Cougar critique: “Think and Grow Rich”


“Think and Grow Rich” is a 1937 self-improvement book by Napoleon Hill that has sold millions of copies. Photo by: Alejandro Hernandez

Alejandro Hernandez

Napoleon Hill’s infinite wisdom lives on almost a century later

“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill is a 1937 book of 238 pages with 15 chapters. It outlines Hill’s 13 steps to riches, a philosophy of achievement that he developed by studying successful historical figures like Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison. Each step has its own dedicated chapter, with chapters one and 15 serving as an introduction and conclusion, respectively. 

Many of Hill’s prescriptions for thinking and growing rich are obvious to a modern audience, one drenched in self-help and self-improvement content from every outlet. However, most of his steps have stood the test of time and remain applicable in the 21st century. The most undervalued yet critical steps for young adults are autosuggestion, specialized knowledge, organized planning, the mastermind and sex transmutation.

Autosuggestion, as defined by Hill on page 61 of “Think and Grow Rich,” is “a term which applies to all suggestions and all self-administered stimuli which reach one’s mind through the five senses.” In simplest terms, it is what one hears and tells themself that influences future actions and behaviors. For example, in chapter four, “Autosuggestion,” Hill recommends the autosuggestive practice of reading aloud a statement of one’s financial goals, along with the time frame and the method for achieving it every morning and night so one can visualize it within their subconscious mind. This practice is also known as affirmations and is a practice that is unfortunately frowned upon due to newly surfaced negative connotations relating to new age spirituality, though still a mindful habit, as per Hill.

In contrast to the traditional education system, Hill recommends that individuals not collect general knowledge but rather specialized knowledge. General knowledge is knowledge accrued for the sake of knowing more, however extraneous, while specialized knowledge is sagaciously directed toward accomplishing practical plans of action. In this, he debunks the chicane truism that “knowledge is power,” instead labeling knowledge as only potential power. Hill’s specific prescription for becoming one of specialized knowledge is to know where and how to find knowledge, or in other words, to purchase knowledge from experts or other benign sources.

Hill’s commentary on education is unconventional, but so it must be for his readers to achieve unconventional results. Graphic by: Alejandro Hernandez

While reading “Think and Grow Rich” lays an excellent foundation for success, it is not taking action. In chapter seven, “Organized Planning,” Hill describes the chapter’s namesake, the “crystallization of desire into action.” Hill lists the qualities necessary for effective leadership and the steps to becoming employed. Though many of his recommendations have not aged well, some, like paying the price to action, which is to give something to get something, and rejecting overcaution, which is not to allow oneself to be subject to paralysis by analysis, have become more relevant as decades have passed and the definition of action has loosened.

On page 161 of “Think and Grow Rich,” Hill introduces the single greatest method for achieving anything of note: “[the] coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.” He refers to this ideal as the master mind alliance, which would later come to be known as the dream team. Hill alludes to the principle of surrounding oneself with competent others for the same purpose. After this revelation, there can be no excuse for spending time with those who one does not wish to become.

In the case of personal desires and energies, Hill endorses sex transmutation. Transmutation is the act of changing from one form to another. Sex transmutation is the conversion of sexual desire and energy into the desire and energy for pursuing wealth. However, Hill does not condone strict sexual abstinence but rather temperance regarding sex so as not to undermine the resources necessary for transmutation. In other words, carnal desires and intimate desires are to be the carrot on the stick leading oneself to wealth creation. Hill’s advice in this respect is necessary for an era of instant gratification, which challenges the focus needed for high performance. 

“Think and Grow Rich” is iconic insofar as the longevity of its advice. Hill successfully transfers centuries of experience from his role models and himself to the reader in the book, all under 300 pages. Although it is not a substitute for action and is, in fact, worthless without it, it is foundational when pursuing audacious goals like the creation of trillions of dollars of wealth.