Book Review of Think and Grow Rich
Overview: 60% brilliant, 30% obvious, 10% batshit crazy – and 100% worth reading
Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” is about more than getting rich: it’s about getting what you want. And while his no-bullshit insights come with a liberal dose of craziness and – well – bullshit, his overarching philosophy is spot-on. Hill’s recipe boils down to this: to get what you want you must 1) desire, 2) believe, 3) act and 4) persist.
First, the battiness
Hill’s advice is always useful, even if not always completely truthful. For instance, he repeatedly claims that “thoughts can affect mother nature.” I don’t think this is true, and Hill doesn’t provide any evidence to support his claim, but his reader might be better off believing it. Because thoughts do profoundly affect you. And if you think you can affect nature by thought alone, and “think” accordingly, the impact this will have on your beliefs and your actions can be profound.
“Lack of evidence” is a common theme through “Think and Grow Rich.” Some of the claims Hill makes are pretty crazy, though they’re presented as if they were glaringly obvious and unquestionably true. He often states that a claim has been “proved” where it’s simply been stated. You’ll read about the transmutation of the subconscious, about how thought vibrations travel through the ether, and how to plant creativity in your subconscious via communication with the infinite intelligence. The book is heavy on mystical musings and light on facts. That said, I don’t think these bits of battiness detract from Hill’s core message, and if anything, my occasional outrage kept me engaged.
Onto practical matters: The first step towards riches is DESIRE
On first glance, this statement might seem banal, or even tautological: if you want riches, the first step is to… want riches. But Hill’s advice cuts much deeper than this. It is not enough to want riches or to wish you had them. Hill means something more radical: you must have a burning desire to be rich. If you fail in this regard, you will fail to achieve your (vaguely) desired goal.
Hill gives some concrete advice for nurturing desire. First, you must define your purpose. Only then can you become consumed by it. Hill’s recipe for making desire concrete is this: decide exactly how much money you desire; establish a definite date by which you intend to possess it; create a definite plan; write it down; and read your written statement aloud – twice when you wake up, and twice before you go to bed. Become so obsessed with the desire that you already see yourself in possession of the money
But don’t kid yourself into thinking desire will be enough: “wishing will not bring riches… [only] planning definite ways… and backing those plans with persistence” will. Take, then, this burning desire, and put all your effort behind it. I love Hill’s emphasis on the action: you are instructed to be a practical dreamer. It’s not enough to ‘decide’ you’re totally committed: act accordingly. Cut off all sources of retreat, Hill tells us. Burn all bridges behind you, so that you win or perish. The tone here might be a little extreme, but his message carries crisp and clear: don’t half-ass it.
Include liberal doses of FAITH
It is impossible to translate a burning desire into action without belief. You must have faith: you must believe in your plan, and more importantly, believe in yourself. Of course, this is easier said than done. One concrete way to foster faith is through autosuggestion. The idea here is that you can come to believe something by repeating it to yourself sufficiently. Repetition of thought is powerful, and Hill claims it’s the best way to influence your subconscious mind – the presumed bastion of belief.
This might come off as a little crazy, but Hill elaborates: repetition alone isn’t enough. The mere reading of words is of no consequence unless you mix in strong emotions. Desire is one such emotion. Thus, if we’ve followed Hill’s first step and developed a burning desire, it will be that much easier to apply autosuggestion to foster a sense of faith. And believing in yourself, and in your plan, is absolutely crucial. This might all be getting a little speculative, but so far, I’m inclined to agree with Hill.
A short aside on transmutation: the mystical powers of sex and the subconscious
It’s only when Hill starts discussing the power of belief that I find myself getting incredulous. Hill claims that belief is “picked up by the subconscious mind and transmuted to its physical equivalent.” If by this Hill means ‘your beliefs will affect your own actions,’ then I agree. If instead, he means ‘your beliefs themselves can influence physical reality,’ then I disagree – or at least I would love to be presented with evidence.
And indeed, you soon discover that Hill does mean the latter. He explains that our brains are connected by vibrations of thought and that these vibrations connect us to the “infinite intelligence” – whatever that is. Hill confidently states that there is an undiscovered organ in the brain that receives ‘vibrations of thought’ – called hunches – from this infinite intelligence. Once these hunches have been captured, our subconscious mind will hand them over to our conscious mind in a flash of inspiration. And this, he claims, is how to get your plan for riches. As best I could tell, this is what Hill means by “transmutation of thought.”
It’s my opinion that Hill here is liberally dipping into craziness – and he doesn’t stop there. “Sex transmutation” comes next. We’re told that “sex energy” is “creative energy,” and you’re implored to “harness and transmute” your desire for sex to lift yourself to a “higher sphere of thought.” Harnessing sexual energy, it seems, will help you capture those aforementioned hunches. Here, at least, Hill offers some circumstantial evidence: apparently, many of the highly successful men he studied were “highly sexed.” Again, I’m not quite sure what this means, and I’m not quite sure how he was able to ascertain the sexual nature of so many strangers, but there you have it.
There is no substitute for PERSISTENCE
Back to practical matters: we’ve discussed desire and belief, and the need to “act” has been referred to throughout. The final ingredient is persistence. Without persistence, you will fail. Unfortunately, lack of persistence is a “weakness common to the majority of men.” Fortunately, it can be overcome, and the ease with which it may be conquered “depends entirely on the intensity of one’s desire.” Of course, it’s hard to ‘learn persistence,’ since you need to be persistent in the first place to be able to successfully employ a ‘persistence enhancing technique.’
That said, Hill does give some good ‘persistence enhancing’ advice, which amounts to restating the advice that’s been given thus far. The key, again, is to have a definite purpose and a burning desire for its fulfillment. You must then transform that purpose into a definite plan, and immediately act. Consciously conquer procrastination and indecision. Throughout, guard your mind against negative and discouraging influences. And finally, form a “mastermind alliance” – coordination of knowledge and effort, for the attainment of a definite purpose – consisting of people who will encourage you to follow through with your plan and your purpose.
Hill might be a little crazy, and his writing style is a bit over the top. He tends to take on the tone of a late night infomercial (“I have never known anyone who was inspired to use the secret, who did not achieve noteworthy success in his chosen calling”) and he has a troll-like propensity to go into all-caps mode (“ALL ACHIEVEMENT, ALL EARNED RICHES, HAVE THEIR BEGINNING IN AN IDEA!”). More critically, some of the particular things he says are at odds with his philosophy as a whole (“these steps call for no hard labor. They call for no sacrifice”). The danger is that these are the statements readers latch on to and lose the forest for the trees.
And this would be a shame, for when all is said and done, “Think and Grow Rich” is a terrific book. Hill is passionate, and his advice is refreshingly practical. The above caveat aside, Hill tells it like it is. He decries the “universal weakness of lack of ambition” and our “national pastime of trying to get without giving”. He explains that people mistake their wants for their just dues, and is explicit on the fact that you can’t get something for nothing: “there is but one dependable method for accumulating, and legally holding riches, and that is by rendering useful service.”
Mystical musings aside, Hill’s philosophy makes sense, and not in the vague “no shit, Sherlock” sense. He believes that “riches begin in the form of thought,” and he makes this claim concrete. Desire, believe, act, and persist, he advises. If you do these things, you cannot fail – and never forget that “a quitter never wins-and-a winner never quits.”