Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

( 33 )

Overview

New York Times Bestseller

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's work changes the national dialogue. Beyond their bestselling books, you know them from commentary and features in the New York Times, CNN, NPR, Time, Newsweek, Wired, New York, and more. E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts are filled with demands to read their reporting (such as "How Not to Talk to Your Kids," "Creativity Crisis," and "Losing Is Good for You").

In TOP DOG, Bronson ...

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Overview

New York Times Bestseller

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's work changes the national dialogue. Beyond their bestselling books, you know them from commentary and features in the New York Times, CNN, NPR, Time, Newsweek, Wired, New York, and more. E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts are filled with demands to read their reporting (such as "How Not to Talk to Your Kids," "Creativity Crisis," and "Losing Is Good for You").

In TOP DOG, Bronson and Merryman again use their astonishing blend of science and storytelling to reveal what's truly in the heart of a champion. The joy of victory and the character-building agony of defeat. Testosterone and the neuroscience of mistakes. Why rivals motivate. How home field advantage gets you a raise. What teamwork really requires. It's baseball, the SAT, sales contests, and Linux. How before da Vinci and FedEx were innovators, first, they were great competitors.

Olympians carry TOP DOG in their gym bags. It's in briefcases of Wall Street traders and Madison Avenue madmen. Risk takers from Silicon Valley to Vegas race to implement its ideas, as educators debate it in halls of academia. Now see for yourself what this game-changing talk is all about.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"Winning," as Tiger Woods once sagely said, "is not always a barometer of getting better." Sometimes those victories are result of wise rational decisions based on factors that might seem counterintuitive. This new book by NutureShock author Po Bronson offers full course tutorial on what we now know about real winning strategies and quirks. His sources might surprise you: They include finance, education, sports, economics, genetics, gender studies, neuroscience, psychology, and even military training. A book that gives you home field advantage in life's big contests.

Publishers Weekly
Bronson and Merryman (coauthors of NurtureShock) praise healthy competition as a force that not only spurs individuals to excel but drives the progress of entire cultures, convincingly pegging the development of democracy as a side-effect of the original Greek Olympics, and the composition of Bach’s masterpieces as a product of musical/religious politics. Citing studies that explore individual performance in the contexts that offer only intrinsic motivators versus those that provide a peer challenge, they find that performance is most enhanced when a competitor feels externally judged, opponents are few, the roles and goals are clear, and the participants are well-enough matched that the outcome is uncertain until the end. The authors explore physiological components of performance (like enzymes that may correlate with whether an individual needs stress to perform optimally), the role of gender in competition (men are more likely than women to overestimate their chances and take a risk), as well as the culture of competition at large, postulating on the effects of teaching universal self-esteem and the replacement of a “playing to win” ethos with one of “playing not to lose.” Accessible for fans of pop science, yet substantial enough to have practical applications, Bronson and Merryman’s investigation will have folks rethinking the impulse to win at work and play. Agent: Peter Ginsberg, Curtis Brown. (Feb. 19)
Inc.
"Nature and nurture combine to make us the competitive (or not-so-competitive) animals we are. By understanding what influences our perceptions of risk and ability to perform under pressure, we can make better decisions....Rigor rating: 9 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). The authors provide an exhaustive culling of medical literature as well as reader-friendly anecdotes drawn from business, sports, the arts, and the military."
The Onion's A.V. Club
"Approaching competition the same way they did parenting in their New York Times bestseller NurtureShock the authors have produced another fascinating work fusing science and sociology....the writers back all their surprising or controversial findings with research, and they adeptly provide a frame to turn that science into an easy, highly satisfying read. Grade: A"
The San Francisco Chronicle
"The authors of NurtureShock clearly and cogently explain why, physiologically, some of us are at our best when it counts while others choke."
Fox & Friends
"You gotta get it . . . [a] fascinating topic that we all deal with on a daily basis."
Daniel Coyle
"A terrifically useful book about the science of competition (which you should read right now)."
NPR.com
"Cutting-edge science behind life's triumphs and failures . . . insight from politics, finance, science, sports and economics to tip the odds in your favor."
San Francisco Chronicle (Literary Pick)
"Remarkable . . . this book will help you rise to the occasion . . . wildly counterintuitive."
Coffin Factory
"Fiction may lay claim to imagination, but works such as TOP DOG are what push the envelope of our reality . . . stunning . . . Prepare to delve into the external factors and personal dynamos that make you who you are."
Phil Gordon
"I tell my staff, I tell my friends-you must read TOP DOG. I was a good poker player before I read it. Now, I'm even better."
AVClub.com
"An easy, highly satisfying read . . . surprising . . . fascinating. Grade: A."
Seattle Times
"There is intense competition in just about every aspect of life . . . There's not an app for that, yet, but there is a book: TOP DOG . . . a good primer on the behaviors that can sink or lift us in a competitive world."
Booklist
"Intriguing . . . the authors persuasively argue that technical skill is only one part-in many cases, the least important part-of what it takes to come out on top."
Pat Williams
"TOP DOG should be mandatory reading for every serious athlete, coach, and managers-both on and off the field. Amazing science, terrific storytelling, and insight to burn."
Tavis Smiley
"Such a provocative text . . . If you read NurtureShock, you already know about the power of their prose . . . game-changing steps to assure success in winner-take-all showdowns, for everyone from adults in offices to students in classrooms."
Huffington Post
"A great read for those paralyzed by the fear of failure as well as those who hunger for success."
Toronto Star
"In TOP DOG, Bronson and Merryman turn their attention from the science of child development to competition: why men are overconfident and women are better at gauging risk; the advantage of playing on home field; why younger sibs are more competitive than first-born. And much more."
Jack Abramoff
"I cannot recommend it more highly . . . An essential book-if you care about competition, winning, losing, or humanity, you must buy this book . . . Fantastic."
Sandra Tsing Loh
"As the beta-dog head of a trophy-challenged family, I was surprisingly inspired by Bronson and Merryman's compulsively readable and rigorously researched book. TOP DOG will turn everything you believe about competition (good, bad, and ugly) upside down. Awesome!"
Inc. Magazine
"The authors provide an exhaustive culling of medical literature as well as reader-friendly anecdotes drawn from business, sports, the arts, and the military."
Myrtle Beach Sun News
"Highly recommend to anyone wanting to dig deeper into how we humans really function and why."
Utah Daily Herald
"[The authors] once again poked conventional wisdom in the eye . . . fine and fascinating volume . . . highly readable prose, with great stories . . . I would give this book a lot of stars."
Winnipeg Free Press
"[The authors'] breezy, accessible style is backed up with impeccable references to peer-reviewed journals and authoritative books."
Express Milwaukee
"Turning common sense on its head . . . an untangling of winners, losers, biology and psychology and how each plays its role in the rise and fall of competitors . . . imploring you to turn up your competitive fire, and, quite possibly, become the next top dog."
Honolulu Star-Advertiser's "Career Changers"
"I highly recommend it to anyone who is a coach, business leader, entrepreneur or parent."
Free Lance-Star (VA)
"Groundbreaking book on the science of competition . . . based on cutting-edge science . . . told through easy-to-grasp stories."
William M. Treanor
"From every perspective-attorney, administrator, educator, and parent-TOP DOG won me over. I was captivated by the thought-provoking ideas, first-rate prose, and unforgettable science."
Roisin McGettigan-Dumas
"Brilliant, phenomenal, inspiring. I love this book. Through TOP DOG, I finally have a science-based understanding of competition-and I know how to use that science to bring out my absolute best. Whether I'm preparing for a race or thinking about how to grow my business, TOP DOG's my training manual for excellence."
Anne Kreamer
"If you wake up in the middle of the night worried that you might not have the right stuff, TOP DOG is for you. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman use lessons from virtuosos in every conceivable discipline-skydivers, ballroom dancers, NASA managers, Renaissance artists-to deconstruct and distill what we need to do to compete successfully in our hyper-competitive age. TOP DOG is that rare thing-intelligent, illuminating and filled with practical advice."
Leo Laporte
"Amazing . . . mind-boggling . . . Every page, you go, 'Oh, whoa.' Really wonderful . . . just fascinating reading."
From the Publisher
"[The authors] once again poked conventional wisdom in the eye . . . fine and fascinating volume . . . highly readable prose, with great stories . . . I would give this book a lot of stars."—Utah Daily Herald

"[The authors'] breezy, accessible style is backed up with impeccable references to peer-reviewed journals and authoritative books."—Winnipeg Free Press

"Turning common sense on its head . . . an untangling of winners, losers, biology and psychology and how each plays its role in the rise and fall of competitors . . . imploring you to turn up your competitive fire, and, quite possibly, become the next top dog."—Express Milwaukee

"I highly recommend it to anyone who is a coach, business leader, entrepreneur or parent."—Honolulu Star-Advertiser's "Career Changers"

"Groundbreaking book on the science of competition . . . based on cutting-edge science . . . told through easy-to-grasp stories."—Free Lance-Star (VA)

"From every perspective-attorney, administrator, educator, and parent-TOP DOG won me over. I was captivated by the thought-provoking ideas, first-rate prose, and unforgettable science."—William M. Treanor, executive vice president and dean, Georgetown University Law Center

"Brilliant, phenomenal, inspiring. I love this book. Through TOP DOG, I finally have a science-based understanding of competition-and I know how to use that science to bring out my absolute best. Whether I'm preparing for a race or thinking about how to grow my business, TOP DOG's my training manual for excellence."—Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, track and field Olympic finalist, CEO/Entrepreneur, BelieveIAm.com

"If you wake up in the middle of the night worried that you might not have the right stuff, TOP DOG is for you. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman use lessons from virtuosos in every conceivable discipline-skydivers, ballroom dancers, NASA managers, Renaissance artists-to deconstruct and distill what we need to do to compete successfully in our hyper-competitive age. TOP DOG is that rare thing-intelligent, illuminating and filled with practical advice."—Anne Kreamer, author of It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace and Going Gray

"Amazing . . . mind-boggling . . . Every page, you go, 'Oh, whoa.' Really wonderful . . . just fascinating reading."—Leo Laporte, TWiT.TV

Kirkus Reviews
Bronson and Merryman (Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, 2010, etc.) combine forces again to debunk truisms of positive psychology. "Competition facilitates improvement," write the authors. "At a certain point, those with seeds of doubt actually do best," as they are open to learning from past mistakes and better able to compete. The authors juxtapose what they call adaptive competitiveness (playing by the rules, team spirit and a willingness to accept defeat) with a dog-eat-dog model of ruthless competition and look at how stress can have a beneficial effect on performance. Analyzing record-breaking Olympic performances, high-stakes corporate gambles, competitive chess and more, Bronson and Merryman draw a parallel to sky-diving. "[P]ushing ourselves to the brink is our preferred state. We like competition [because we want]…the thrill ride beyond the limit of our fears." Probing deeper, the authors cite research showing that women are as competitive as men (and willing to take risks to win) but more strategic in evaluating odds. Though men have a higher testosterone level than women, both benefit from testosterone spikes during competition. The benefits from optimism bias, such as belief in good luck and a winning streak, may seem to work against the authors' counter-thesis, as they freely admit, but it can lead to disastrous underestimates of risk. As both stage performers and athletes claim, there is an optimal level of stress that helps them give their best performance. Illuminating and entertaining, with some surprising insights from current research in neuroscience and endocrinology.
The Barnes & Noble Review

"The real benefit of competition is not winning, it is improved performance." Football coach Vince Lombardi didn't say that. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman did. Lombardi said, "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." Lombardi was a notorious crank, someone whom Bronson and Merryman would consider "maladaptive" in Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, a survey of recent efforts to get a grasp on the nature of competition. It is easy to imagine Lombardi turning the most innocuous event into a blood contest, a chance to humiliate, to bully, and if anything that is noble in competition checked his progress, it got mugged. But then, that was his science of winning, which he did a lot, and at clutch moments.

One of the most important points readers will take away from Top Dog is that there is no new-and-improved science of winning and losing, and the book's subtitle can take a walk. There are studies that demonstrate this and then studies that demonstrate that — stress can be good for the competitive drive, stress can be bad; teamwork can elevate your performance, or diminish it; some of us are risk-takers, some avoid making costly mistakes. These observations are not necessarily contradictory but fully display that each and every one of us needs to mix and drink our own specific, idiosyncratic competitive cocktail to get the best out of ourselves.

Many of the prize nuggets to be found here are things we have known or suspected since first putting on a uniform or standing up at the spelling bee. That the competition has to be close, for instance, if there is to be any fun, let alone tapping deep into the wellspring of our talent. That there is an advantage to playing on your home field, which probably has something to do with the territorial need to control your space, and that among the keys to success in competition is being able to focus your attention when under stress, to respect your opponent and not get overconfident, to think of competition as a challenge and not as a threat.

Bronson and Merryman present fascinating work exploring the endocrine system — often accompanied by well-crafted vignettes — which is overturning entrenched beliefs in the affects of testosterone's role in motivational intensity as opposed to aggression, cortisol acting as a stress dampener rather than a cause, and the hung jury on COMT enzymes — fast-acting in some people, lazy in others — that corral and escort dopamine much like stagehands dealing with wearisome Oscar speechifiers. Hormones, it turns out, may drive us to compete, but they also may drive us to collaborate and cooperate. And there are some insightful things said about gender psychology regarding strategizing, cost/benefit ratios, and risky behavior.

Since so much of the material in these pages is conjecture or in the early stages of research — in more than one instance, Bronson and Merryman have to back up a step with an "Admittedly, this is just a theory..." — some of the authors' declarations are annoyingly baseless. "Success in competition requires taking risks that are normally constrained by fear," or "We automatically mirror attitudes, biases, stress levels, and goal activation" of our teammates. Do these ever happen? Yes. Are they required or automatic? No. On rare occasions, they descend into simple boosterism: "Competitive fire is what you see when you dial the effort knob up to 11." Even Lombardi would have winced.

Still, there is plenty here to help you configure your "individual zone of optimal functioning," to see if you are cut out for the dangers and excitement of edgework, if there are genetic elements you want to blend into your cocktail, how you respond to rivalry and spectators and prize spreads, whether you have a tendency to play to win or play not to lose, if a little anger is your friend or enemy. In the end, your zone is more about experience and the ring of truth than science.

Peter Lewis is the director of the American Geographical Society in New York City. A selection of his work can be found at writesformoney.com.

Reviewer: Peter Lewis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455515141
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/18/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 64,809
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock was on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. One of the most influential books about children ever published, NurtureShock landed on more than 35 "Year's Best" lists and has been translated into 16 languages. The authors have won nine national awards for their reporting, including the PEN USA Award for Literary Journalism and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Outstanding Journalism. Prior to their collaboration, Bronson authored five books, including What Should I Do with My Life?, a #1 New York Times bestseller with more than ten months on the list. Merryman's journalism has appeared in Time, Newsweek, New York, The Washington Post, and many other venues. Bronson lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children. Merryman lives in Los Angeles.

Biography

Po Bronson is the rare writer that makes no claims to having an extraordinary or controversial history. On his web site, he states, "I'm a regular guy. I don't have much of a particularly unusual story." While some may assume such a description might not be the makings of a person with any stories worth telling, it actually provides the perfect background for a writer such as Bronson. He has made it his mission to relate the stories of his fellow everyday people, and with books such as What Should I Do With My Life? and Why Do I Love These People?, he has proved that ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives.

A prolific writer with a talent well-suited for a variety of genres, Bronson started out dabbling in screenplays, op-eds, TV and radio scripts, performance monologues, and literary reviews, and his first two books were satirical novels. Bombardiers (1995) was a sort of Catch 22 set in the bond-trading business; The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest: A Silicon Valley Novel, Vol. 4 (1997) a tale about the West Coast tech boom of the late 1990's. With his third book, The Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other Tales of Silicon Valley, he turned his focus away from fiction and toward the true stories of the tech-heads he encountered while working as a writer in Silicon Valley. Hailed by The Village Voice Literary Supplement upon its publication as "the most complete and empathetic portrait of the Valley so far," the breakout bestseller established Bronson as the first author to truly capture the spirit of the high-tech heyday.

In writing What Should I Do With My Life? (2003), Bronson posed that very question to a variety of regular folks all around the globe. The result: a rich and fascinating compendium of inspirational, witty, and insightful personal stories about finding one's direction, vocational and otherwise. The book was a tremendous success, and Bronson had clearly found his niche. Why Do I Love These People? followed in late 2005. This time around, Bronson questioned a multitude of people about illness, resolving familial conflicts, infidelity, prejudice, money problems, abuse, death, and other provocative issues, once again illustrating that one need not be a celebrity to lead a life worth reading about. Among others, Bronson encounters a Southern Baptist in the Ozarks who tracks down the teenage son he had abandoned at birth, a woman who fought for her life and the life of her children while trapped underwater in a Texas river, and a Turkish Muslim who wed a U.S. naval officer -- a union resulting in death threats from her own father.

Bronson characterizes his recent books as "social documentaries," but he doesn't rule out returning to the other genres he's loved. He does, however, credit his recent work with one important feature: "I used to write novels, and maybe I will again one day," he told BN.com in an audio interview, "but I have found that writing these social documentaries is good for me as a person."

Good To Know

Some fun factoids gleaned from our interview with Bronson:

"Well, when I look upon what I've written to the below questions, there's a lot on how I became a writer, but not much on how I came to write the books I have been doing the last six years. I write social documentaries, in which I tell the life stories of ordinary people. I used to write novels, and maybe I will again one day. But I have found that writing these social documentaries is good for me as a person; they make me a better person. I put myself in a position where I need to listen and learn from other people I interview. And even if the books were not successes, I would be a better person just for doing so much listening."

"Okay, I realize now that's now what you were really asking. It sounds like you want personal details -- you want to know me through my lists: my lists of books, films, music, restaurants I eat at, hobbies I enjoy. I'm not sure that's the best way to know the soul of a person, because it kind of suggests that who we are = what we consume. However, I'll answer, by all means. Here we go:

  • What I drive: Toyota Sienna minivan
  • Where I buy clothes: Banana Republic, Mexx, and thrift stores
  • Cell phone brand: Treo 650
  • Kids: Two. My son is 4, my daughter 1
  • Dog: golden retriever, 84 pounds
  • What I cooked for dinner last night: Pork tenderloin in a mustard crème sauce
  • What I'm cooking for dinner tonight: Nachos
  • Where I exercise: in my basement, on the elliptical machine
  • Favorite TV show: House. But I am a huge fan of football, basketball, and baseball. So actually my favorite TV show is Sportscenter
  • I play soccer in the Liga de Latina in San Francisco. I will play until I die
  • Favorite Cities: London, Hong Kong, Paris, Ronda, Verona
  • Parents: Still alive
  • Grandparents: one left. My grandmother. But I knew them all, and had lots of time with all of them
  • Favorite Beach: Todos Santos, Mexico
  • Why a name like "Po": Why not?"
  • Read More Show Less
      1. Hometown:
        San Francisco, California
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 14, 1964
      2. Place of Birth:
        Seattle, Washington
      1. Education:
        B.A., Stanford University, 1986; M.F.A., San Francisco State University, 1995

    Customer Reviews

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted April 30, 2013

      Looking for a competitive advantage in life? Read this nonfictio

      Looking for a competitive advantage in life? Read this nonfiction book!

      Awesome, a must read for self-help book lovers.
      Changed my life!

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted April 28, 2013

      Excellent nonfiction book! Very well written, packed full of us

      Excellent nonfiction book!

      Very well written, packed full of useful wisdom on how to become more successful.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 10, 2013

      Money well spent! Great nonfiction, self-help content! Much be

      Money well spent!

      Great nonfiction, self-help content!

      Much better than Tony Robbins: The Edge, Note from a Friend, Personal Power! Highly recommended reading for those in search of superb self-help acumen!

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 11, 2013

      A masterpiece, very good writing.

      A masterpiece, very good writing.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 8, 2013

      Champions versus Losers, how to become a champion in life. Learn

      Champions versus Losers, how to become a champion in life. Learn how in this book, very well written.

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    • Posted April 20, 2013

      Packed full of excellent information, highly recommend to anyone

      Packed full of excellent information, highly recommend to anyone in search of more success in life.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted March 19, 2013

      Highly Recommended - you must check it out!!

      It is a very interesting book, especially for a coach.

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