Who was Napoleon Hill? Full biography and controversies


Napoleon Hill (born October 26, 1883 – died November 8, 1970) was an American self-help and finance author. He became world-famous for his bestseller Think and Grow Rich (1937), which is among the top 10 best-selling self-help books of all time. Hill’s papers insisted that high expectations and positive thinking are essential to improving people’s quality of life and financial situation. Most of his books were marketed as simple but effective explanatory principles for achieving “success.”

Hill is, in modern times, a controversial figure. He was charged with fraud and kidnapping. Modern historians also doubt many of his claims, such as that he knew billionaire Andrew Carnegie and that he was a lawyer. Renowned tech website Gizmodo has called him “the most notorious scammer you’ve probably never heard of”.

Life and career


Napoleon Hill was born in a cabin room near the Appalachian town of Pound, in southwestern Virginia. His parents were James Monroe Hill and Sarah Sylvania (née Blair) and he was the grandson of James Madison Hill and Elizabeth (Jones). His grandfather was an English immigrant who came to the United States in 1847 and settled in southwestern Virginia.

Hill’s mother died when he was nine years old, and his father remarried two years later to a woman named Martha. His stepmother Martha was a good influence on him: “Hill’s stepmother, the widow of a school principal, civilized the wild infant Napoleon, forcing him to go to school and attend church.” At age 13, Hill began writing as a junior reporter, initially for his father’s newspaper. At age 15, he married (out of obligation) a local girl who had accused him of fathering her child; the girl retracted the claim and the marriage was annulled.

The early years of Napoleon Hill’s career

At the age of 17, Hill graduated from high school and went to Tazewell, Virginia to attend business school. In 1901, Hill accepted a job for attorney Rufus A. Ayers, a coal magnate and former Virginia attorney general. Author Richard Lingeman said that Hill was given this job after arranging to keep confidential the death of a black hotel attendant, who had been accidentally shot while drunk by the previous mine manager.

Hill left his coal mine management job soon after and began law school before withdrawing due to financial problems. Later in his life, Hill would use the title “Lawyer at Law,” although Hill’s official biography notes that “There is no record of him rendering legal services to anyone.”

Failed business ventures and fraud allegations

Hill moved to Mobile, Alabama in 1907 and co-founded the Acree-Hill Lumber Company. In October 1908, The Pensacola Journal newspaper reported that the company was subject to bankruptcy proceedings and charges of mail fraud. The Pensacola Journal reported that Hill’s lumber company had purchased lumber from outside of Mobile, including other counties in Alabama and even Florida, before selling the lumber “at a much lower price and so far no returns have been made.” .

In May 1909, Hill moved to Washington, DC, and started The Automobile College of Washington, where he instructed students to build, drive, and sell automobiles. The university assembled cars for the Carter Motor Corporation, which declared bankruptcy in early 1912. In April 1912, the motoring magazine Motor World accused Hill’s university of being a scam, using misleading marketing materials that would be “a joke for anyone of average intelligence. Hill’s automotive college closed its doors at the end of that year.

In June 1910, while administering his automotive college, Hill married his first wife, Florence Elizabeth Horner. The couple had their first child together, James, in 1911, a second son named Napoleon Blair in 1912, and a third son, David, in 1918. After the automobile college closed, Hill moved to Lumberport, West Virginia, with his wife’s family. He later moved to Chicago and took a job at LaSalle Extension University before co-starting a candy business he dubbed the Betsy Ross Candy Shop.

In September 1915, Hill established and served as dean of a new school in Chicago, the “George Washington Institute of Publicity,” where he intended to teach the principles of success and self-confidence. On June 4, 1918, the Chicago Tribune reported that the state of Illinois had issued two arrest warrants for Hill, who was charged with violating the Blue Sky laws, against securities fraud, for attempting to fraudulently sell stock in his school with a capitalization of $100,000, even though the school’s assets were valued at just $1,200. The school ended up closing soon after.

Later in his life, Hill would say that he spent this time advising President Woodrow Wilson in the midst of World War I. It is also not known if this statement is true, but it is quoted in one of the collections of Napoleon Hill speeches compiled by Don Green.

After the end of the George Washington Institute, Hill embarked on several other business ventures. He started several personal magazines, including Hill’s Golden Rule and Napoleon Hill Magazine. In 1922, Hill also started the Intra-Wall Correspondence School, a charitable foundation intended to provide educational materials to prisoners in Ohio. The foundation was run by, among others, check forger and ex-con Butler Storke, who would be sent back to prison just a year later. According to Hill’s official biography, this period was also when hundreds of documents associating Hill with various famous figures were destroyed in a fire in Chicago.

The law of success

In 1928, Hill moved to Philadelphia and convinced a Connecticut-based publisher to publish his eight-volume work The Law of Success. The book was Hill’s first big success, allowing Hill to adopt an affluent lifestyle. By 1929, he had bought a Rolls-Royce and a 600-acre estate in the Catskill Mountains, with the help of some lenders.

However, the onset of the Great Depression also called the Crash of ’29, took a toll on Hill’s finances, forcing him to divest his Catskills estate in foreclosure before the end of 1929. Hill’s next published work, The Magic Staircase to success, turned out to be a commercial failure (what a paradox!). Over the next several years, Hill traveled throughout the United States, reverting to his habits of the previous decade of starting various short-lived business ventures.

In 1935, Hill’s wife, Florence, filed for divorce from him in the state of Florida, this is documented in Emmert, J. M, The Story of Napoleon Hill.

Think and become rich

In 1937, Hill published what would become his best-selling book Think and Grow Rich. Hill’s new wife, Rosa Lee Beeland, contributed substantially to the authorship and editing of Think and Grow Rich. Hill’s biographers would later say that this book sold 20 million copies over 50 years, although as Richard Lingeman comments in his short biography, Alice Payne Hackett‘s 70 Years of Best Sellers, the number of sales was considerably less.«.

Returning to wealth again, Hill restarted his lavish lifestyle and purchased a new estate in Mount Dora, Florida. The couple divorced around 1940, and much of the proceeds from book sales went to his ex-wife Rosa Lee Hill, leaving Napoleon Hill to begin his quest for success once again.

Hill then met Annie Lou Norman, 47. They married in 1943 and moved to California. Hill then returned to the lecturing trade once again.

The science behind Think and Grow Rich

Is it true that you can get rich by visualizing your wealth, or was this a baseless tale from Napoleon Hill?

The book Think and Grow Rich has sparked a whole series of controversies in the world of self-help due to its conception of personal success and development. So the question that many are asking today is: Is it possible to become a rich person based on the vision raised by Napoleon Hill in his book?

In a Forbes magazine article from January 2020, Dr. Grace Lee raises the question about this possibility and if this is something that is supported by science.

One of the reasons the question is relevant is that after Napoleon Hill’s death in the 1970s, his book has remained relevant to the public and still commands great admiration today.

Hill’s book suggests that the road to success begins with passionate desire. This desire has to do with defining a purpose that is valuable to you, it also becomes an obsession that your mind is sure will be something that you will turn into a reality.

But what does science say about visualization and conscious work on a passionate desire?

Dr. Grace points out that when people pursue a meaningful desire, two things happen in our brains. First, we experience an emotion that ignites our passion, which often leads to a state of enthusiasm and pride. Passion is impulsive and instinctive, as it arises from having an incomplete perception of the nature of reality. Passion can motivate us to survive, and to overcome obstacles, but it is not a reliable point of guidance when it comes to taking us to great levels of success or fulfillment.

The emotional area of ​​our brain is responsible for our passion as well as its intensity levels. This includes the amygdala, the basal ganglia, and the brainstem, which are the primitive structures for instinctive and impulsive behaviors.

The passions can be the source of human suffering too because they are nothing more than impulses towards pleasure or instincts towards the avoidance of pain. Having a better life also requires engaging rational control over our emotional appetites.

So it is also important that we are aware that we experience and have an awareness of a definite purpose in our lives, which is the primary and essential function of our sense of accomplishment. A defined purpose clarifies our direction and our deepest desires while giving us a clear rationale for why we want to achieve our desires. This is our true north, our highest intrinsic value and our resolve to be unstoppable.

The prefrontal cortex of our brain is responsible for our search for a defined purpose. It boasts all high-level cognitive functions, including the self-taught spirit. This allows us to control our emotional impulses created by passion.

Not coincidentally, the first principle of Hill’s book is to have a passionate desire for a definite purpose, not a passion. This activates the prefrontal cortex and initiates persistent and consistent actions towards our goals.

The next principle of Think and Grow Rich involves visualization and the human imagination.

Our subconscious programming is responsible for everything we have created in our present and future lives. The conscious mind will not behave in a way that is inconsistent with the way the subconscious mind operates.

All of our beliefs, values, goals, and dreams have been programmed into our subconscious minds since birth. Subconscious programming influences the consequences of our lives, even if we are not fully aware of it.

Scientific research has shown that our brains respond similarly to real and imagined scenarios. This means that we can influence our subconscious mind through our imagination, and improve the way we respond and react to our reality. Our subconscious mind is powerfully responsible for producing most of our life experiences.

This is why Napoleon Hill’s success principles involve visualization and imagination. These habits are formed by the principles applied to reprogram our subconscious in ways that produce future life experiences that are in alignment with our defined purpose.

So yes, Napoleon Hill’s Success Principles are backed by science and can help us live better, more meaningful lives. For all these reasons, not only because it has promoted great promises, Think and Grow Rich is one of the best books of our time and can seriously boost our personal development and our growth in each of the areas of our lives. life.

Now, it is important to note that although Hill’s principles can be extremely useful for personal development and financial growth, Hill’s history and legacy are full of controversies that cannot be ignored as we will see later.

Achievement philosophy

Hill’s “Philosophy of Achievement” was offered as a rags-to-riches formula for success, this book was initially published in 1928 in the multi-volume course of study for The Law of Success so that a rewrite of a 1925 manuscript. Hill identified freedom, democracy, capitalism, and harmony among the foundations of his “Philosophy of Achievement.” He stated that without these fundamentals, great personal achievements would not be possible. We can therefore affirm that Napoleon Hill is a liberal thinker, at least in a broad sense of the term, understanding this the defense of Western values ​​inherited from Enlightenment thought.

One of the “secrets” of achievement was discussed in Think and Grow Rich, but Hill insisted that readers would benefit more from discovering it for themselves. Although he did not explicitly identify this secret in the book, he offered insights into it on 20 pages of the book: “If you really want money so badly that your desire is an obsession, you will have no difficulty convincing yourself that you are going to acquire it. The goal is to want money and to be so determined to have it that you convince yourself that you will have it… You can also know, right here, that you can never have riches in large amounts unless you build up in yourself that strong desire for money, and the conviction that you will really possess it”. In the introduction, Hill asserts the alleged “secret” that Andrew Carnegie ‘told me implicitly and carelessly’, and that this secret also inspired Manuel L. Quezon of the Philippine Islands to ‘win freedom for his people, and then led it as its first president.

Although Hill repeatedly mentions a “burning desire for money” throughout the book, he also suggests that it’s not really his “secret” at all. By contrast, at the end of his first book, The Law of Success, from nine years earlier, he identifies his secret as The Golden Rule: only by working harmoniously in cooperation with other individuals or groups of individuals and thereby creating value and benefit for them. you will create sustainable achievement for yourself.

He presented the notion of a “Definite Core Purpose” as challenging his readers to ask, “What do I really believe in?” According to Hill, “98%” of people had few or no strong beliefs, making success unlikely.

Hill used a story from his son, Blair, which he says was an inspiration to him because, although Blair was born without ears, and although Hill was told by his doctor that his son would not be able to hear or speak, Blair grew up able to hear and speak. almost normally. Hill reports that his son, during his senior year of college, read chapter two of the Think and Grow Rich manuscript, discovering Hill’s secret “for himself” and later inspiring “hundreds and thousands” of people who did not. They couldn’t hear or speak.

From 1952 to 1962, Hill taught his Philosophy of Personal Achievement at conferences on the science of success in association with W. Clement Stone.

In 1960 Hill and Stone co-authored the book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. Norman Vincent Peale is quoted as saying: “These two men [Hill and Stone] have a rare gift of inspiring and helping people…Indeed, I owe both of them a personal debt of gratitude for the useful help I have received from their writings.” »

The Philosophy of Achievement is included in the “Must Read” list of books in your 2008 view of John C. Maxwell.

Hill’s argument gave a personal perspective (rather boldly and perhaps narcissistically) on issues such as racism, slavery, oppression, failure, revolution, war, and poverty, saying that overcoming these difficulties using his “Philosophy achievement” was the responsibility of all humans.

Influence of Andrew Carnegie

Later in life, Hill claimed that the turning point in his life had been a 1908 assignment as a journalist to interview industrialist, philanthropist, and billionaire Andrew Carnegie (died 1919). In 1908, Carnegie was among the most powerful and richest men in the world. Hill wrote, after Carnegie’s death, that Carnegie had met with him at the time and challenged him to interview wealthy people to discover a simple formula for success, and then had simply gone about interviewing many successful people. (read rich) of the time.

Acknowledgments in his 1928 multivolume work, The Law of Success, listed 45 of those he had studied, “most of these men I knew at close quarters, in person,” as those to whom the book was dedicated, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Edwin C. Barnes (an associate of Thomas Edison). Hill reported that Carnegie had given him a letter of introduction from Ford, who Hill said had introduced him to Alexander Graham Bell, Elmer R. Gates, Thomas Edison, and Luther Burbank.

According to the publishers of The Law of Success, Ralston University Press, William H. Taft, Cyrus HK Curtis, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, EM Statler, Edward W. Bok, and John submitted their positive reviews for The Law of Success. The list in the book’s acknowledgments includes, among those Hill wrote he had personally interviewed, Rufus A. Ayers, John Burroughs, Harvey Samuel Firestone, Elbert H. Gary, James J. Hill, George Safford Parker, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles M. Schwab, Frank A. Vanderlip, John Wanamaker, F. W. Woolworth, Daniel Thew Wright, and William Wrigley, Jr.

Alleged visits from spirits

Hill openly described spirit visits in Chapter 12 of his book Grow Rich: With Peace of Mind (1967). He described the spirits as unseen friends, unseen watchers, strange beings, and the Great School of Masters who had been watching over him and maintaining a “school of wisdom.” Hill claims that the “Master” spoke to him audibly, revealing secret knowledge. Hill further insists that the Masters “can disincarnate themselves and travel instantaneously to any place they choose to acquire essential knowledge or to give knowledge directly, by voice, to any other person.” Get rich! With Peace of Mind, the book of the sixties, he was allegedly influenced by Hill’s spiritual voices; Hill quotes the “Master” and says, “Much of what he said has already been presented to you in the chapters of this book or will follow in other chapters.”


Napoleon Hill died at the age of 87 on November 8, 1970. His death was reported by the American newspaper The Bee, of Danville, Virginia. Hill’s obituary noted: “The self-taught author of Think and Grow Rich died on Sunday at the age of 87. Publishers say his self-help book has sold more than 20 million copies. He ran the Napoleon Hill Foundation, which worked on the rehabilitation of ex-convicts.”


In addition to the fraud charges, the authenticity of many of Hill’s statements has been widely questioned. Napoleon Hill’s collaboration with Andrew Carnegie was never confirmed by Carnegie or his estate, and Hill reportedly only began claiming to have interviewed Carnegie after Carnegie’s death. Apart from Hill’s writings, there are no accounts that the meeting ever took place. According to Andrew Carnegie’s biographer, David Nasaw, of the alleged meeting between Carnegie and Hill he stated that “I found no evidence of any kind that Carnegie and Hill met” and “I found no evidence that the book was authentic”. Nasaw’s claim is collected in Matt Novak’s book,“The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, The Greatest Self-Help Swindler of All Time”.

Outside of Hill’s own writings, and aside from briefly meeting Thomas Edison in 1923, evidence is lacking for many of Hill’s other claims to have met other successful men. According to Napoleon Hill’s official biography, the reason for this is that photos of him, letters from presidents, and letters of endorsement from famous men were lost in a fire.

In addition to these and the fraud charges, Napoleon Hill’s other statements have been called into question. Napoleon Hill claimed to have helped President Wilson negotiate Germany’s surrender in World War I, but there is no known evidence that this happened. He claimed that he helped President Franklin Delano Roosevelt write his fire chats, and scripts for a radio show, without offering any evidence either. He claimed to be a lawyer, although his official biography states that “There is no record of him rendering legal services to anyone.” There are also no known records of Hill interviewing the other famous men he claimed to have interviewed, such as Charles M. Schwab, Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, Edwin C. Barnes and Alexander Graham Bell.

Legacy of Napoleon Hill

Success Magazine, however, credits Hill’s claims without even mentioning all the shadows of doubt about Hill’s legacy, noting that: Inspired by a suggestion from industrialist Andrew Carnegie, Napoleon Hill spent 20 years interviewing the most successful of its time. He distilled the wisdom from it into the classic 1937 bestseller, Think and Grow Rich. Entrepreneur and author Greg S. Reid followed Hill’s lead, applying some of his lessons in the book Think and Grow Rich STICKABILITY: The Power of Perseverance. Citing examples set by today’s achievers, Reid offers these and other tips:

Get along with other people. Success is not finite. Another person’s success does not compromise your potential, therefore take an interest in the achievements of others. These same people will be more willing to help you too.

Do not give up. Focus on the result instead of the fight. You will reap the rewards when you have the courage and ability to stick with your vision.

Stop procrastinating. Don’t let doubt stop you. The greatest achievers are those who seize opportunities when they present themselves. Have the confidence to take on a task that may seem overwhelming.

Stay faithful. Let your passion and commitment become stronger than your fears. Understand that it is your job as a great leader to stand out and take initiative, which sometimes means breaking the status quo.

Be a great leader. Leadership is not reserved for a special few. Leadership is learned and involves facing challenges with composure and balance. Only then will you clearly see the solutions needed to achieve your goals.

Napoleon Hill books

The Law of Success (1928)
The Magic Stairway to Success (1930)
Think and Grow Rich (1937)
Outwitting the Devil (1938)
How to Sell Your Way Through Life (1939)
The Master Key to Riches (1945)
How to Increase Your Own Salary (1953)
Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (with W. Clement Stone) (1959)
Get Rich!: With Peace of Mind (1967)
Succeed and Get Rich Through Persuasion (1970)
You Can Make Your Own miracles (1971)

Napoleon Hill Quotes

Despite his controversial life story. Napoleon Hill remains a benchmark for financial success and his teachings are frequently cited by leading specialists in financial growth and self-help. Although his philosophy and thought may be debatable, I consider it important to leave some of his phrases to evaluate his thought and make a judgment (whether negative or positive) of the teachings of this millionaire author who still today continues to arouse hatred and love to the length and breadth of the world.

On having a definite purpose

“If you want the mind to grasp an idea and form a habit for the mind to automatically act on that idea, you have to tell the mind what you want, over and over and over again.”

On the development of personal mastery

“Whatever you lack in education, knowledge, or influence, you can always get it through someone who has it. The exchange of favors and the exchange of knowledge is one of the greatest exchanges in the world» .

On the application of faith

“The subconscious mind only knows what you say to it, or what you allow other people to say, or what you allow the circumstance of life to say… it accepts the things you send, and if you predominantly send thoughts about poverty and poor health and failure, that’s exactly what you’ll get.”

About going further

“I don’t know of any quality or trait that can give a person a quicker chance than to get out of their way or do someone a favor or do something useful.”

On having a nice personality

Don’t take anything too seriously, no matter what it is. During the Depression (1929 and 1930s), four of my friends committed suicide. Two of them jumped from tall buildings, one shot himself and one took poison. They did it because they lost all their money. I lost twice as much as they did, but I didn’t jump off any buildings, I didn’t shoot myself, I didn’t get poisoned… My mental attitude towards that was to start right away looking for that seed of improvement.”

On having initiative

“You don’t have to be very bright. You don’t have to have such a wonderful education. You can be an outstanding success if you just take what little you have, whether it’s a little or a lot, and start using it, putting it to work, doing something about it, and doing something with it. And, of course, that requires initiative.

Having a positive attitude

“Hoping is better than wishing. Because the difference between a hope and a wish is that hope is a beginning to assume faith».

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.

Zeen Subscribe
A customizable subscription slide-in box to promote your newsletter
[mc4wp_form id="314"]