Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success
By Napoleon Hill (1883-1970 Posthumous) June 2011, Annotated by Sharon Lechter
ISBN: 978-1-4027-8453-8 (hardcover)
–Review by Douglas Balzer
Who doesn’t like the idea of outwitting the Devil? When I read the title to this book the song “The Devil went down to Georgia” by the Charlie Danial’s Band became an earworm for me right away, and C.S. Lewis combined. It took me back to my roots as a farm/country boy if you don’t remember the song ask Alexa or Siri to play it for you.
If you are not familiar with Napoleon Hill, he was and is still one of Americas most read influential thinkers and writers from the early 20th century. He wrote his book Outwitting The Devil right after the successful publishing of Think and Grow Rich (1937). However, it wasn’t published because Hill’s wife felt it was too controversial for their time.
After I read about the history of this book I was intrigued by the question, What is so controversial about this book they decided not to publish it? So, here are my takeaways as to why this book should be an addition to your must read and to your library.
Outwitting the Devil is imaginative, informative, witty and filled with wisdom. It is a satirical interview between the Nepolean Hill and the Devil himself. Through the interview process, Hill manages to draw out or wring out critical information and tactics the Devil uses to help us avoid his grasp and live a good life.
Now, many think of Napoleon Hill as one of the early self-improvement forerunners, but what if he was more? A semiotician who understood humanity and was adept at reading the signs of the developments coming in the culture. Here are the three main lessons from the book –
First, there are two foundations or bases from which we build our lives – Faith and Fear.
According to Hill, we spend our entire lives operating from either Faith or Fear. Or as I think along a spectrum between faith and fear with some combination or level of both functioning simultaneously. In his interview with the Devil, Hill demonstrates he already knows one of the Devil’s primary tools in his arsenal: Fear. Hill understood fear. He received a death threat, and it caused him to go into hiding and temporarily paralyzed him due to the fear and anxiety it brought him. It was during this experience Hill was reminded of some advice he received from Andrew Carnegie years before, “You will discover that the cause of success is not something separate and apart from the man; that it is a force so intangible in nature that the majority of men never recognize it; a force which might be properly called the ‘other self.’”
Hill recognized his “other self” telling him to stop giving into fear and doubt, move forward and finish his philosophy of achievement, and he did. According to Hill, the truth is when we listen to our other self, we have faith in ourselves. We do not give in to “the resistance,” as Steven Pressfield refers. Hill states listening to our other self is the only proper way of operating in life.
Now, here is the rub; it is precisely our “other self” the Devil works to undermine with every opportune moment in human lives. Hill sees the Devil succeeded in this area by dividing humanity into drifters and non-drifters.
Second, the Devil looks to create permanent drifters out of humanity, never getting around to what we are meant to do in life.
When Hill starts to drill the Devil in the interview for the most common fears he uses against man, Hill swiftly finds out the Devil has even more ingenious ways of ruining us. He tells us the Devil claims first to work to create in our minds “the principle of habits” to establish the “the habit of drifting.”
Hill quotes the Devil saying, “I can best define the word ‘drift’ by saying that people who thinks for themselves never drift, while those who do little or no thinking for themselves are drifters.”
So, a drifter is the antithesis of a stoic. Drifters let themselves be tossed around in life and allow externals to dominate their minds. They go nowhere because they are not using their brains to think. Hill explains later in the book how drifting will turn into a “hypnotic rhythm,” which keeps people busy with inconsequentialities, the tyranny of the urgent, and over time, drifting become permanent unless we outwit the Devil.
Third, there are seven principles which help us gain mental, spiritual, and physical freedom.
So, Hill succeeds in getting the Devil to reveal every dirty trick in his collection. Now, Hill asks the master of deception for the ways we can combat his offensive forces. The Devil reveals seven principles humans should follow to find freedom in all walks of life:
- Have a definite purpose: Chose a purpose for your life, a grand aspiration, a big goal, and move towards it relentlessly.
- Self-Mastery: Discipline equals freedom according to the Devil. If impulse drives your life, you will go nowhere; you will be in the Devil’s trap, exactly where he wants you as a drifter.
- Learn from adversity: Failures are that just failures. Either we learn from them or let them stop us is up to us.
- Control environmental influences: Who you hang out with matters. What your room looks like matters. It matters how you take care of yourself and others.
- Time: Time and persistence can make drifting and negativity permanent. It can also make positivity and wisdom permanent.
- Harmony: To balance the mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of life, you must be the main actor in your drama.
- Caution: Always act, but always think before you move. Inaction is still an action, but it is the action of drifting.
Not everything goes perfect; there are setbacks happen; human beings are fraught with them consistently. The problem with setbacks is they turn into indecisiveness quickly. Don’t let them. Don’t let the Devil win. Hill would say to us. Life’s too important a game for us to lose it.
My final thoughts on Outwitting the Devil are Napoleon Hill uses a creative approach for writing this book. Eighty years after its writing it gleams with simple ideas, package in stories we can understand, and share in fun ways, so they stick. The author may have been a controversial figure, but he has an intuitive sense of human nature evident in his writing that he has his fellow citizens’ best at heart.