Publishers Weekly
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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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Bronson and Merryman follow up the best-selling NurtureShock (2009) with this intriguing look at the nature of competition. Most of us are taught from an early age that it's good to be competitive, but we're not usually taught how to compete. Sure, we can learn how to play a sport, and we can practice the skills, but practicing is not the same as competing. You can perfect your baseball swing in practice, but how do you react when you're facing a pitcher who wants you to miss? The key element of competition, the authors say, is the ability to compete under pressure in situations that are not under one's own control. Using plenty of real-world examples, from Olympic athletes to fighter pilots to intelligence operatives, 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. Expect lots of talk-show play for this one.--Pitt, David Copyright 2010 Booklist