Deconstructing Napoleon Hill

People tend to take Napoleon Hill’s story of his life at face value. Not this guy.

Napoleon Hill – A Life in Lies 2 (or Notes for a Screenplay)

Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) was a conman who sold the lie that he had interviewed Andrew Carnegie and been commissioned by him to undertake research, a conman who sold the lie that he had associated closely with Ford, Edison and other rich men, a conman who sold the lie that he served in the White House under two administrations, a conman who sold the lie that he had undertaken research into how and why people succeed.

It’s all a fraud. Hill never met Carnegie, he never associated with any of the other celebrated industrialists lauded in his writings, he never worked for the White House, his research claims are fantasies.

Napoleon Hill was a fraud and a serial liar – and this is transparently obvious if you ignore the marketing hype and emperor’s new clothes veneration which continues to surround him.

Note that his posts are misnumbered and I list them here in the order in which they make sense, hence 2-1-3.

Napoleon Hill – A Life in Lies 1

Of course, Hill’s family was hardly illiterate. His father and grandfather were printers, a prerequisite for which would appear to be literacy. His younger brother would study law at Georgetown, his father was a highly practical and resourceful man who did not need to be ‘sent away’ to college.


Hill never met Carnegie, so had no letter of recommendation from him to Wilson. Hill never met Wilson – can anyone seriously believe that a sophisticated, educated, urbane, patrician like Wilson would have wasted a minute of his time on an anonymous small businessman with a record of business failure, debt and litigation? Wilson had the pick of US intellectual and artistic circles to choose from. A nonentity like Hill wouldn’t even have appeared on the horizon.

Napoleon Hill – A Life in Lies 3

Hill was clearly inspired by Charles Haanel, an eminent New Thought writer and speaker who published his “Master-Key System” as a correspondence course in 1912, then as a book in 1917. Hill wrote to Haanel (April 21, 1919) enclosing a copy of the “Golden Rule” magazine, and explaining that his own success “is due largely to the principles laid down in The Master-Key System”. He described Haanel as “helping people to realise that nothing is impossible of accomplishment which a man can create in his imagination.”

In an obsequious letter, trying to solicit advertising for his magazine, Hill claimed he was “President of the Napoleon Hill Institute” and had “just been retained by a ten million dollar corporation at a salary of $105,200 a year, for a portion of my time only, it having been agreed that I shall continue as editor of the Hill’s Golden Rule.”

So this is Hill in 1919, fawning to Charles Haanel, representing Haanel as his inspiration and, effectively, as his mentor. Hill regurgitated and recycled Haanel’s ideas – the bullshit Hill passed off as his philosophy is simply a rehashing and plagiarising of work by Haanel and others. Moreover, Hill would now follow Haanel’s example, moving from magazines to selling correspondence courses, to writing books, to imagining himself touring the country giving lectures, etc. Had Hill subscribed to Haanel’s correspondence course? Or did he just read the book?

That letter to Haanel is here.

Here’s something he missed:

He explains that his ‘other self’ has awakened. I can’t help but wonder if he’s describing a psychotic episode?

The “other self” is from The Magic Story by Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey.

And this is interesting:

So these notes are intended to inspire would be investigative journalists and local historians in the USA – check your local library, see if Hill ever lectured in your town, see if there are any court or police records, see if there are any reports by people who bought his correspondence course, etc. Find back copies of the various magazines he produced. Look for traces. I’d love to hear from you.

There are gaps in Hill’s own history of himself and he wonders if Hill ever spent time in prison!

As for traces of Hill, I’ve done several past posts unearthing what I believe are previously-unseen writings by Hill.

As for Bob Taylor’s Magazine, a few issues are available at Google Books. I can’t find anything written by Napoleon Hill in them. But Google Books is generally rather poor for searching. A search for “Napoleon Hill” sorted by date ends at 100 screens of results and goes no further than the year 2008. My prior searches were done in a variety of sideway ways to unearth the things I found.

This week, I’ve been reading One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life by Mitch Horowitz.


Surprisingly, there’s no mention of Charles F. Haanel in it. I’m convinced that Haanel was a major influence for Hill. And that Haanel himself recycled ideas from others in the New Thought movement, minting money with a very clever marketing campaign.

Was Napoleon Hill a fraud? Perhaps someone can devote the time to digging up the answer to that question. But would it accomplish anything? Hardly any of the ideas Hill presented are original to him. And as Horowitz points out in his book, ideas that originated in New Thought — and from individual writers — have become so entrenched in modern American culture that even if Hill were to be exposed as a fraud, nothing would change in terms of the ideas themselves.

Previously here:

And Again, Napoleon Hill

Previously at Mike Cane’s xBlog:

Napoleon Hill category

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