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I loved this book. It has a somewhat quirky approach that can be seen in the chapter titles:

The Mystery of Picasso's Son - Are we born to win?
The Puzzle of the Changeling Fish - Is winning a matter of chance and circumstance?
The Enigma of Bill Clinton's Friend - What does power do to us?
The Mystery of the Oscars - Why do we want to win?
The Riddle of the Flying CEOs - Does winning have a downside?
The Winning Mind

According the the author, Ian H. Robertson, the winner effect is a label for a biological phenomena in which someone who has has success (is a "winner") is more likely to have more success. This isn't just due to learning how to win, but is actually a result of hormonal and chemical changes in the brain.

So people who win a game, a sport, a battle, or in business undergo changes that lead to more winning. The winners are more likely to win again - the rich just get richer. Robertson uses many examples from real life to describe the conditions and causes of this effect. In doing so the reader will learn what makes some people winners and how you can use this knowledge to both understand others better and harness the winner effect in your own life. Robertson also sounds a warning about the addictive nature of winning and how when it "goes to the head" can lead to problems.

This is a content dense book but written in a way that makes a very enjoyable read.

I read a lot of books on human behavior and the brain and if you enjoy those topics you will love this one.

Highly recommended.
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on October 18, 2012
This book is basically about the psychological phenomena surrounding power : the drives common in those who seek it; the biochemical effects - as observed via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - of having and exercising power on various parts of the brains of its holders; changes in the the external behaviour of people with power and without it; factors affecting one's drive for power; and, principally, the need to have restrictions of those who exercise power.

This book has very interesting first and last chapters.
The first deals with something many of us have experienced - the burden of expectation. Using examples of both celebrities and friends/patients from the author's own experience, the destructiveness of overhigh expectation for children of famous people is explored. One thing sadly missing in this chapter is the final part of the story of Robertson's young patient, "Tony", whose "under-achieving" was revealed to be no more than a false expectation of inherited ability by his high-achieving parents. The author could (and really should) have checked to see if his proscribed therapy for "Tony" really brought about the desired effect.

But the other chapters all drag a little - perhaps none more so than the one where he uses Tony Blair as an example of how people in power become so addicted to it that they lose the trust and support of some vital friends : in his case, Bill Clinton.
Any book that uses celebrity examples runs the risk of losing both the reader's empathy and agreement despite the quality of the arguments offered : celebrities are really not living like the rest of us. This is the case in this chapter, and indeed also in parts of other chapters.

But overall this book is quite informative, not least about functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and its contributions to modern psychology. It makes some telling points about people's behaviour on attaining power - whether they want power for self-gratification (p-power types) or to benefit others (s-power types).
In this book one detects at times - not unusual with psychologists - a tendency to rationalise as a psychological issue what most lay people would describe as a straightforward moral/ethical failing in people. When a person finds him-/herself doing something that hurts others just for the sense of power and won't stop, this is not, fundamentally, a psychological problem. Neither does the cure involve therapy - at least not in the accepted sense of the word !

The final chapter is very readable and summarises the author's desire for imposing more stays on those given power in modern society - not just politicians but press-barons, judiciary, parole officers, teachers and, not least, parents.

Although not an outstanding work of its kind, this is a thought-provoking book.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon November 10, 2014
A mixture of research and its gossipy application to high flyers, this book is an engaging read.

Winning is essentially interpreted as power and power is defined as having control over things that the other needs, wants or fears. The main thrust is the effect of power on the human brain: how some of us have a greater sensitivity to power and are physically and psychologically changed more by it.

The drive for power for personal goals (p-power) corrupts more than a power drive focused on goals for an institution, group or society (s-power). In high p-power men, just imagining winning (before even taking part) gave them double the testosterone levels of men who also had some s-power. The testosterone levels of these p-power men stayed high after winning but dived when they lost.

By contrast, testosterone levels of men with both p-power and s-power did not rise as much when they thought of winning, did not surge as much when they won, and did not fall after they lost (the studies however used trivial games). Women generally are significantly higher in s-power than men. Teachers, nurses, doctors, surgeons, police and prison officers have a need for power but, if given the wrong power, can treat others as objects, not people.

The dangers of overdoses of power are touched on, as well as studies demonstrating that, the more you want to win, the more likely you are to lose. Interesting scrutiny of bullies and power, including mobs driven by the need for positive self-image (if I am behaving badly to you, you must deserve it).

There were far too many references to Enron and car CEOs for my liking but the relevance of dopamine-reward-system that encourages the need for money, status, power, acclaim, sex, drugs and gambling was fascinating. Testosterone triggers dopamine and the author discusses the importance of balance for dopamine: both too little and too much cause negative behavior.

Extreme powerlessness (poverty, low status and social rejection) and the resulting effects of too little dopamine were explored, including passivity, listlessness, loss of initiative and motivation, depression, low self-esteem, fearfulness, and anxiety. The famous tip is that Oscar winners live longer, probably because of the increased status and security.
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on July 4, 2014
This book has it's ups and down. For me, though, the downs became to heavy and I put it down about halfway through. I thought the first chapter was informative and interesting. I could relate to it. After that it started to become atmospheric. As a previous reviewer mentioned, I thought the chapter about Blair and Clinton was silly. Also I felt like he repeated himself considerably. The whole chapter sounded like something I would expect a college cohort to write, not an author with an editor. Was there an editor, even? Much of the time it seemed like he was absent.

Most disagreeable, however, for me was his terribly annoying writing tactics. He introduces a topic, and then says in order to answer that question we must first answer this question. He introduces the new question and then going further into the inception, he says to answer this second question first me must answer this third question. By this point, I have completely forgotten the original question he is trying to answer! I found it very confusing and off-putting.

Consciously I decided to give it several chances. After I skipped the end of the Blair chapter through sheer dismay, and started the next chapter only to learn it would be focused on Oscar winners, I lost all hope. I would rather devote my time to better written, more informative books. I want to like this book because the data is there and the subject is interesting, but the author made it incredibly hard. This book will stay filed and maybe someday I'll finish it. Although, I wouldn't count on it.
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on January 2, 2014
Every now and then comes a book that changes all your perspective on life. This book has everything i look for in a book.
It has a strong argument. It is backed with solid science. Prof. Robertson is not only a great scientist, but also a great story teller. If you are interested in power, leadership and influence, this book is for you. I also learnt how to be happy.
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on February 23, 2013
I bought this book because I wanted to understand my own relationship with power. I have been in leadership positions for most of my life and I wanted to understand what drives me to take on positions of leadership that are both rewarding, because of the impact one can have, and really difficult because of the added responsibility and stress, and the way being in power changes one's relationships with others.
This book is really helpful in that it explains the effect of power on the people who wield it, and why power is attractive, for some people. It also explains why it is that some people respond to being in power by wanting to be ever more powerful and destructively so, and why others are able to use power wisely. The sobering part was recognising that I could go either way!
What I really like about this book is that the author cites research to back up his arguments, which made me feel that I could rely on the information, but also that he makes use of interesting stories to put the issues across so that the book is easy to read and engaging. It's a great guide to understanding individual motivation.
This book ends with a thoughtful reflection on how to build a better world, given what we know about power. The author argues for democracy as a means of ensuring that there are checks to power, and yet I am rather disillusioned with how effective such checks can be. I think this book is important for anyone working to create effective governance structures at organisational, national or international levels.
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on November 6, 2012
This book seemed almost self-consciously entertaining, as if Professor Ian Robertson was trying really hard not to come across as the academic that he is. As a result, there's perhaps an over-emphasis on illustrative stories that don't always follow a logical sequence. Two major themes that stood out were the story of Paulo Picasso, the son of Pablo Picasso, and the story of Tony Blair and his need for power. Paulo Picasso lived in the shadow of his father, never achieved any notable success or happiness in life, and died at a young age. Robertson's speculation about how Paulo and Pablo Picasso's brains were affected by Pablo's narcissism and ego is noteworthy because success, fame, wealth, and power are so admired in the West, particularly in the U.S. Sadly, the Paulo Picasso story is almost a syndrome, repeated numerous times in wealthy, successful American families. Robertson depicts Tony Blair's excessive need for power as an example of the potential negative impacts that the hormone dopamine has on the brain and behavior of powerful individuals, leading to over-confidence and a view of people as objects. The book does not go into depth on how to constructively deal with the need for power or how to reverse the affects on the brain of excess power. That may be the subject of his lectures, online courses, or follow up books.
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on July 16, 2012
Really well written and thought out, Roberson has a an excellent writing style and manages to make most of the technical matter seem accessible. recognised a lot of people in the material, would recommend this a a good read and am looking forward to reading his other books. Not one for hte beach though.....
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on February 19, 2013
As a sports coach the insight to power and the mental methods that can be used to make one "feel strong" are invaluable. The authors style of writing is easy to read. Will read again and use it as a reference book.
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on June 28, 2014
I read this book before I read any of Malcolm Gladwells books which are of a similar genre and I believe Ian Robertson's explanations are much more thorough and well thought out. Mr. Gladwell is a keen observer of interesting occurrences but his explanations of why things happen often fall short in my opinion. I am looking forward to Dr. Robertson's next book and I hope this current one gets the volume of readership it deserves.
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