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Book 511: The Path to Personal Power – Napoleon Hill

Once you start reading self-help novels, you open the floodgates to anything and everything. From journals and experiential books like How to be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad) to the more spiritual books like The Power of Forgiveness the broadness of the genre is breathtaking. Just check out my nonfiction page, most of those are self-help with a few biographies/history book sprinkled throughout.

When the publisher reached out to me about this and I saw on Goodreads (of all places – it’s also on the back cover) that Napoleon Hill is the “grandfather of self-help” how could I turn it down?* It looks like TarcherPerigee might be turning these into a series, The Mental Dynamite Series, but I’m not sure I would the next one. Even before they’d reached out to me I added Hill’s Think and Grow Rich book to my list as it’s one of the personal finance books to read.

The fact the advice in this book (mostly) holds up after being “lost” in the vaults for over 75 years is impressive. I think for me however, it was a combination of when I read it, the slightly cultish vibe I got from the Master Mind group idea, and the fact this work is a snapshot of a very specific time in the United States

At no fault of the publisher, the timing of this book for me was just off (as in when I read it, not the pacing of the book). This book could not be any further from The Communist Manifesto unless Hill called this The Capitalist Pact or something as ridiculous. I even read a Jane Austen palate cleanser between the two books but it didn’t help.

This book is basically a who’s who of pre-WWII American Industrial (read capitalist) Titans, academics and literati: Henry Ford, Thomas A. Edison, Russell Conwell, Frank Gunsaulus, Walter Chrysler, Knut Hamsun, Milo C. Jones, James J. Hill, Andrew Carnegie, Stuart Austin Wier, Cyrus H.K. Curtis, Edward Bok, Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, Dr. Elmer R. Gates, John Wanamaker, Edwin C. Barnes, William Howard Taft, Charles M. Schwab, Theodore Roosevelt, Elbert H. Gary, Charles P. Steinmetz, and Woodrow Wilson. And those are just the ones he listed of the hundreds he interviewed. My brain actually hurt trying to read this capitalist love story having finished The Communist Manifesto only a few days previously and I ragged on that!

I’m still trying to figure out if the cultish vibe I picked up was from how Carnegie dictated the book or if it was more Hill’s almost-but-not-quite sycophantic writing. I say almost-but-not-quite, because I’m struggling to find the word it’s not quite dotting and it’s definitely not blind allegiance, but it’s somewhere in there. Seriously though, this isn’t even the creepy part of the book, but it was all a little kumbaya for me (is that PC to say?).

“If all employers and employees related themselves to one another under a master mind plan similar to the one under which our country is operated, there would be no occasion for serious misunderstanding between them. Moreover, both the employer and the employees would receive more benefits from their joint efforts. There could be, and there should be, a pure democracy as the basis of all relationships between employers and employees, the same as there is a pure democracy on which the relationship between the States of America is based.” (80)

Now, the master mind group wasn’t totally foreign to me and wasn’t the worst thing ever, it actually reminded me of a lot of the writing/artistic/literary groups that have existed like The Bloomsbury Group, The Inklings, or The Factory to name a few (inkedvoices.com link). So I get it, but just the way Hill wrote about it and the way Carnegie apparently talked about it made it a bit creepy to me.

And if that wasn’t enough the sexism in the book was just too much for me. I wasn’t horrified because as I said this book is a snapshot of pre-WWII research and ideas and I could accept that. At the same time my 20th-21st century mind struggled to accept the Leave It to Beaver wife stays at home and her sole purpose is to support the husband and my hackles rose anytime Hill mentioned families because, again timeframe, these were only heteronormative nuclear families.

What would make this book even better would be some sort of forward/introduction discussing the shortcomings of the book. Be open about it and talk about this being a snapshot of the past and if you really wanted to bring it forward either create an annotated version adding in broader examples of women who use these same techniques, provide modern examples of tech entrepreneurs, and in essence just acknowledge that this book is 75 years old and things have changed significantly. I almost didn’t make it to the second section because the door-to-door life insurance salesman so dominated the first part of the book that I struggled to relate to it.

Recommendation: If you’re able to go into this book with an open mind acknowledging that this is a snapshot of America at a certain time period then it’s worth a read. If you take the three concepts of Definiteness of Purpose, The Mater Mind Principle, and Going the Extra Mile and connect them to modern workforce examples then this book is well worth the read. I know I struggled, not because of the concepts or the application, but I just couldn’t get my mind over that 75 year snapshot hurdle for some reason. I hope Think and Grow Rich aged better, because I know I will read that eventually.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for my honest opinion, no additional goods or money were exchanged.

Opening Line: “Through the lessons of this book you will be provided with usable knowledge that would cost you a huge fortune if you acquired it, as it was originally organized, from the minds of Andrew Carnegie and more than five hundred other distinguished leaders in American business and industry.”

Closing Line: “Application of the principles of Going the Extra Mile, Definiteness of Purpose, and the Mastermind Group are the sure way to find the Path to Personal Power.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

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