Ever wondered if you should read the classic book Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill?

In this article Christoper Benoit gives his honest book review of Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Image of Think & Grow Rich book cover

Ballantine Books paperback edition cover, circa 1983.

Napoleon Hill is the Abraham-Hicks precursor

I've been following Abraham-Hicks – Jerry Hicks, his wife Esther Hicks, and Abraham, the non-physical teachers Esther channels – since they were introduced to me by a dear friend circa 2001. I love their teachings, disseminated through books, videos, CDs, tapes, and workshops and centered around the Law of Attraction. They have enriched my inner and outer lives in too many ways to count. But mostly, they have brought me enormous relief from the internal pressure to conform that I grew up under, internalized, suffered from, and inflicted upon others for most of my adult life. The softening of that great negative cannot be underestimated or over appreciated!

I first heard of Napoleon Hill and his book, Think and Grow Rich, from Jerry Hicks. Now that I've finally read it, this makes perfect sense. The book could essentially be characterized as a prototype of Abraham-Hicks teachings, which emerged in the 1990s and continue to this day. Dear Jerry Hicks has passed on, but Esther Hicks is still on the road, channeling Abraham for their loyal followers.

It is probably unfair to compare Hill’s teachings to those of Abraham-Hicks. Think and Grow Rich was published 80 years ago this year. This gives Abraham at least 50 years of progress and hindsight over Hill; even more if you factor in the 40 years Hill said it took him to research the book. But for anyone familiar with Abraham-Hicks, the comparison is inevitable. Both parties use some of the identical language and they do so in treating the same subject: how to manifest thoughts into physical form.

Blueprint for success

In this regard, Think and Grow Rich is a tremendous practical resource. It provides a rich, detailed process for manifesting dreams and ideas into reality. Hill takes his reader through 13 steps-as-chapters he believes are necessary in order to be successful. The steps are easy to understand and easy to follow.

That is not to say, however, that they are easy to implement. Hill points this out many times. Reading about and wishing for things are very different from actually doing the work of creating them, whether or not that work is physical. He explains that distinction in many ways and places in the book. So, while he gives you the tools and lots of them, he makes it very clear that you must systematically and intentionally put them to use yourself in order to benefit from them.

Think and Grow Rich also seems to be remarkably ahead of its time. The esoteric topics that it treats - among them: thoughts as things, human desire, faith, autosuggestion, the human subconscious, imagination, the power of sexual energy, and the sixth sense - have become much more mainstream today with the rise of spirituality and spiritual teachers like Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson and Byron Katie, to name just a few.

In fact, the very proliferation of such teachers is an indicator of how far we have come since 1937 in our willingness to entertain such alternative perspectives on physical reality.

Yet, if we really study and believe these esoteric teachings, then we must acknowledge that they have been around for thousands of years. They are not new, especially among philosophers, poets, and prophets. But they are newly presented today by authentic thinkers and leaders who infuse them with fresh relevance to modern life and modern sensibilities.

Think and Grow Rich is therefore a worthwhile read, particularly for people who have either not yet been exposed to these esoteric teachings or who have may have developed some level of skepticism toward them. The way Hill lays out his arguments and the way he presents his material and the tools to put them into practice is engaging, compelling, and solidly grounded in very specific and, in some cases, extremely famous stories of human success.

For people who are already on board with many of today's esoteric teachings, however, I would advise caution in reading this book. Here are two reasons why.

Reason one: One or two emperors have no clothes

Some of the examples Hill holds forth as evidence to prove the truth and the value of his insights are deeply problematic. For instance, he relates the stories of both U.S. Steel and Coca-Cola as shining examples of one person’s having a dream that becomes successful because it benefits millions of people.

And, by the way, you should know that benefitting millions of people is a prerequisite to the accumulation of any kind of riches: material, spiritual, experiential or otherwise.

Perhaps the men who founded and brought to success U.S. Steel did truly believe, practice, and live the principles that Hill shares in his book. Perhaps it was only later generations of leaders who lacked right knowledge, belief, and intention. But someone somewhere along the line clearly failed to maintain U.S. Steel’s purported value to humanity. So much so that its demise, as well as the demise of its entire industry, must be viewed as a striking indictment of the company leaders' methods, intentions or both.

As for Coca-Cola and other consumer products companies like it, they are a scourge upon human health at a scale never before achieved in history. All the jobs and wealth ever created and enjoyed by the sale of Coca-Cola have been completely undone by this product's negative effect upon human life. I would love to have a conversation today with Napoleon Hill about the value he attributes to these entities as weighed against the enormous damage they have done with the passage of time.

photo of piggy bank

Pink and grown rich.

Fabian Blank

Reason two: The premise (money) taints the process (creation)

I would argue that it is a characteristic of our culture that all of its members long to be rich. That longing is built into our psyches as a function of our training and conditioning under capitalism.

But longing for money and passionately pursuing its accumulation are two entirely different propositions. It is not until toward the end of the book that Hill explains the book’s title or his primary focus. There he finally acknowledges that the principles and the process the book describe can and should be applied to manifesting anything a person desires. He says that he focused the book primarily upon the accumulation of riches because the fear of poverty is one of humankind’s greatest obstacles to fulfilling its potential. He therefore deemed that the book would have maximum impact and benefit if it addressed that specific need.

This is a fair enough point extremely well made and taken.

The problem is that not everyone can get excited about accumulating wealth. Hill acknowledges this challenge many times when discussing how to nurture and intensify one’s desire for something. He says all desires must become burning obsessions in order to be fully realized. To his credit, he also gives the reader numerous techniques for reaching that intensity.

But for those of us whose lifestyle choices are not heavily influenced or driven by material wealth, not only can we not get excited about money, but we are left feeling alienated from Hill’s process because we can’t relate to its purpose. I do not say this in judgment of materialism. I say it because I think Hill’s focus on money diminishes the power and relatability of his message. They are diminished even further by Hill's choices of U.S. Steel and Coca-Cola as representative case studies of wealth creation. Those companies did not ultimately benefit humankind, if they ever did; that is, if the short term (means) cannot ever be fully divorced from and made to justify the circumstances and outcomes of the long term (ends). Today, their success feels like hollow fraud.

Okay. One more reason. Or two.

In this reviewer’s opinion, Think and Grow Rich has other deep flaws. To me, the book’s whole purpose and focus is upended when you come to the discussion of the master mind group. You can’t profess to empower individuals and then restrict or betray their expectations by claiming that they will never succeed alone. I don’t deny the truth of the latter. But my belief in that truth leads me to violently rebel against the premise of the former.

Hill is hardly the only esoteric teacher guilty of this misrepresentation. I see it all the time and it is the biggest reason I stopped following Abraham-Hicks. You cannot give someone with one hand what you’re taking away with the other and expect them to believe, trust or follow your advice. The entire approach to human success has got to be completely revamped if you’re going to predicate success of long reach and lasting value upon a master mind group and outcomes that benefit millions of people.

A flaw related to the above is the book's title. Hill makes the point over and over and rather severely that you cannot accomplish anything by merely thinking about it. You must infuse your thoughts with the energy of emotion, or, as he likes to say, your desires must become burning obsessions in order to manifest. Given this requirement, a more apt title for the book would be Feel and Grow Rich. Or Think, Feel and Grow Rich. And, acknowledging the critical importance of the master mind group, Think, Feel and Grow Rich with a Group of People. Obviously, these do not make good book titles. My point, however, is that coining a title that misrepresents your own premises and arguments serves neither you, as the author, nor your readers.

image of man in the clouds with thumbs up
Nghia Le

Upshot: I recommend the book

Think and Grow Rich is undoubtedly a landmark book. It is thoroughly researched, extremely well organized and very clearly written. In fact, there is far, far more to the book than I have indicated in this review, which addresses only a small portion of its contents. It is the culmination of one man’s lifetime of searching, questioning, and experimenting with concepts and subjects that many educated men of his time would not have touched with a ten foot pole.

It could never be argued that Napoleon Hill is not a master of his subject who writes with great authority. Just be aware that, perhaps inevitably after 80 years, the book is dated in its tone, its perspective, and in some of its examples, which have failed to stand the test of time.

Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill, New York, Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing Group, 1983, 233 pages, ISBN 978-0-449-21492-3. Copyright ©1937 by Napoleon Hill.

What is your book review of Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill?