Is the law of attraction real? cover image

Unpacking The Self-Help Industry’s Positive Thinking Fetish

Napoleon Hill was a pretty shitty human being, but you have to give him props for being perhaps the the greatest conman in history. It’s not just the sheer brazenness of the con, but that he got away with it scot-free, and continues to be revered long after his death. Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937, is still a bestseller today. It has 4.5 stars on Amazon.

None of the glowing reviewers seem to be aware that rather than soaking up the principles of the greats, curated and distilled over 20 years, they’re reading fiction cut from whole cloth by a conman whose only expertise lay in parting fools from their money.

As incredible as this is, it’s not the topic of this post. Ideas must be judged on their merits, and Think and Grow Rich is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the positive thinking phenomenon.

Hill didn’t come up with the ‘Law of Attraction’ himself, but he perfected the archetypal self-help format: if you trace back the explosion in gurus waxing lyrical about the the power of belief, Think and Grow Rich is ground zero. Every purveyor of inspiration porn for the last 80 years—Tony Robbins, Oprah, Deepak Chopra, The Secret—has a direct lineage to this book.

It all starts with this idea: If you believe in yourself, the universe will provide. Conquer your thoughts, and you conquer the world…