Book #1 of the “36 Books to Read if You Want to Become a Billionaire”:
Think and Grow Rich
by Napoleon Hill.
One of the reasons I decided to undertake the challenge of reading 36 books—and specifically these 36 books—was that I owned the first book on the list, and had never finished it. Which meant I could start the challenge right away and actually finish something. I originally purchased it back in August 2014 after hearing it mentioned on so many podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs, and various recommended reading lists. Almost every time it came up, this book was near or at the top of the list. So no surprise when I saw that it was the first book on this list, too.
Upon picking it up again, I remembered why I had put it down after struggling halfway through it the first time. The copy I owned was a poor reproduction that had apparently been scanned by a computer and reassembled with minimal-to-no proofreading. If you do decide to buy and read this book, don’t do as I did and buy the cheapest copy on Amazon.
The other thing to consider is the book was written in the 1930s and is very much a product of its time. Women’s place in society was still considered that of a mother and housewife and for the most part in servitude to men. So if you’re a woman reading this book, you’ll have to work past that and focus on the content.
In the 1930s the US was recovering from the Great Depression, and its message is a direct reflection of that. As the title suggests, it wants the reader to adjust their thinking before anything else. And after such a mentally-oppressive and challenging time as the Great Depression that must have been the only way forward. Some of the sections I highlighted early on are “no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality”, and “Faith is the “eternal elixir” which gives, life, power, and action to the impulse of thought!”
Or to put it another way, before you can have any great ideas that will make you rich*, first you have to believe you can even have the ideas in the first place. It is this message of attitude that puts this book at the top of almost every list. The readers have to get into that headspace before they can even begin actually to achieve anything else.
*I should mention that, although the book is almost entirely focussed on making money, “riches” can be defined as whatever the reader wants them to be, not just financial.
I did find the book to be very vague in places. At some points almost maddeningly so. This is why I put it down the first time I read it. From the very beginning, the author refers to a secret that is hidden in the pages and in each chapter. Some readers will supposedly get it right away, others only when they’ve read the book a few times. But not once is the secret actually described in a tangible way.
At first, I took it as intentionally vague—that each reader would have to make up for themselves what the book meant to them (and maybe that is the case). But upon finishing the book, I think the secret is merely to focus:
You have to have a clear goal and a burning desire to achieve it, whatever that goal is—financial or otherwise.
Once you have that, you need to put a plan in place to get you from where you are to where you want to be.
Finally, you need a stubborn will to keep you on the path when adversity and negative talk from those around you tries to derail you.
I may be wrong. Maybe that is merely the meaning that I took the book.
The message of the book is first-and-foremost aspirational. If you want to be rich, but don’t know where to start, look within yourself. Find something that works for you and then pursue it obsessively until you achieve it.
The first draft of my review of this book was quite critical. But after leaving it to sink in for a while, I think it is a worthy first book on the road to self-improvement. It is a classic, and there is a reason for that. It’s also worth noting that it is in many ways the father of all modern self-help books. Born out of the desperation of the Great Depression it helped many find the will to seek a better life for themselves. I have also seen many of the quotes and concepts from this book repeated and re-imagined in other far more modern books, so some of the 13 principals it teaches clearly stood the test of time.
As worthy as it is, it only works a stepping stone to get the reader going on their journey. If you were just going to read one book to improve your life, I don’t think this should be it. It’s a bit too vague in places and, while it does provide actions one can take to improve, I think the next book on the list is a better all-rounder on the road to success...