Book Review: ‘Outwitting the Devil’, after over 70 years

I’m guilty of beginning Outwitting The Devil without knowing much about the author, Napoleon Hill. In the first few pages, it was apparent that he’s some sort of “important” historical figure. As I paused my reading to Google him, I quickly learned that he has had a profound affect on the business of personal success writing. Okay, so he’s kind of a big deal. He’s the guy that said, “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” a quote that’s coincidentally a favorite of mine.

Hill dedicated most of his life to interviewing business leaders and prominent thinkers of the day, seeking out the secrets to success. His twenty years of writing and interviewing people like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison were a result of introductions by Andrew Carnegie, who inspired Hill to organize the philosophy of personal achievement through these interviews. Hill has penned many previous bestsellers, including the well-known Think and Grow Rich, which has sold millions of copies since its first publishing in 1937.

What’s immediately interesting about Outwitting The Devil is that Hill wrote the book in 1938, but it went unpublished until 2011. Why the delay? Probably the groundbreaking content that, in the ’30s, would have seemed absurd (and may still seem that way today). Hill shares opinions on education, finance, health, alcohol, sex and drugs in this book – many of which are relevant and eerily accurate today, some 70 years later.

The book is set up as a conversation between Hill and “the Devil,” as Hill explores how to overcome fear, obstacles and barriers – all “Devil-related,” according to Hill – on the road to personal achievement and success. The book-long conversation tackles various barriers every individual faces in forging their own path in life and discusses the role of the individual versus external forces that may overtake an individual’s ability to independently reach success.

The conversation format initially took me by surprise, but Hill uses this cheeky framework to convey his argument and points through the analogy of the Devil very well. The material is relatable to anyone looking to reach beyond themselves for a life that is both fulfilling and rewarding, something to which all Millennials naturally aspire. And, surprisingly or not, the obstacles that Hill faced in the 1930s aren’t any different than the challenges that individuals, particularly Millennials, face today – where to live, what to do for a living and how to find overall happiness.

What I enjoyed most about the book is Hill creates the analogy of the Devil to explain his ultimate message: Each individual is ultimately responsible for his or her own success. According to Hill, “Your only limitation is the one which you set up in your own mind.” It was lines like those that struck home for me. Again and again, the text points out that “The worst of all human ailments is indecision,” something that many readers will be able to personally relate to very well.

Overall, it took me some time to warm up to this book, particularly to the religious undertones that are omnipresent throughout the text. However, I would encourage anyone who reads this book to make special note that Hill points out that the “Devil” controls negative thought and wants to germinate negative thoughts in every individual. Each and every reader must decide for themselves what roles the Devil – either external or internal – plays in his or her own life. Will you let negative thought and indecision get the better of you?

This book makes every reader reevaluate their own choices, attitudes and decisions, and their outcomes, hopefully for sake of personal satisfaction, achievement and happiness.

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