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A Best-Selling SF Author Conquers the Great Divide

Po Bronson

Photo by Robert Schlatter

For someone due to give an imminent speech about his latest book, Po Bronson seems at ease. He sips on a cappuccino, relaxes into his chair, and divulges interesting truths about his competitive nature, both as a journalist (he keeps close tabs on his fellow science and humanities writers) and as a youth-soccer coach.

In fact, it’s the sometimes-drastic difference between a player’s athletic prowess and his game-day performance that inspired Bronson’s new book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing. Over coffee at Spruce, Bronson illustrates one of Top Dog’s key concepts—a warrior personality—by addressing his apparent lack of urgency toward the looming speaking engagement at Roosevelt Middle School, despite his claims of ill-preparedness.

“I’m a warrior prototype, so my brain works optimally under a lot of pressure,” says Bronson, 49, who coauthored Top Dog—and New York Times bestseller, NutureShock—with LA writer Ashley Merryman. “The best thing that could happen to me before a big event is a car accident or something.” Turns out the warrior gene—which quickly recycles the brain turbocharger, dopamine, during times of stress—can be traced back to our ape ancestry. But rather than being crippled by his 11th-hour tendencies, Bronson, a former bond salesman, channels them winningly using strategies and insights explored in Top Dog. One thing’s for sure: If the NYT greenlights that weekly column he’s pitching, he’ll have deadlines galore to thrive under.

In contrast to Bronson’s own warrior style, Top Dog also explores the worrier, a personality type that struggles under pressure when dopamine levels become too high. Worriers tend to savor facts, possess foresight, and loathe pressure. “You can see the paradigm in action at Facebook,” says Bronson, who lives in the Richmond. “Mark Zuckerberg took all these crazy risks to get it off the ground, and [COO] Sheryl Sandberg is like the parent who keeps it out of trouble.”

Despite the heroic nomenclature, Bronson cautions that warriors are not necessarily more ambitious, more successful, or more beloved than their seemingly fretful counterparts. “Both types have their advantages,” says Bronson. “The trick is to make who you are work for you.”

This article was published in 7x7's June issue. Click here to subscribe.