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Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,639 ratings  ·  172 reviews
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,"
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 19th 2013 by Twelve (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  1,639 ratings  ·  172 reviews

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Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you are a coach, or business owner/leader this is a must read book. It breaks down what at team needs to succeed, how a team best works together - in an office on and off the field.

Any book that opens with novice parachute jumpers, ballroom dancers and a recap of Jason Lezak’s anchor leg of the 2008 Olympics 4X100 freestyle relay draws you in for the get go. (Especially if you appreciate the sport of swimming!)

The authors, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman were basically on a quest to find out w
Mihai Pintilie
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-b-strategy
Top dog summary

Success in competition requires taking risks that are normally held back by fear

Competition brings a new level of gears

Sense of teritorism gets you more confident control efficacy, teritorism brings security, a sense of identity etc. Its instantaneous
If you come early you stand a better chance of winning
High expectations can push you in your head

Supervision is bad when you practice, audience is good when you have mastery
A manager should supervise its people randomly because it cre
Marissa Morrison
Mar 23, 2013 rated it liked it
What I liked about NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children was that it was filled with useful advice (acknowledge every babble to increase a baby's vocabulary, praise effort instead of intelligence to help children achieve, etc.). I hoped that this book would likewise give parents and teachers clear recommendations about how to promote healthy competition, but this is more of a "hmm, I never knew that" kind of book than a set of how-tos. Also, the authors include lots of sports metaphors and a ...more
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Disclaimer: I won this book from a GoodReads First Reads contest.

I generally like books like this: ones who break down a concept that's pretty basic and explain it using scientific research and other types of studies. The one issue I had with it is that it seemed to oversimplify some things while glossing over others at the same time. Just when I really got into a chapter, it seemed like it was over too quickly, without me reaching the aha! moment. It also ended on page 240 despite this being c
Mar 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
I won this book from GoodReads, and am sorry to say i did not care for it.
There has never been any doubt in my mind that competition in the marketplace is a good thing. Competition produces shampoos, for instance, that clean better and rinse out better than brand X. But must all shampoos out there be on top ? I dislike seeing so many of MY favorite items disappear from store shelves because they only have room for the TOP...
Having fairly stated that, I cast a more observing and studied look at h
Amy Alkon
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson's "Top Dog" is a myth-busing book, explaining that competition isn't about killing the other side; it's about getting into situations that drive you to be the best you can be.

We like to simplify competing down to winning versus losing but the truth is, there are numerous nuances that go into what makes a person a winner or loser of some competition or even in their day to day work on the job. These nuances and the research behind them fill this book, which is clea
Wilde Sky
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book presents various studies that have been completed on competitions / tests and which individuals perform best and why.

I found some of the details contained in this book really surprising.
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Focus is on the importance of competition rather than the "10,000 hours of practice" that is so often discussed post-Gladwell. Completion requires taking risks that are held back by fear, and can teach us moral behavior - the Greeks called it aretas, attaining excellence thru competition.
Differences between men and women were fascinating - women form social bonds in pairs, or dyads, and don't like to compete within that relationship (this is why women more likely to turn on a previously trusted
Mar 08, 2013 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. I really loved Bronson and Merryman's "Nurture Shock" and still bring it up in conversation frequently. I think I probably would have enjoyed "Top Dog" more if I didn't have such high expectations from "Nurture Shock." "Top Dog" is well-written and very interesting. It gave me a lot to think about, especially in relation to Alfie Kohn's views on competition and Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers." However, one of the things that I enjoyed about "Nurture Shock" was that each chapter was a co ...more
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
--Most of us perform better when at least some competition is involved.
--We need good relationships with team mates to do our best--but fraternizing with the competition may not be a good idea.
--Egalitarian teams aren't a good idea.
--The 25% of the population that performs worse when competing improve when they are told that that rush of adrenalin and fear they feel may help, not hinder, their performance.

And on and on. What we "know" about competition isn't necessarily borne out in research. Th
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
I love the books by these authors. I don't know how well-founded the research is behind it, but I can absolutely say that I played my best tennis game of the season after reading it. I still lost, but by a much smaller margin than I usually do.

Anyways, interesting write up on the science of competition. Held my interest the whole way through.
Rosalind Wiseman
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommended
I always value the work of these two writers so much. What I enjoy the most is reading all of their work and seeing how their thinking evolves over the years. But most important, is that Bronson and Merryman challenge us to reevaluate our assumptions.
Jason Chiang
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
Looking forward to completing this book. I'm very interested in what motivates people and also looking for practical insights on how to improve my response to and getting comfortable with and even embracing stressful situations. ...more
Feb 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Top Dog

Blend together epic story-telling, and scientific evidence, and you get the REAL reasons behind becoming a Champion, aka. a Top Dog!

From homefield advantages, to testosterone, to the advantages of teamwork, contests, and innovators, the authors find out EXACTLY what it takes to be a winner.

Here are my selective perceptions on the topic through quotes:

"You can pitch a million baseballs to your child until he perfects his swing - but wait until he faces a pitcher who wants him to miss. Prac
Yash Malviya
Apr 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone? can I say that cause I messed up with the name
What comes to your mind just by reading the title - specifically, the "science of winning and losing" part? Does it simply pass binary judgement on what should be done to win? Glorify the victors of highly competitive area perhaps? No. In fact, it acknowledges (ofc not fully) the diverse characteristics of people. This makes the book more of a - pick whichever theory you wish to test or whichever suits you best.

Various psychology experiments about competitions are presented. No single control gr
Alejandro Sanoja
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
For many years, the majority of my life revolved around winning. The only purpose of doing anything was to win.

If we played Age of Empires I had to figure out the best possible strategy and beat my friends. If we played Monopoly with friends and family I had to come up with the best negotiation strategy to succeed. If we were debating about the best NBA teams or players, I always had a lot of data and facts to back up my claims and wouldn't rest until everyone else agreed with me.

For a while,
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: selfhelp
This is a little bit of an odd book. My first thought was "Is this really a book that anyone asked for?" Is there really not enough emphasis on competition and winning in American society?

What's interesting is that while I was reading this book I was simultaneously reading Po Bronson's earlier book "What should I do with my life?" and the contrast between that much more profound and searching book and this much more utilitarian book was so jarring I found myself wondering how they could have be
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Better subtitled "PART of The Science of Winning and Losing."

I'm keeping it and will be referring to it. I didn't think it painted a complete picture nor is it very motivating in making one want to do more winning and less losing.

It's not a Richard Marcinko or Larry Winget kind of get off your butt, and here's your plan by the way kind of book. I'd like to hear less about estrogen peaks and more about the people who find that doing it first and letting the feelings follow is the way to win.

Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Unless the author has additional knowledge, he often seems to confuse correlation and causation when making inferences based on the studies. It gets a bit frustrating.

Also, he gets confusing at times. For example, he says that women who run for office as equally likely than men to get elected, so there is no gender bias. But then he says that only women who KNOW they are qualified will run where men at any level of competency will run. Well... doesn't this mean that more competent women are get
Uģis Balmaks
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Heavy on mediocre stories, light on actionable takeaways.

Halfway through the book, the distinctions authors used (male/ female, younger sibling/older sibling) were not helpful. I’m already a younger brother and there’s nothing I can do about that. So learning how older sisters are different from me doesn’t do much.

Similarly I will continue seeing the individuals on my team as individuals with their own unique set of motivations. That is much more helpful than the broad distinctions the authors
Henrik Haapala
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
• Aretas (Greek): “excellence”- honing the mind and body through competition, sports provess, endurance, self-control, cunning and diplomacy.
• “Aretas meant that competing had shaped you into a better person: competition challenged you to become the best you could be.” p.14
• The key word here is challenge. Challenge yourself to the limit of your ability and you will grow stronger and wiser.
• Competition head to head improves performance
• Competition increases creative motivation (for many)
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This books has so much great information based on scientific research. A lot goes into competitive spirit. Although it seems about 50% is genetic and 50% is learned or environmental, the environmental factors can still make the difference between a successful person and one who never reaches their full potential. Competition is a good thing. It brings us together as long as we all play by the rules. It helps societies raise children to be autonomous and creative contributors rather than being pa ...more
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book talks about the science behind winning and losing.
I have a high interest in this topic but gradually gets more disappointed as I'm reading it.
It does provide some captivating mental experiment data; also well elaborated on how people respond to competition differently, and how their disparate mental journey leads to distinct competition result, but the way the author groups people into a different category and stick a label to them just makes me feel annoyed.
Some inferences and conclu
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pretty much a very informative long-form essay, 75% of which was story-based anecdotes.
Normally I wouldn't like something this heavy in anecdotes, I tend to prefer non-fiction books on similar subjects to have more practical, immediately applicable knowledge but I really enjoyed reading this book.
Very light read, didn't take long at all and I was able to read it in short or long bursts (no hour sit-down minimum to open).
Overall, if you enjoy learning about social psychology, self-improvement or
Stephanie Marie
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ll be honest: it is hard for me to read nonfiction, especially this burgeoning genre of self-help/sports psychology/pop sociology. I adore Malcom Gladwell but struggle with his writing style. This, however, was truly enjoyable to read. A blend of science and data with interesting anecdotes that utilized just enough storytelling to keep me engaged. Big fan of this- it’s a must read for anyone interested in performance.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting stories, but it isn't a self-help book: more of a survey of scientific research around competition and the physiology of competitive stress. It's not usable information, unless you have a deep understanding of how you currently react to competitive stress and/or you're planning to dose yourself (appropriately) with testosterone. ...more
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book covers the science behind competition and winning and losing. I think it would be helpful for parents, teachers, and sales managers. Covers the differences in how men and women compete--women are just as competitive as men, but men are more overconfident and will compete if they have no chance of winning. What's the difference between good competition and bad competition? ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you like Malcolm Gladwell's work, you will probably enjoy this. It differs in that it focuses on concepts that can be applied at work by leaders and managers who are working with others. There are numerous interesting studies and situations discussed so there are things that will pique everyone's interest. ...more
Fanglin Lu
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ruth Baidya
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shows how smartness doesn't always cut it, especially under pressure and uncertainty. Outlines the different responses to winning and losing and their associated outcomes. Helpful for teams as well as individual performance. I read this book twice. ...more
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This book isn't really about winning, is it? 1 1 Aug 01, 2013 10:02AM  

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Po Bronson has built a career both as a successful novelist and as a prominent writer of narrative nonfiction. He has published five books, and he has written for television, magazines, and newspapers, including Time, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and for National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Currently he is writing regularly for New York magazine in the United States and for ...more

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3 likes · 0 comments
“Researchers have found that the more people focus on their odds of winning, the less likely they’ll go for it. But the more they focus on what they’ll win if they succeed, the more likely they’ll go for it.” 4 likes
“It bears repeating: the mental states needed to compete are not always socially palatable.” 3 likes
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