An In-depth Analysis of Napoleon Hill’s ‘Outwitting the Devil’

Napoleon Hill, born into poverty in 1883, rose to become one of the world’s most esteemed self-help authors. His journey from a small log cabin in Virginia to the heights of success has inspired millions. Hill’s most renowned work, “Think and Grow Rich,” has been a cornerstone of the self-improvement genre, guiding countless individuals on their path to success.

Despite the widespread recognition of his earlier work, one of Hill’s most intriguing manuscripts, “Outwitting the Devil,” remained unpublished during his lifetime. Written in 1938, the book was considered too controversial by his family and advisers, remaining under wraps for over 70 years. In 2011, the Napoleon Hill Foundation decided to publish the book, believing its message to be critical for contemporary society.

“Outwitting the Devil” represents a divergence from Hill’s other works. It is presented as an extended dialogue between Hill and ‘the devil,’ a personification of fear and self-doubt. The book is a provocative exploration of human limitations, the nature of success, and the psychological barriers that prevent individuals from achieving their full potential. As we delve deeper into this work, we will uncover the profound insights Hill offers into conquering one’s inner demons and achieving personal freedom.

Outwitting the Devil” is a fascinating and unconventional narrative, structured as an extended dialogue between the protagonist, referred to as ‘the interviewer,’ and a character known as ‘the devil.’ The interviewer, a representation of Napoleon Hill himself, conducts an incisive interrogation of the devil, unearthing a wealth of insights into human nature, fear, failure, and success.

The devil in the book is not the traditional religious figure but a symbolic representation of the negative forces that hinder personal growth and achievement. These forces include fear, doubt, procrastination, and a host of other self-imposed limitations that Hill contends are the real devils plaguing humanity.

Throughout the course of their conversation, the devil reveals how he claims his victims, primarily through a state Hill calls ‘drifting.’ Drifters, as defined by the devil, are individuals who float aimlessly through life without a clear sense of purpose or direction, making them easy targets for manipulation and control. The devil admits to exploiting these weaknesses, fostering indecision, fear, and lack of purpose to keep individuals from realizing their full potential.

In contrast, the non-drifters are those who possess a clear sense of direction, resilience in the face of adversity, and the ability to think independently. According to the devil, these individuals are immune to his influence because they have mastered their own minds, thereby outwitting the devil.

The book also delves into a range of other topics, including the role of education, the impact of environmental influences, the importance of definiteness of purpose, and the power of an alliance with others in achieving one’s goals.

The dialogue format of the book makes it a captivating read. Hill’s personification of negative influences as ‘the devil’ provokes deep thought, prompting readers to confront their own internal barriers. Through this revealing conversation, Hill provides a roadmap for individuals to seize control of their own minds, thereby freeing themselves from the constraints of fear and self-doubt.

In essence, “Outwitting the Devil” is an exploration of personal freedom and the power of the human mind, offering a unique perspective on the obstacles to success and how to overcome them.

“Outwitting the Devil” tackles a number of potent themes and concepts, each contributing to its overarching message of personal empowerment and freedom.

One of the key concepts is that of ‘Drifting,’ a state characterized by a lack of clear purpose and direction in life. Hill argues that drifters are susceptible to manipulation and control by the devil, a metaphorical representation of negative forces such as fear, self-doubt, procrastination, and indecisiveness. In essence, drifting is presented as the root cause of failure and unhappiness. To combat this, Hill emphasizes the importance of a definite purpose in life, arguing that individuals who possess clear, well-defined goals are far less likely to succumb to the influence of the devil.

The ‘devil’ in this context is not the traditional religious figure associated with evil, but rather a personification of the negative forces that obstruct personal growth and achievement. Hill uses this character to demonstrate how these forces can dominate our lives if we let them. Fear, for instance, is depicted as a powerful tool in the devil’s arsenal, used to paralyze individuals, keeping them from pursuing their goals. Similarly, procrastination is shown as another tactic used to prevent progress and maintain control over individuals.

Hill emphasizes the importance of independent thought and self-control in combating these negative forces. He argues that each individual has the power to control their own mind, and in doing so, can effectively outwit the devil. This autonomy is not easily achieved, however. It requires discipline, continuous learning, and the ability to resist external influences.

The role of education also figures prominently in the book. Hill criticizes traditional education systems for promoting conformity and stifling creativity, thereby producing more drifters. Instead, he advocates for an education that fosters independent thought, encourages the pursuit of one’s unique interests, and equips individuals with the practical skills necessary for success.

Another key theme is the power of alliances. Hill argues that individuals can multiply their chances of success by aligning themselves with others who share their goals and values. This concept, later coined as ‘mastermind groups’ in his book “Think and Grow Rich,” underscores the importance of collaboration and mutual support in achieving one’s goals.

In summary, “Outwitting the Devil” presents a powerful exploration of the human mind and its potential. It underscores the destructive power of negative forces like fear, doubt, and indecisiveness, while also offering a blueprint for overcoming these obstacles through independent thought, a clear sense of purpose, and strategic alliances. This unique portrayal of the battle between success and failure offers deep insights into the mechanics of personal achievement and the art of outwitting the devil within.

Despite being penned in 1938, “Outwitting the Devil” was not published until 2011 due to its controversial content. Yet, its subsequent impact on readers and society has been profound. The book has had a transformative effect on many individuals, prompting them to reassess their lives, confront their fears, and seize control of their destinies.

Many readers have credited “Outwitting the Devil” with sparking a personal revolution. They have shared stories of how the book’s central concepts, particularly the idea of ‘drifting,’ resonated with them, compelling them to take action. Some have reported dramatic changes in their personal and professional lives, from overcoming longstanding fears to making significant career shifts or launching successful businesses.

One reader, for instance, recounted how the book helped him recognize that he had been a ‘drifter’ for most of his life, aimlessly moving from one job to another without a clear sense of purpose. Inspired by Hill’s message, he decided to take charge of his life, setting clear goals and aligning his actions with them. Today, he is a successful entrepreneur with a thriving business.

Beyond individual experiences, “Outwitting the Devil” has left an indelible mark on the self-help and personal development genre. Its unique dialogue format, provocative content, and timeless insights into human nature set it apart from other works. Its discussion on the power of the mind, the impact of fear and doubt, and the importance of independent thought and definiteness of purpose have greatly influenced subsequent self-help authors and thought leaders.

In society at large, the book has fostered broader conversations about the nature of success and failure, the role of education, and the power of the human mind. It has challenged traditional notions of success and prompted a reevaluation of our education system’s effectiveness in fostering independent thought and practical skills.

In essence, “Outwitting the Devil” has not only influenced individual lives but also left a lasting impact on the self-help genre and societal perceptions of success and personal achievement. Its enduring relevance, decades after it was first written, attests to the universality of its message and the timeless nature of its insights.

“Outwitting the Devil” is undeniably a thought-provoking and influential work. Its strengths lie in its unique dialogue format, which keeps readers engaged, and its timeless insights into human nature and the mechanisms of personal achievement. Hill’s depiction of negative forces as the ‘devil’ is a powerful metaphor that resonates deeply with many readers. The book’s central themes, such as the dangers of ‘drifting’ and the importance of a definiteness of purpose, are as relevant today as they were when the book was written.

However, the book is not without its weaknesses. Some readers might find the dialogue format somewhat repetitive, and Hill’s style of writing, though eloquent, can be complex and challenging to digest. Additionally, while the personification of the ‘devil’ as a negative force is a compelling concept, it may not resonate with all readers, particularly those with differing religious or philosophical beliefs.

There are also potential controversies surrounding the book. Its critique of traditional education systems and its portrayal of ‘the devil’ were likely factors in the delay of its publication. Even today, these aspects can be contentious. Critics argue that Hill oversimplifies the complexities of personal achievement and failure, attributing too much power to individual will and not enough to socioeconomic factors and systemic issues.

In the contemporary world, “Outwitting the Devil” remains highly relevant. Its exploration of the human mind’s potential and its strategies for overcoming personal barriers are applicable in an era characterized by rapid change and uncertainty. However, its message should be considered in conjunction with a broader understanding of the myriad factors that influence personal success and failure.

In conclusion, while “Outwitting the Devil” is a significant work in the self-help genre, its interpretation and applicability will undoubtedly vary among readers, reflecting their personal beliefs, experiences, and perspectives.

“Outwitting the Devil” is a compelling exploration of the human mind and the battle between success and failure. Its unique dialogue format and powerful themes, such as the concept of ‘drifting’ and the importance of independent thought and definiteness of purpose, make it a standout work in the self-help genre. Despite its delayed publication and potential controversies, the book has had a profound impact on individual lives and continues to shape discussions about personal achievement and education. Its enduring relevance, decades after its initial writing, is a testament to its profound insights and its overall contribution to literature. As a work of Napoleon Hill, it continues to inspire and challenge readers, prompting them to confront their own ‘devils’ and seize control of their destiny.


  1. Hill, N. (2011). Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success. Sterling.
  2. Hill, N. (1937). Think and Grow Rich. The Ralston Society.
  3. The Napoleon Hill Foundation. (n.d.). Napoleon Hill – His Life and Work. Retrieved from
  4. Robins, M. (2012). Outwitting the Devil: A Review and Analysis. Psychology Today.

Further Reading:

  1. Hill, N., & Stone, W.C. (1960). Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. Pocket Books.
  2. Hill, N. (1953). How To Raise Your Own Salary. The Napoleon Hill Foundation.
  3. Hill, N., & Pell, A. (1977). The Master Key to Riches. Fawcett.
  4. Hill, N. (1967). You Can Work Your Own Miracles. Fawcett.
  5. Gitomer, J. (2007). The Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude: How to Find, Build and Keep a YES! Attitude for a Lifetime of SUCCESS. FT Press.

For a more comprehensive understanding of Napoleon Hill’s philosophy and its impact, it may be beneficial to explore some of his other notable works, such as “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude” and “How To Raise Your Own Salary.” Additionally, Jeffrey Gitomer’s “The Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude” provides a modern interpretation of Hill’s principles, particularly the concept of maintaining a positive attitude for achieving success.

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