GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: "How Napoleon Hill Changed the Way We Think about Wealth by Mitch Horowitz editor, Penguin’s reissue of 'Think Your Way to Wealth'."
Today, the name Napoleon Hill is synonymous with practical advice on how to get ahead. Yet when Hill’s writings on business success first appeared on the American scene in the late 1920s, they were considered mystical and even avant-garde. Form a definite mental picture of what you desire, Hill argued, and a wide array of forces, both psychological and spiritual, will rise to your aid.
Hill’s 1937 "Think and Grow Rich" proffered a detailed program for using the mind to attain one’s desires – and virtually laid the template for the modern field of business motivation. By the time Hill’s follow-up work "Think Your Way to Wealth"appeared a decade later, he was seen as the pioneer of the self-help genre.
Hill, who died in 1970, remains one of the leading voices in advice literature.
His books continue to sell worldwide and his 1948 "Think Your Way to Wealth"was recently reissued by Tarcher/Penguin. Yet the conservative, buttoned-up Hill bequeathed to modern business culture an unseen legacy: His widely adopted success principles rest on a foundation of radical metaphysical ideals. This fact resounds in "Think Your Way to Wealth,"which recounts Hill’s surprisingly mystical dialogue with industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
Hill emerged from an early twentieth-century subculture of American spiritual experimenters who believed that thoughts literally shape outcomes. This was the type of mind-over-matter metaphysics that animated bestsellers like Norman Vincent Peale’s "The Power of Positive Thinking"and the recent New Age blockbuster "The Secret."
Hill’s passion for the mystical dimensions of success began in 1908, when he worked as a reporter for Bob Taylor’s Magazine, an inspirational journal founded by the ex-governor of Hill’s home state of Virginia. Through Taylor’s connections, Hill scored the ultimate “get”: an interview with the steel magnate Carnegie. In "Think Your Way to Wealth,"Hill recalled gently prodding Carnegie for his success secrets.
To Hill’s surprise, Carnegie, rather than merely sing paeans to hard work and clean living, held forth on the hidden powers that determine fortunes. “Through telepathy,” the industrialist told Hill, “every mind communicates with other minds. Therefore, the person who wishes to have an attractive personality is under the constant necessity of watching not only his deeds, but also his thoughts.” Carnegie spoke of the magnetic energies of the mind, and of a “law of harmonious attraction,” activated by faith.
Carnegie urged the writer to consult other captains of commerce to determine whether a similar set of practices led to their accomplishments.
Hill spent the next twenty years studying and interviewing businessmen, diplomats, generals, inventors, and other notables in an effort to map out their principles. He finally distilled seventeen traits or habits that each high-achiever seemed to share – from the cultivation of intuition, or a sixth sense, to proper transmutation of “sex energy” in creative endeavors, to convening a “master mind” council of advisers, which could draw ideas from a higher intelligence.
By 1937, Hill’s "Think and Grow Rich" refined Carnegie’s principles – and eased off some their occult qualities. When revisiting the subject of the “master mind” groups, Hill emphasized the manner in which teams of properly motivated individuals could summon ever-greater energies for creative projects. This helped lay the basis for the modern practice of “teamwork.”
Hill’s program also featured sturdy, character-based ideas, such as doing more work than you are paid for, concentrating your energies on one “definite major aim,” and keeping a cap on stormy emotions. Indeed, part of Hill’s contribution to American working life was his insistence that people needed to learn how to get along inside the kinds of large corporations in which more and more Americans were employed.
Hill also had a less appealing side. In his work as a writer and consultant, he sometimes displayed the kind of “yes-man” toadyism and blindness to flaws in corporate leaders, like Carnegie, whom he had admired since his youth.
Yet Hill ultimately produced a large body of articles and books that are more detailed, shrewder, and reveal a better understanding of human nature than many critics suppose. His greatest and least-understood impact, however, was in moving a surprisingly mystical set of ideas into the mainstream of American business life.
Mitch Horowitz is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin and the author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation (Bantam). He is writing a history of the positive-thinking movement, to be published by Crown. Horowitz edited Penguin’s reissue of Think Your Way to Wealth and co-narrated the audio edition. He is online at: www.MitchHorowitz.com.
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