magazine. In 1930 he published The Ladder to Success. From 1933 to 1936 Hill was an unpaid advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1937 Hill distilled the Philosophy of Achievement and produced his most famous work, Think and Grow Rich, which is still in print in several versions, and has sold more than 30 million copies. In 1960, Hill published an abridged version of the book, which for years was the only one generally available. In 2004, Ross Cornwell published Think and Grow Rich!: The Original Version, Restored and Revised (Second Printing 2007), which restored the book to its original content, with slight revisions, and added the first comprehensive endnotes, index, and appendix the book had ever contained. (The Cornwell-Hill “collaboration” resulted from the former’s service as editor-in-chief of “Think & Grow Rich Newsletter,” published for the Napoleon Hill Foundation.) There are dozens of other books listed as “written” by Napoleon Hill but are usually some rehashing of Napoleon Hill’s original works with some “point of view” or “new and improved” or “update to the 21st century” additions.
In 1939 Hill published How to Sell Your Way through Life, and in 1953 How to Raise Your Own Salary. From 1952 to 1962 he worked with W. Clement Stone of the Combined Insurance Company of America to teach Stone’s “Philosophy of Personal Achievement”, and to lecture on the “Science of Success”. Partly as a result of his work with Stone, in 1960 he published Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. He died in 1970 at age 87 in South Carolina, and in 1971 his final work, You Can Work Your Own Miracles, was published posthumously.
Hill called his success teachings “The Philosophy of Achievement” and he considered freedom, democracy, capitalism, and harmony to be important contributing elements. For without these, Hill demonstrated throughout his writings, personal beliefs are not possible. He contrasted his philosophy with others, and thought Achievement was superior and responsible for the success Americans enjoyed for the better part of two centuries. Fear and selfishness had no part to play in his philosophy, and Hill considered them to be the source of failure for unsuccessful people.
The secret of Achievement was tantalizingly offered to readers of Think and Grow Rich, and was never named directly as Hill felt discovering it for themselves would provide readers with the most benefit. Hill presented the idea of a “Definite Major Purpose” as a challenge to his readers, to make them ask of themselves “in what do you truly believe?” For according to Hill, 98% of people had no firm beliefs, putting true success firmly out of reach. Hill’s numerous books have sold millions of copies, proving that the secret of Achievement is still highly sought-after by modern Americans. 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 American.