The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons by Napoleon Hill – Overview


I first encountered the Law of Success in 2011. It was one of the first audio-books I ever listened to. At the time I was doing a lot of introspection and professional development. I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled onto it, but I’ve re-read the book several times over the last 13 years, and it’s had a lasting impact on my life and career. 

The principles laid out in the book are timeless and the author acknowledges that he did not invent these lessons. Rather, he claims to have merely uncovered, articulated and compiled the principles into a single location. The Law of Success is fairly dense. Most business or personal improvement books have 5 pages of excellent content stretched into a 150 page book.  The Law of Success is one of those rare books that’s the opposite. It doesn’t waste a ton of pages on material that doesn’t add to the content. 

The book is not organized like modern books. I found it fairly challenging to outline in a linear fashion, and abandoned my effort part-way through. My summary bounces around quite a bit as a try to string topics together in a way that’s more coherent than the author does. Also, I’ve added some notes on my own experiences and insight into the topics. 

Versions of the Book

Because the book was written so long ago, it’s in the public domain. You can download a pdf copy or browse it online. It’s also available in audiobook form or hard copy from your preferred bookseller. However you prefer to get it, I highly encourage you to read it. It’s worth your time.  

There are several hard copy versions out there. Some are very bad – ranging from unformatted text to multiple errors. The hard copy I am using is a single volume called The Law of Success Deluxe Edition. It was published in 2017 by Tarcher Perigee. When I quote the text directly, I will try to provide the page number from this version. Because my version is in a single volume, the page numbers will not match the original version that is available free online.

A Note on Language and Disposition

The Law of Success was published in 1925. American society was much different back then and this book has a few archaic assumptions and stereotypes built into it. The book spends a vast majority of time covering the content but does occasionally reveal the misogynistic and racist views of the author. These brief references can be disheartening and distracting but they do not have to detract from the great content. Also, some sections are hard to get through due to pseudo-scientific explanations. You can skip over these fairly easily, but I found it entertaining to see how someone might try to create scientific explanations for some of the concepts presented in the book.

Application of the 16 Lessons to Professional life

There’s nothing really special about the actuarial profession.  We have a rigorous credentialing process. We are self-governing. We have a code of conduct and work towards the betterment of society. We do it in the context of math, risk and “financial security systems”. But fundamentally, we’re knowledge workers in a knowledge economy. The summary and insights here are filtered through my professional lens, which is influenced by 20 years as an actuary with roles ranging from analyst to consultant to executive . Any of these concepts are likely applicable to other professions just as easily.

Definition of Success

The opening three pages of Lesson 1 covers a statement about the nature and definition of success:

Success is very largely a matter of adjusting one’s self to the ever-varying and changing environments of life, in a spirit of harmony and poise. – pg 1

Success, within the meaning of that term as covered by this course on the 15 Laws of Success is, “the attainment of your Definite Chief Aim without violating the rights of other people”. – pg 1

The Law of Success won’t help you set a Definite Chief Aim (goal) or even define it. The set of lessons is designed to explain what’s needed to achieve a goal, help you identify deficiencies or weaknesses, and then assist you in addressing those weaknesses so that you may succeed in your goal. It’s worth stating that some lessons will be more or less important for different goals. But I firmly believe all the lessons can be helpful in achieving any goal worth pursuing.

Notice the author mentions 15 laws, and 16 lessons. Chapters 2 through 16 cover what he refers to as the 15 laws. Chapter 1 covers The Master Mind, which is an important lesson, but the author does not refer to this as a Law for some unknown reason.

List of the Lessons

Below is the list of the lessons in the Law of Success along with my own title for each. Great care was taken on selecting the order of each of the lessons and each one builds on preceding lessons.

  1. The Master Mind – Don’t do it alone
  2. A Definite Chief Aim – Articulate your most important goal
  3. Self Confidence – You got this!
  4. The Habit of Saving – Live within your means
  5. Initiative & Leadership – Be proactive
  6. Imagination – Visualize and Innovate
  7. Enthusiasm – Do what you love, love what you do
  8. Self-Control – Have Discipline
  9. The habit of doing more than paid for – Every job you do deserves your best
  10. Pleasing Personality – Get along with those around you
  11. Accurate Thinking – Data-based decision making
  12. Concentration – Focus
  13. Co-Operation – Teamwork makes the dream work
  14. Profiting by Failure – Learn from mistakes
  15. Tolerance – Diversity is key
  16. Practicing the Golden Rule – The power of grace and forgiveness

The sections below walk through each of the lessons contained in the Law of Success. I summarize theme of each lesson and provide some commentary on the application of these lessons to working professionals.