If you asked me to recommend to you the single best success book I have ever read, my answer would be a very definite "Think and Grow Rich".
First published in 1937, this is the end product of two decades of research conducted by Napoleon Hill. His research started when Andrew Carnegie (the steel tycoon who was then the richest man on earth) gave him the assignment of organizing a Philosophy of Personal Achievement. Hill, who was a poor journalist, armed with just an introductory letter from Carnegie, set out to interview over five hundred successful people including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, William Wrigley Jr. and Charles M. Schwab. Hill then revealed the priceless wisdom of his research in the form of the thirteen steps to success (in Think and Grow Rich) and the seventeen principles of success (in courses and lectures he conducted).
The concepts taught by Napoleon Hill transformed my life. Some of these include developing a definite purpose, building a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA), channeling the power of the sub-conscious mind and dealing with adversity. Everything he wrote about or talked about is thought provoking. He was wise, humble and funny. His philosophy is universal; he did not mix it with religion. The riches he referred to were more than money, for the Philosophy of Personal Achievement can be applied to anything in life.
Hill was well ahead of his time. This book has a chapter dedicated to some of today's most important issues - Specialized Knowledge, Decision Making, Imagination and Organized Planning (in which he deals with Leadership). He also has principles for Teamwork, Creative Vision, Health, etc.
This is a classic, and hence the examples are old (not to be confused with outdated). But they are as relevant today as they were in the early twentieth century. Here is an example from T&GR in the chapter on Desire:
On the morning after the Great Fire of Chicago (1871), a group of merchants on Chicago's State Street went into a conference to decide whether to rebuild their stores or leave Chicago. All but one decided to leave. The merchant who decided to stay pointed a finger to the remains of his store and said "Gentlemen, on that very spot I will build the world's greatest store, no matter how many times it may burn down." His name was Marshall Field and his store still exists, and in Hill's words is "a towering monument to that state of mind known as a burning desire." I lived in Chicago from 2002 through 2004 and worked three blocks away from this impressive store on State Street. Sometimes I would visit it or stand outside it to derive inspiration and be reminded of the power of desire. It is amazing that Hill describes "burning desire" with a story based on the Chicago Fire.
There are thousands of self-help books out in the market and hundreds of self proclaimed "gurus" who have made a living by copying the wisdom in Hill's books. As I went through some of those books I realized that there was not much in them that Hill had not already written about. I recommend quality over quantity. Instead of reading through many books, I recommend that you study the following works of Hill and internalize his wisdom:
1. The Think and Grow Rich Action Pack (1937) - I recommend the Action Pack edition,
2. Napoleon Hill's Keys to Success: The 17 Principles of Personal Achievement - this is an excellent guide to his principles,
3. Your Right To Be Rich [Unabridged] - this consists of 12 hours of live lectures covering the 17 principles, that Hill conducted in Chicago in 1954.
By internalizing, I mean studying in depth - analyzing the ideas, making notes and summaries. I own more CDs by Hill, but I believe that these 3 items make the perfect study plan on the Philosophy of Personal Achievement.
I am greatly indebted to Napoleon Hill. The purpose of my writing this is to spread awareness of his work so that more people can benefit from it. This, I believe is the best way in which Hill would have liked to have been repaid.
This review was written for the original version, which is the core of this version. This revised edition has more recent examples.