Napoleon Hill, W. Clement Stone, and Me

Posted on August 21, 2018 by Robert Ringer


It’s amazing how some books continue to sell forty, fifty, even a hundred years after they were first published.  In the field of personal development, the champion in this regard is undoubtedly Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.  The book was first published in 1937 and has gone through many iterations since then.

In my ongoing quest to rid my life of thousands of old press clippings, articles, souvenirs, etc., the other day I happened across my dog-eared copy of Think and Grow Rich, which was personally signed by Napoleon Hill.

I vividly remember having a brief chat with Hill when I visited The Napoleon Hill Foundation in Columbia, South Carolina back in the sixties.  The purpose of my visit was to learn more about The Science of Personal Achievement, a course his foundation was marketing at the timeHill was kind of a crusty old guy, definitely not overly friendly or warm.

By that time, W. Clement Stone, a wealthy insurance magnate who had risen from the ranks of poverty despite having no formal education, had become Hill’s benefactor, so to speak, and had collaborated with him on a number of other books and projectsUnlike Napoleon Hill, he was a very friendly, gracious man, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons why he was such a great salesman.

Mr. Stone was kind enough to meet with me for an hour or so in his suite at the New York Hilton Midtown on his way back from Europe.  Being the energetic young entrepreneur that I was, I had relentlessly tracked him down through his secretary and was excited when she called me back and said that Mr. Stone would be delighted to meet with me in New York on his way back to Chicago.

On reflection, I can’t imagine why a man of Stone’s stature would take the time to meet with a kid in his twenties, but it serves as a reminder to me that having the chutzpah to ask is one of the most powerful tools a young entrepreneur has at his disposal.

I still remember how impressed I was when I walked into W. Clement Stone’s majestic suite at the Hilton Hotel.  I have no recollection of what we discussed, but I clearly remember that his wife sat in on the meeting and that she, too, was very pleasant.  While there, I had Stone sign the same copy of Think and Grow Rich that Napoleon Hill had signed when I was in South Carolina, so today I have a genuine heirloom that contains both men’s signatures.

When I was in Columbia, I also met Dr. Sidney Bremer, whom I believe was the president of The Napoleon Hill Foundation at the time.  Like W. Clement Stone, Bremer was a congenial and cordial man, and we talked at length at least two or three times during my visit.

Looking at my copy of Think and Grow Rich, and the signatures of Messrs. Hill and Stone, got me thinking about all that has transpired since that time.  In those days, I was going from one entrepreneurial venture to another, and hadn’t yet gone into the real estate brokerage business let alone written a book about my experiences in that field.

As they have a habit of doing, the years rolled by, Napoleon Hill passed away in 1970, and, lo and behold, the relentless young kid who had visited with Napoleon Hill, Sidney Bremer, and W. Clement Stone had become a New York Times bestselling author.  Then, in 1976, Fawcett Books, my paperback publisher for Winning Through Intimidation, held a cocktail party in my honor at the American Booksellers Association Convention in Chicago.

While exchanging pleasantries with guests, a familiar looking face approached me, hand extended, and introduced himself.  It was Sidney Bremer.  I was amazed that he remembered me, and we enjoyed a nice chat together.  “Small world,” I thought to myself.

To this day, I have no idea what Dr. Bremer was doing at a Fawcett Books cocktail party for Robert Ringer.  And, sadly, I never had another opportunity to ask him, because he passed away just four years later.

Funny thing, but today, for the first time, it occurred to me that in all my numerous trips to Chicago over the years, I never made an attempt to contact W. Clement Stone again.  I now wish I had, because I think he would have remembered our hour-long meeting at the New York Hilton back in the mid-sixties and probably would have gotten a big kick out of how far I had come since that time.

Clement Stone passed away in 2002, shortly after his one hundredth birthday. What a great life he must have had — the archetypal Horatio Alger story. I wish I had gotten to know him better and perhaps been able to pick his brain from time to time.

As to Think and Grow Rich, though it had a big impact on my thinking while in my twenties, it lost much of its appeal for me when I tried to reread it on several occasions over the years.  Each time I delved into it, Hill’s writing style, as well as much of his advice and many of his aphorisms, seemed somewhat banal and specious.

Being fair to the man, however, the year 1937 was another time, and the world was much younger than today.  In those days, men wore topcoats and ties to baseball and football games, no one had ever heard of “women’s reproductive rights,” and being gay meant that a person was happy.

Thinking about all this made me a bit nostalgic, and as I look back over the decades I realize I was so caught up in my own career that I rarely made time to touch base with the many interesting people whose paths crossed with mine.  There’s no question about it, youth really is wasted on the young.  Too bad we can’t go back in time, armed with the knowledge and wisdom we possess today, and take the time to do the things that really matter.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

39 responses to “Napoleon Hill, W. Clement Stone, and Me”

  1. Stephan F says:

    A most interesting, entertaining & heartfelt piece Robert. Well done.

  2. wdmills says:

    Awesome! It would be a remarkable experience to to meet these gentlemen, and of course the possibility has passed.

  3. Jon says:

    I'm glad you opined that you thought "Hill's writing style was, as well as much of his advice and many of his aphorisms, seemed somewhat banal and specious." My sentiments exactly and I'm at least 10 years older than you. I saved the book but I can't say I ever believed it helped me.

    My dad introduced me to W. Clement Stone when I probably age 10 so while I know of Stone's extensive achievements, I can't say I have any recollections other than he seemed like a very nice person.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      Stone was the founder of Success Magazine, so most of my knowledge and info about him came from that, though I do recall a Nighti gale-Conant audio course that had a segment from him. I was never drawn to insurance, but always marvelled at his ability and success, and how genuine he was, as opposed to slick, fast-talking sales folks I have encountered since.

  4. Mic says:

    You are so fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet such men. This was such a wonderful read for me. As I approach 50 I have often thought about the things you discussed. How youth is truly wasted on the young. How if I just had the stuff in my head now at almost 50 when I was 20 I would have been unstoppable.

    It seems like we spend our youth striving and learning and growing only to find out the stuff we learned would have been far more helpful 20-30 years earlier. I try to impart my experiences to both my children and younger people, but alas they typically don't want to hear about "yester-year" any more than I did at that age. Someday these same people will be where I am at today and saying the same things, at least the self-enlightened ones will be and the cycle will start all over again.

    • bill Niland says:

      Mic: You know that forrest for the tree slogan? You are only 50, you still have your youth. Robert is in his 80's, me in mid 70's, so you have 20-30 years to invest in non-waste before catching us. So, why not today? I met Napoleon Hill, read Think and Grow Rich more than 60 times, still find inspiration and somehow things work out better than expected after each read……all the best, and report back in 20 years telling us how it went? Bill

  5. Angel Green says:

    An amazing book I woke up this morning and I remember it and I'm going to read it again thank you thank you thank you

  6. TheLookOut says:

    RJR your article brings back a lot of great memories – Thanks

  7. Penn says:

    I remember meeting W. Clement Stone in the mid 80s. He was at a conference near the airport in Toronto.
    He was well dressed in an ivory linen suit and had a boater hat.
    Really stood out.
    We spoke for a bit and he was beyond gracious.
    Will never forget that impact he had on me

  8. Charles says:

    Think and Grow Rich was the first book I read after graduating (barely) from high school. Many of us can claim influence from Napoleon Hill’s book and few of us can say why, me included. RJR’s article caused me to reflect on the question. I have concluded it simply gave me the belief that I, with literally nothing other than the ability to think could possibly ‘grow rich’. Not long after that I read Mr. Stone’s famous book and concluded when compared to great men like him my chances were slim. Nonetheless, with substantial effort and truly grand advice from RJR’s valuable books I have managed to grow quite rich. Thank you gentlemen from the bottom of my heart.

  9. Joan says:

    I think it is a good thing that youth is wasted on the young. Because of their youth, energy and determination, we have accomplished much more in the various fields than we would have.

  10. Rick G. says:

    It is those last two paragraphs tthat say itt all. How true, how true. RJR has really struck a very responsive chord in me with that one. I guess that is why I have been a loyal fan of him and his writings all these years. Thngs were better way back when, not perfect, but much better than the way they are now. No comparison!

  11. Eamon says:

    Lovely article

  12. notpropagandized says:

    My recollection of several attempts to re-read Think And Grow Rich were similar and frustrating that it did not captivate as much as I assumed it would and wanted it to. I found myself wishing that my introduction to such works had happened much earlier in life, but age is not controllable and our reaction to it says much about us.
    Thanks for these insights…

  13. Eamon says:

    Hills advice " banal"!!!!

    I hope Bob Proctor does not read your article

  14. Imre says:

    I try to read the Thinking and Grow Rich many times, but I never understood why there is such a hype around him. By contrast, RJR books helped me a lot in my career.

    • Common Sense says:

      Try reading "Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude". It's a classic and inspirational; Stone's enthusiasm is contagious. Though it's a collaboration between Hill and Stone, Stone had the iron will, so I think the inspiration was his.

  15. saintquinn says:

    The subject matter of this article is great……Meeting Hill, Stone and Dr Bremer are accomplishments not many people have attained….
    I disagree with Robert's later assessment of TAGR….
    What should be remembered is that TAGR is actually a condensed version of his earlier eight-volume work The Law of Success (In 16 Lessons)….

  16. patg2 says:

    I read Think and Grow Rich many years ago. It didn't speak to me, because I have always had different goals in life. On the other hand, I am an avid fan of Horatio Alger. I admire industriousness and achievement. Riches to me would only mean an increased ability to reach out and help my fellow man. I look at eternity. I chose early on to do what I enjoy in life, and have always done that. The things I chose don't make lots of money, but I am richer than I would be with all that money.

    • Phil says:

      Pretty much on the same page, great post.

      • patg2 says:

        Thanks! I have enjoyed reading RJR, however. Obviously he got something of value from Hill's book. I guess it just depends on what your goals in life are.

    • ensomulv123 says:

      Right at the beginning Ringer makes clear that *merely* working hard will only make you older. You've got to work at things with real chances of big payoffs, you've got be prepared, you have to plan, and you have to take preemptive measures against getting shafted. That's what I learnt from Ringer's timeless classic. TaGR, on the other hand, is a piece of specious manure. I doubt the likes of Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller really followed the BS Hill has presented. In fact I rather doubt Hill even met these people.

  17. Richard Phillips says:

    You feel Napoleon Hill’s advicce banal and misleading? Boring? Am I reading that correctly? I’m 49 and I find it refreshing and effective everyday.

  18. Robby Bonfire says:

    One of your best columns, Mr. Ringer, I do believe.

    Good point and good question, as to the lasting value of “Think And Grow Rich,” as its application in today’s world is much like that of an old Dale Carnegie course – constructed for a far more civilized and idealistic world, replete with Victorian social graces.

    What I take as timeless value from TAGR is the chapter addressing “networking,” called his “inner circle,” or something like that? While I have long challenged the dictum “It doesn’t take money to make money,” to this day it is my emphatic belief that without powerful social and business contacts, the scope of what one can accomplish in the business world is severely limited – especially where it comes to getting one’s primary original contribution marketed to the world.

    At some point undercapitalized trailer trash needs to find the way up through the ranks of the unwashed to the
    penthouse level of social and business acceptance. There are days when it feels like Woody Allen has a better chance of breaking a Chicago Bears kick off return wedge.

  19. James says:

    I bet a lot of people might be interested in buying some old Robert Ringer clippings/souvenirs as inspirational memorabilia. I would be… you should put them on eBay first, don't throw them away please :)

  20. James says:

    Actually send them to me, I'll scan them and convert it into a book – then you can sell the book :)

  21. larajf says:

    I just finished re-listening to TaGR. It really is a brilliant work. I'm happy that Sharon Lechter is continuing to release books that expand upon them like 3 feet from gold and TaGR for Women. And I'm so glad she helped get the conversations with the devil released. I need to listen to that one every time I forget my primary purpose.

    (psst…and I've heard that bob proctor is a bit gruff in real life as well…I'm a total introvert and couldn't imagine living in the public eye, so God bless those who can. If I ever did anything noteworthy, I'd hire a starving actor to play me)

  22. Chris Boyett says:

    Robert you are still my favorite person in this world since I first read WINNING THROUGH INTIMIDATION in the spring of 1979, and I keep a copy on my desk, and another in the console of my car. I often hold it in my hand for a few seconds before I go into a sales presentation. Really enjoyed your recount of meeting Mr. Hill, Mr. Stone, and Dr. Bremer.

  23. Sean Baltz says:

    Very touching writing Mr. Ringer

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  25. Nasdaq7 says:

    Excellent post about the good old days! Those self-help books are very limited in helping people. Today there's only one or two ways to make money: either through the stock market or the property market. So you have to study one or both to become wealthy. Forget about habits. It's knowledge of those two topics that determines your level of success in life.

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  27. Frank says:

    Robert is right that Napoleon Hill's book is poorly written. It still has valuable ideas, but hard to read. Thankfully, author Dennis Kimbro rewrite the book, using the same ideas, and made it a much better read, writing from a black perspective, calling it: Think and Grow Rich, A Black Choice. I am not black, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dennis' take on the classic, and recommend it far above the original for its fine choice of words.

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  29. Roland says:

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  30. ensomulv123 says:

    I came across Ringer's "Winning through Intimidation" in the late '70s. For the past 40 years I've had the book by my side. It has been an antidote to the worthless bullshit peddled by the likes of Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale. That way lies madness and the loony bin.

  31. Paul Herring says:

    Nice article, Robert. I read those books a good many years ago and couldn't quite figure out how 'thinking made you rich'. But W. Clement Stone's book made sense and helped me a great deal in that I developed persistence – something I lacked before reading it.

  32. TheodoreButler says:

    The first time I heard about W clement Stone , or Napoleon Hill was was in the book ,A Rich Mans Secret by Kenneth Roberts and William Bill Harris a billionaire zen buddhist monk. My question is though, how no one ever mentions Frank Ward, dupont scientist and financier, writer of extremely deep ,insightful wealth systems. Inspite of the attacks from the protectors of status quo society aka the social contract ala Baulidaire. or is that Baudilaire?. Another question I have is, why with all the gate keepers in the world from time imemorial, do we still have so much disease and war, and disharmony and poverty and so forth?