Review: Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill

By Heather Martin

Temporary Defeat is Not Failure:

A Hidden Manuscript has Lessons for Today’s Economic Crisis

Winston Churchill once said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” How desperately does the world need courage now, at a time when the uncertainty of its future is palpable?

In recent years, it seems as though American culture has been bombarded by self-help books. Like anything repetitious, it can often become cliché. Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill is anything but.

Hill is the author of the classic book Think and Grow Rich, one of the original self-help books written and published in the early 1900’s, and originally inspired by his mentor Andrew Carnegie. What many do not know is that Hill also wrote a book entitled Outwitting the Devil, The Secret to Freedom and Success. Originally written in 1938, it was considered too controversial for the time which led his family to hide the manuscript, leaving it unpublished for over 70 years.

Outwitting the Devil is fundamentally a book about what it takes to achieve success. It is written as an interview between Hill and the devil himself, forcing the devil to confess the tools he uses to distract people away from their true destiny.

One of the most profound aspects of Outwitting the Devil is a narrative by Hill about his own challenges after the Great Depression. It is not just about the financial crisis he experienced, along with millions of others. It is not a tale of simply overcoming hardships to rebuild success. His narrative is about his brutal struggle to overcome internal fears, his personal story of facing the devil within, and of how he built the foundation for his philosophy upon the lessons of this hardship.

In an excerpt, Hill states that “The economic depression which started in in 1929 brought misery to millions of people, but let us not forget that the experience also brought many blessings, not the least of these being the knowledge that there is something infinitely worse than being forced to work. It is being forced not to work.”*

How often have we found ourselves leaving work in a foul mood, frustrated by the situation that confronts us, wishing we could walk into the office the following day to submit our resignation letter with moxy? Yet when unemployed, we desperately hope and pray for a good position, wishing we had a job we could drive to every day just to pay the bills and make ends meet.

During The Great Depression, men often became so discouraged that they abandoned their families. In Hard Times, an Oral History of the Depression, Herman Shumlin wrote: “Two or three blocks along Times Square, you’d see these men, silent, shuffling along in a line. Getting this handout of coffee and doughnuts, dealt out from great trucks. . . . I’d see that flat, opaque, expressionless look which spelled, for me, human disaster. Men . . . who had responsible positions. Who had lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost their families . . . They were destroyed men.”**

Napoleon Hill has a very strong message, he and others he knew lived through THE GREAT DEPRESSION, yet many persevered and came out the other side, alive and kicking. The beauty of his book is that he does not sugar coat his experience. He talks about the grief he went through before breaking through and recovering from economic hardship. It may not be easy, but he offers one source to get through tough times to fulfill our purpose in life, to find meaning and strength from our struggle.

It is not easy right now. I know that firsthand. Many others do as well. Hill’s book is not a magic wand or a get rich scheme. This is a book about principles, belief in self and what it takes to persevere in the face of tough times. It is a critical lesson for our current economy, but also one that will heighten our strength of focus to excel in the face of any challenge.

He uncovers the principles of “drifting” and “hypnotic rhythm” which the devil uses to distract people from their real purpose in life. Through Hill’s interview of the devil, he reveals that thinking and independent thought is the crux upon which human beings thrive or die. To evolve, to excel, to exceed, to prosper is to think and act on individual independent thought. He argues that the public school system does not properly teach our children how to think for themselves, nor does it teach the critical element of how to manage your personal finances, a critical piece of future success or failure as an adult.

Our children may not be in an environment that encourages independent thought, but as adults we have a choice: We can choose to think and act for ourselves, to grow and contribute, to move beyond our current circumstance to prove Hill was right when he said “temporary defeat is not failure.” You have only failed when you decide to give up. It is so easy to give up. This is not a judgment, this is a fact. When times are hard it is a challenge to find a source that allows you to keep going in a positive and faithful way. But there is an opportunity in hardship to realize a greater destiny for ourselves as individuals, to learn and grow from adversity, and to contribute to the greater community. Our individual persistence and success contributes to a system wide recovery that will transform our economy from a period of challenge to an experience of success.

In the words of Napoleon Hill: “Most real failures are due to limitations which people set up in their own minds.” Where are you setting your limits? And most importantly, how can you break through and defeat them?

*Material excerpted from “Outwitting the Devil” from Napoleon Hill.
** Source:


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