Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Separately, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have accomplished much as investigative reporters. Bronson, a former bond salesman, is the bestselling author of Bombardiers and What Should I Do with My Life?  Merryman is a renowned journalist whose work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. Their collaboration on a series of articles on bold parenting theories for New York magazine became the smash 2009 hit NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. Now Bronson and Merryman are back with Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, an intensively researched analysis of competition and achieving one’s personal best. This week, the two authors offer five recommendations of books that share Top Dog‘s passionate inquiry into what makes a champion.

Renaissance Rivals: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian
By Rona Goffen

“If you are interested in art history, Rona Goffen’s book is filled with lavish reproductions of the art discussed: for that alone, it’s worth having on the shelf. But where the book really sings is in the way Goffen examines how competition between these legendary masters shaped their work — from the artists’ personal relationships to how their agents (yes, they had agents) sold their art. Goffen’s story of inspiration inspired us while writing Top Dog.

By Chris Cleave

“This novel about a trio of Olympic cyclists is a fascinating ride about how champions on the track can be such ugly messes at home. Cleave’s almost-villainous lead, Zoe, may not cheat outright, but she bends rules as far as she can. She’s self-absorbed, entitled, and dismissive of anyone who stands in her way — even those as deserving as she. It’s the very image of the maladaptive competitor. And by following Zoe’s story so closely, you feel uncomfortably complicit in her wrongdoings. You’re forced to ask yourself the questions confronting Zoe. Can you be a champion without the killer instinct? To be truly great at something, must you sacrifice everything and everyone? Is there even room for integrity? Or must you to cheat to win? Add to that Cleave’s depiction of the races’ sensory minutiae — the racing heart, the adrenaline rush — until you have a visceral charge from the competition. By midway through the book, you’ll believe you too are ready to try out for the Olympics. The question you’re left with then is: would you want to?”

The Ancient Olympics
By Nigel Spivey

“We read this slender volume, cover-to-cover, in a couple hours, but it’s on this list due to the number of times we used it as a reference while writing Top Dog. The Ancient Olympics is a concise but authoritative work about Ancient Greeks and the first Olympics. And when we had a question about either topic, Spivey’s book was always the first one we grabbed.”

The Art of Fielding
By Chad Harbach

“While writing Top Dog, both of us had separately picked up The Art of Fielding. From its first pages, we both fell in love with its gorgeous prose; we were captivated by its fictional portrayal of an intense, complicated rivalry. At times, Fielding may be difficult to read because you’ve become involved in the characters’ lives: you see the mistakes they’re making, but you are powerless to stop them from making them. That our stomachs were tied in occasional knots while reading the novel just proved how compelling we found its pages to be.”

Seabiscuit: An American Legend
By Laura Hillenbrand

“A wonderful story about competition and how it enables us to do more than anyone could have ever imagined. Seabiscuit, the horse at the center of Hillenbrand’s history, was incredibly competitive. On his own, his times around the track weren’t spectacular. But during a race, he wanted to win: he loved to compete, and he found it thrilling. So, in race after race, he passed by the horses expected to beat him. From the jockey and trainer no one wanted or believed in to Seabiscuit himself, this is a real-life object lesson on how you can never judge by appearances. It’s about how perceptions and expectations can lead you astray. You can’t write anyone off. You only know what people can do when they’re truly in the moment and asked to put everything on the line. People (and animals) can come out nowhere — with all the wrong pedigrees, all the wrong appearances — and still be phenomenal.”